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Welcome to Beijing

Classic and contemporary Chinese culture collide in Beijing, the People’s Republic of China’s capital. Home to six UNESCO World Heritage Sites and a sublime food scene—it is the birthplace of Peking duck, after all—Beijing is a cultural nucleus teeming with imperial delights. If you’re visiting Beijing for the first time—or if you’d like some help navigating the city, the language, or both—orient yourself on a full-day sightseeing tour that hits the highlights: the Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, Forbidden City, and Tiananmen Square. For many travelers, Beijing’s top draw is its proximity to the iconic Great Wall of China, one of the world’s greatest engineering feats. Visiting options are plentiful, with tours covering the Mutianyu, Jinshanling, Huanghuacheng, and Badaling sections and appealing to travelers’ diverse interests: Rise early for a sunset tour, combine the Great Wall with a visit to the Ming Tombs, embark on an invigorating hike from Simatai West, or enjoy personalized historical commentary on a private tour. After ticking off historic icons during the day, embrace Beijing’s artistic and culinary heritage in the evening. Combine a Peking roast duck banquet or street-food tour with tickets to the Beijing Opera (Peking Opera) or the famous "Legend of Kung Fu Show" at Red Theatre. And don’t miss out on touring Beijing’s hutongs (narrow alleys) by rickshaw or taking a day trip to Hebei, home to the imperial summer residence of the Qing dynasty emperors.

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Top 10 attractions in Beijing

Summer Palace (Yiheyuan)
#1

Summer Palace (Yiheyuan)

The Summer Palace - also known as Yiheyuan - was built in 1750. In those days, it was called the Garden of Clear Ripples, and was a lakeside oasis where the royal court could escape the dust and heat of the Forbidden City in summer. It was razed twice by foreign armies and completely rebuilt, most extensively by Empress Dowager Cixi in the 19th century. To fund her projects, she's said to have diverted a bunch of money destined for the Chinese navy. Ironically, one of her grand schemes was a marble boat that sits at the edge of the lake. The grounds were declared a public park in 1924. These days, the 290 hectares (716 acres) of the 'Gardens of Nurtured Harmony' are madly popular with both tourists and locals. The gardens are liberally scattered with temples, covered walkways, pavilions and bridges. Longevity Hill, one of the garden's main features, was constructed from the earth excavated when the lake was extended....
The Legend of Kung Fu Show
#2

The Legend of Kung Fu Show

The Legend of Kung Fu at Beijing’s Red Theater tells the story of a young monk who dreams of one day becoming a Kung Fu master. The boy’s story is told through Kung Fu, dance and Chinese acrobatics staged by the leading stage production company in the country. The best Kung Fu practitioners from around China are scouted for the production, and the average age of the performers is only 17 years old, a testament to their talent. While the 80-minute production contains no dialogue, a screen above the stage tells the story with English subtitles to help foreign visitors follow along; most Chinese tourists are already familiar with the tale. The Legend of Kung Fu premiered on the Red Theater stage in 2004, and the theater has hosted daily or twice daily performances of it ever since. Since the show is popular with both international and domestic tourists and is often included in package tours, it’s best to book your tickets ahead of time....
Mutianyu Great Wall
#3

Mutianyu Great Wall

Located 56 miles (90 kilometers) northeast of Beijing, the Great Wall at Mutianyu was restored in 1986 after the section at Badaling rose in popularity. This section of the great wall includes a long, flat segment winding along the heavily forested hilltops of the area. This segment extends 1.6 miles (2.5 kilometers) with 22 watchtowers spread out along the way, allowing you to walk the wall for more than an hour, sometimes in solitude. If you have a full day to spare for a Great Wall tour, the Mutianyu segment is a good choice. It’s less crowded than Badaling but is still easily accessible and incredibly scenic, particularly on a misty day. Visitors can either climb to the top, with steps in good condition and handrails the entire way, or take a cable car to the top. When you’re ready to return to the bottom, either take the cable car back down or ride a toboggan back to the base....
Great Wall from Jinshanling to Simatai
#4

Great Wall from Jinshanling to Simatai

Jinshanling and Simatai are two of the most remote and least restored portions of the Great Wall near Beijing. Visitors craving a more natural Great Wall experience, without the buses and crowds of domestic tourists posing for photos at every step, should plan to make the day hike between the two wall segments. This stretch of the Ming wall was built here to protect the 17-mile (27 kilometer) defensible pass. The segment between Jinshanling and Simatai extends roughly 6 miles (10 kilometers), passing many portions of the wall left completely unrestored since the wall’s original construction. From Jinshanling, it takes about 4 to 5 hours to hike all the way to Simatai, passing 43 watchtowers in various states of disrepair. Jinghanling, the starting point for the hike, sits 81 miles (130 kilometers) northeast of Beijing, so be sure to get an early start if you plan to complete the entire hike....
Lama Temple (Yonghegong)
#5

Lama Temple (Yonghegong)

The Lama Temple (Yonghegong), one of the most important Tibetan Buddhist temples in the world, started life in the late 17th century as a residence for eunuchs. It went on to become residence for a Qing dynasty prince. When he ascended to the throne, it became a monastery. The emperor's body was returned here on his death - hence the yellow-tiled roofs, which were reserved for royalty. Inside you'll find five large halls, ornately decorated with statues of the Buddha in various incarnations, murals and carvings. The most notable of the statues is the Meitraya (the Future Buddha), which towers up to 18m (59ft) and is made from a single piece of white sandalwood....
Confucius Temple
#6

Confucius Temple

A quiet sanctuary away from the smoggy streets of Beijing, the restored main hall of this temple contains a statue of the sage Kongzi (Confucius). It is the second largest Confucian Temple in China, after the sanctuary in Confucius’ hometown of Qufu. Inside the temple, stone tablets record the names of more than 50,000 learned scholars from the Yuan, Ming Qing dynasties. Also recorded are generations of ancient academics who managed to pass the Imperial Examination, regarded by historians as the world’s first standardized merit-based test. Nearby is the Imperial College, built in 1306 by the grandson of Kublai Khan to teach Confucian classics. It was the supreme academy of the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, where even the emperor came once a year to expound the classics to an audience of thousands....
Beijing National Stadium
#7

Beijing National Stadium

Niaochao, more commonly referred to as the Beijing National Stadium or the Bird’s Nest, was designed and constructed for the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games and has since become a major landmark in China’s capital. Chinese artist Ai Weiwei consulted on the Swiss-designed project, and the result cost $423 million to complete. Since the Olympics ended, the stadium has served as a tourist attraction and a venue for both international and domestic sporting competitions, including the Supercoppa Italiana and the China Cup. The stadium is set to host the 2015 World Championships in Athletics as well. Niaochao is most impressive from the outside, where it’s bird’s nest shape is apparent. Situated on the Beijing Olympic Green, Niaochao is free to enjoy from the outside, but you’ll have to pay a fee if you want to enter the stadium. The Water Cube, the second prominent structure from the 2008 Olympics, sits adjacent to Niaochao and is also worth a visit....
Forbidden City (Palace Museum)
#8

Forbidden City (Palace Museum)

Have you ever wondered what's so forbidden about the Forbidden City? It's called that because it was closed to the outside world for 500 years. This was the seat of the Ming and the Qing emperors, and no one could enter - or leave - the imperial domain without their permission. These days, the Chinese mainly call it Gu Gong, or Former Palace. The Forbidden City, or Beijing Imperial Palace, is BIG - you'll need to allow at least one day for your visit. UNESCO have listed it as the largest collection of ancient wooden structures in the world. There are nearly 1,000 rooms in over 800 buildings. However, because it's been ransacked by invaders and gutted by fire several times (wooden buildings, lanterns, you do the math) most of the structures date from the 18th century on. As you move around the gardens and palatial buildings, which have now been converted to museums, you'll start to get a feel for what it was like to live the imperial life....
Tiananmen Square (Tiananmen Guangchang)
#9

Tiananmen Square (Tiananmen Guangchang)

Mao built the largest square in the world to flaunt the epic scale of the Communist project. This square is bounded by the Museums of Chinese History and Chinese Revolution, the Great Hall of the People, and the Chairman Mao Mausoleum. In 1989 pro-democracy rallies ended in the massacre of protesters in the streets, yet, it can be a bright, bustling sort of place, full of kids flying kites...
Temple of Heaven (Tiantan)
#10

Temple of Heaven (Tiantan)

A Ming temple, Temple of Heaven or Tian tan was built by the Yongle Emperor, who also built the Forbidden City, as a stage for the important rituals performed by the emperor, or Son of Heaven. Chief among these were the supplication to the heavens for a good harvest and the Winter Solstice ceremony, which was supposed to ensure a favorable year for the entire kingdom. In those days it was believed that heaven was round and earth was square, so the architecture of the buildings (round, set on square bases) and the layout of the park (squared off at the Temple of the Earth end, rounded at the Temple of Heaven end) reflect this belief. The buildings are rich in symbolic detail - variations on the number nine, which represented the emperor; coloured glazes which represent heaven and earth; and pillars which represent the months of the year, the seasons and time. There are also echo stones where you can stand to hear your voice reverberate....

Trip ideas

Exploring the Hutongs of Beijing

Exploring the Hutongs of Beijing

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