In 1750, the grand Summer Palace was commissioned by Emperor Qianlong as a lavish lakeside retreat from the heat of Beijing. With pavilions, walkways, gardens, and bridges, the UNESCO World Heritage site on Kunming Lake served as the seat of government for Empress Dowager Cixi during the last years of her life.
Due to its historical importance and popularity, the Summer Palace is included in nearly all guided tours of Beijing. Though you could easily spend a half-day at the Summer Palace, it’s also possible to visit the palace, the Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square, and the Temple of Heaven all in a single day. Other tour options might include the Summer Palace and Mutianyu Great Wall, or the Summer Palace and Lama Temple.
While general admission grants entry to the main palace complex, including the Long Corridor and Longevity Hill, some individual attractions have an additional cost, such as the Garden of Virtue and Harmony, the Tower of Buddhist Incense, Wenchang Gallery, and the Hall of Serenity.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The Summer Palace is a must-see for history buffs and first-time visitors.
- Wear comfortable shoes; a palace visit involves a lot of walking, some of it over uneven surfaces.
- Book a guided tour to avoid waiting in long entry lines, particularly during high season or Chinese national holidays.
- The main entrances and most palace attractions are wheelchair accessible.
How to Get There
It’s easy to get to the Summer Palace by subway; take Line 4 to North Gate station or Line 10 to South Gate station. Numerous public buses also stop at the palace’s three entrances.
When to Get There
Due to its popularity among both Chinese and international tourists, the Summer Palace can get quite crowded during Chinese national holidays and the peak summer season (July and August). Visit first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds.
Boating on Kunming Lake
Don’t leave the Summer Palace without taking a boat ride on Kunming Lake. Short cruises depart from the Marble Boat and take visitors past Nanhu Island, the Bronze Ox, and the beautiful 17-Arch Bridge, offering a different view of the palace complex along the way.