Exploring Beijing - Fodor's Beijing (Full-color Travel Guide) (2015)

Fodor's Beijing (Full-color Travel Guide) (2015)

Exploring Beijing

Main Table of Contents

The Scene

Dongcheng District

Xicheng District

Chaoyang District

Haidian District

The Scene

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Updated by Adrian Sandiford

There’s nowhere else in the world quite like Beijing. It’s a modern-day megalopolis at the very core of the world’s second-greatest economy, but it’s also a gateway into China’s imperial past and 5,000 years of history. This is a city where you can stand at the crossroads of time.

In Beijing the march to modernity may seem unrelenting at times, but the city still clings to parts of the past, including a heritage perhaps best encapsulated by the extraordinary Forbidden City. Once home to the emperors of old, it still dominates the city’s center. And then, just an hour or two from downtown, stands one of the great wonders of the world: the Great Wall. Built during the Ming Dynasty to keep out the world, it’s a telling contrast to the China of today.

Despite the proliferation of shiny office towers, high-rise residences, and shopping centers, there are still plenty of world-class historic sites to be discovered, including the famous rapidly disappearing hutong, neighborhoods formed from alleyways. Scores of the city’s imperial palaces, mansions, and temples built under the Mongols during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) were rebuilt during the later Ming and Qing dynasties. Despite the ravages of time and the Cultural Revolution, many of these refurbished sites are still in excellent condition.

Beijing’s Subway

Although Beijing’s subway system has grown to 17 lines, the original two lines provide access to the most popular areas of the capital. Line 1 runs east and west along Chang’an Jie past the China World Trade Center, Jianguomen (one of the embassy districts), the Wangfujing shopping area, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, Xidan (another major shopping location), and the Military Museum, before heading out to the far western suburbs. Line 2 (the inner loop line) runs along a sort of circular route around the center of the city shadowing the Second Ring Road. Important destinations include the Drum and Bell towers, Lama Temple, Dongzhimen (with a connection to the airport express), Dongsishitiao (near Sanlitun and the Workers’ Stadium), Beijing Train Station, and Qianmen (Front Gate), south of Tiananmen Square. Free transfers between Line 1 and 2 can be made at either Fuxingmen or Jianguomen stations. Line 10, which forms a rough loop following the Third Ring Road, runs through the Central Business District at Guomao station (where a transfer is possible to Line 1), up toward the Sanlitun area at Tuanjiehu, and connects with the airport express line at Sanyuanqiao.

If both you and your final destination are near the Second Ring Road, on Chang’an Jie, or on the northern or eastern sides of the Third Ring Road, the best way to get there is probably by subway. It stops just about every kilometer (half mile), and you’ll easily spot the entrances (with blue subway logos) dotting the streets. Each stop is announced in both English and Chinese, and there are clearly marked signs in English or pinyin at each station. Transferring between lines is easy and free, with the standard Y2 ticket including travel between any two destinations.

Subway tickets can be purchased from electronic kiosks and ticket windows in every station. Start off by finding the button that says “English,” insert your money, and press another button to print. Single-ride tickets cost Y2, and you’ll want to pay with exact change; the machines don’t accept Y1 bills, only Y1 coins. It’s also possible to buy a stored-value subway card with a Y20 deposit and a purchase of Y10-Y100.

In the middle of each subway platform you’ll find a map of the Beijing subway system along with a local map showing the position of exits. Subway cars also have a simplified diagram of the line you’re riding above the doors.

Trains can be very crowded, especially during rush hour, and it’s not uncommon for people to push onto the train before exiting passengers can get off. Prepare to get off by making your way to the door before you arrive at your station. Be especially wary of pickpockets.

TIP Unfortunately, the subway system is not convenient for disabled people. In some stations there are no escalators, and sometimes the only entrance or exit is via steep steps.

On a seemingly superhuman scale that matches its status as the capital city of the world’s most populous nation, Beijing is laid out with vast expanses of wide avenues and roadways organized in an orderly pattern. There are four key districts to note. Within the Second Ring Road (which replaced Beijing’s now-forgotten city walls) are Dongcheng (the east half of the old center) and Xicheng (the west half). Dongcheng is home to many notable imperial sights; Xicheng is more relaxed and laid-back, thanks to a combination of charming alleyways, parks, and lakes. The Chaoyang District, east of the Old City, is where the full force of contemporary China can be felt, among the skyscrapers of the Guomao business district and the main shopping and nightlife hub of Sanlitun. To the northwest is Haidian, the city’s university and tech district, as well as the location of some of Beijing’s more far-flung sights, such as the Summer Palace.

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Dongcheng District

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Worth Noting

Feeling the weight and the power of China’s history is inevitable as you stand on the Avenue of Eternal Peace, Chang’an Jie, at the crossroads of ancient and modern China. The pale expanse of Tiananmen Square, built by Mao Zedong to fit up to a million revolutionary souls, leaves even mobs of tourists looking tiny and scattered. An iconic portrait of Mao sits upon the scarlet wall of Tiananmen Gate, the serenity of his gaze belying the tumult of his reign. And beyond, the splendors of the Forbidden City await.

The soul of old Beijing lives on throughout Dongcheng District, where you’ll find the city’s top historic sites and idyllic hutong worth getting lost in. A day or two exploring the district will leave you feeling as if you’ve been introduced to the complicated character of the capital. Dongcheng is also one of the smaller districts in the city, which makes it ideal for tackling on foot or by bicycle.

Start with the imposing majesty of Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City for a view of official China at its peak, past and present. Nearby, witness the rise of China’s middle class firsthand on Wangfujing, where you’ll find familiar brands (McDonald’s, Nike) amid a dwindling number of large stores, relics from the days of central planning. Then take a detour deeper into the past-meets-present dichotomy with a visit to the hutong surrounding the Confucius Temple. Wudaoying Hutong and Fangjia Hutong currently feature the best array of restaurants, boutiques, and cafés in the neighborhood. From the old men playing chess in the hutong to the sleek, chauffeured Audis driving down Chang’an Jie, to the colorful shopping on Wangfujing, the Dongcheng District offers a thousand little tastes of what makes Beijing such a fascinating city.


Explore the wonders of the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. Then climb the hill in Jingshan Park for a timeless view of the golden rooftops of the Forbidden City.

Visit the Lama Temple, Beijing’s most famous Tibetan Buddhist temple, then the Confucius Temple; finally, stroll down nearby Wudaoying Hutong to take in the trendy shops and cafés.

Have dinner in the renovated courtyard of The Source, then walk through Nan Luogu Xiang, the city’s hippest hutong area.

Walk up Wangfujing, Beijing’s premier shopping spot, and try some local delicacies (scorpion on a stick, perhaps) from the vendors at Wangfujing Snack Street or at the Donghuamen Night Market.

Walk along the well-landscaped Imperial Wall Ruins Park, which begins one block north of Chang’an Jie on Nan Heyandajie.


Most of Dongcheng can be seen in a day, but it’s best to set aside two, because the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square will likely take the better part of one day. The climb up Coal Hill (also called Prospect Hill) in Jingshan Park will take about 30 minutes for an average walker. From there, take a taxi to the Lama Temple, which is worth a good two hours, then visit the nearby Confucius Temple.


Wenyu Nailao.
Have a cup of fresh yogurt at Wenyu Nailao, which makes its yogurt the traditional Chinese way. | 49 Nan Luogu Xiang | 010/6405-7621.

Pass By Bar.
The Pass By Bar offers good drinks, food, and wireless Internet access. | 108 Nan Luogu Xiang | 010/8403—8004.

Guijie (Guĭjiē).
For a nighttime-munchies cure, head to Guijie, also known as Ghost Street, which is full of restaurants serving up noodles, hotpot, and fried delights. One of the most popular dishes here is malaxia, or spicy crawfish. | Dongzhimennei Dajie.

Dongcheng District North

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Dongcheng is easily accessible by subway, with stops along most of its perimeter: Tiananmen East station to Jianguomen on Line 1 forms the south side of this district; Jianguomen to Gulou Dajie on Line 2 forms the district’s north and east sides. Line 2 stops at the Lama Temple, the Ancient Observatory, Wangfujing, and Tiananmen Square. Taxi travel during peak hours (7 to 9 am and 5 to 8 pm) is difficult. At other times traveling by taxi is affordable, convenient, and the fastest option (especially at noon, when much of the city is at lunch, and after 10 pm). Renting a bike to see the sites is also a good option. Bus travel within the city is only Y1 for shorter distances and can be very convenient, but requires reading knowledge of Chinese to find the correct bus to take. Once on the bus, stops are announced in Chinese and English.

Dongcheng District South

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Fodor’s Choice | Confucius Temple (Kŏngmiào).
This tranquil temple to China’s great sage has endured close to eight centuries of additions and restorations. The Hall of Great Accomplishment in the temple houses Confucius’s funeral tablet and shrine, flanked by copper-colored statues depicting China’s wisest Confucian scholars. As in Buddhist and Taoist temples, worshippers can offer sacrifices (in this case to a mortal, not a deity). The 198 tablets lining the courtyard outside the Hall of Great Accomplishment contain 51,624 names belonging to advanced Confucian scholars from the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties. Flanking the Gate of Great Accomplishment are two carved stone drums dating to the Qianlong period (1735-96). In the Hall of Great Perfection you’ll find the central shrine to Confucius. Check out the huge collection of ancient musical instruments.

In the front and main courtyards of the temple you’ll find a cemetery of stone tablets. These tablets, or stelae, stand like rows of crypts. On the front stelae you can barely make out the names of thousands of scholars who passed imperial exams. Another batch of stelae, carved in the mid-1700s to record the Thirteen Classics, which are philosophical works attributed to Confucius, line the west side of the grounds.

TIP We recommend combining a tour of the Confucius Temple with the nearby Lama Temple. Access to both is convenient from the Yonghegong subway stop at the intersection of Line 2 and Line 5. You can also easily get to the Temple of Heaven by taking Line 5 south to Tiantandongmen.

The complex is now combined with the Imperial Academy next door, once the highest educational institution in the country. Established in 1306 as a rigorous training ground for high-level government officials, the academy was notorious, especially during the early Ming Dynasty era, for the harsh discipline imposed on scholars perfecting their knowledge of the Confucian classics. The Riyong Emperors Lecture Hall is surrounded by a circular moat (although the building is rectangular in shape). Emperors would come here to lecture on the classics. This ancient campus would be a glorious place to study today with its washed red walls, gold-tiled roofs, and towering cypresses (some as old as 700 years). | 13 Guozijian Lu, off Yonghegong Lu near Lama Temple,Dongcheng District | 010/8401-1977 | www.kmgzj.com | Y30 | Daily 8:30-5 | Station: Yonghegong.

Dongbianmen Watchtower (Dôngbiànmén jiăolóu).
This is Beijing’s last remaining Ming watchtower. Be sure to check out the Red Gate Gallery inside, which shows works by well-known contemporary Chinese artists. The gallery was set up in 1991 by Brian Wallace, an Australian who studied art history at China’s Central Academy of Fine Arts. The second and third floors are devoted to the history of the Chongwen District. | Dongbianmen Watchtower, Chongwen District | 010/6525-1005 | www.redgategallery.com | Free | Daily 9-5.

Fodor’s Choice | The Forbidden City (Gùgông).
Undeniably sumptuous, the Forbidden City, once home to a long line of emperors, is Beijing’s most enduring emblem. Magnificent halls, winding lanes, and stately courtyards await you. At 180 acres, this is the world’s largest palace complex.

As you gaze up at roofs of glazed-yellow tiles—a symbol of royalty—try to imagine a time when only the emperor (“the son of God”) was permitted to enter this palace, accompanied by select family members, concubines, and eunuchs, used as servants. Now, with its doors flung open, the Forbidden City’s mysteries beckon.

The sheer grandeur of the site—with 800 buildings and a rumored 9,999 rooms—conveys the pomp of Imperial China. The shady palaces, musty with age, recall the tedium of life at court was relieved by gossip and scheming.

The most impressive way to reach the Forbidden City is through the imposing Gate of Heavenly Peace (Tiananmen), connected to Tiananmen Square. The Great Helmsman himself stood here to establish the People’s Republic of China on October 1, 1949, and again to review millions of Red Guards during the Cultural Revolution. Ascend the gate for a dramatic view of the square. You must check your bags prior to entry and also pass through a metal detector.

The Meridian Gate (Wumen), sometimes called Five Phoenix Tower, is the main southern entrance to the palace. Here, the emperor announced yearly planting schedules according to the lunar calendar; it’s also where errant officials were flogged. The main ticket and audio-guide offices are just west of this gate.

The Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihedian) was used for coronations, royal birthdays, and weddings. Bronze vats, once kept brimming with water to fight fires, ring this vast expanse. The hall sits atop three stone tiers with an elaborate drainage system with 1,000 carved dragons. On the top tier, bronze cranes symbolize longevity. Inside, cloisonné cranes flank the imperial throne, above which hangs a heavy bronze ball—placed there to crush any pretender to the throne.

Emperors greeted audiences and held banquets in the Hall of Middle Harmony (Zhonghedian). It also housed the royal plow, with which the emperor himself would turn a furrow to commence spring planting.

The highest civil service examinations, which were personally conducted by the emperor, were once administered in the Hall of Preserving Harmony (Baohedian). Behind the hall, a 200-ton marble relief of nine dragons, the palace’s most treasured stone carving, adorns the descending staircase.

A short jaunt to the right is the Hall of Clocks and Watches (Zhongbiaoguan), where you’ll find a collection of early timepieces. It’s pure opulence: There’s a plethora of jeweled, enameled, and lacquered timepieces (some astride elephants, others implanted in ceramic trees). Our favorites? Those crafted from red sandalwood.

Now you’re approaching the very core of the palace. Several emperors chose to live in the Inner Palace with their families. The Hall of Heavenly Purity (Qianqinggong) holds another imperial throne; the Hall of Union and Peace (Jiaotaidian) was the venue for the empress’s annual birthday party; and the Palace of Earthly Peace (Kunninggong) was the empress’s residence and also was where royal couples consummated their marriages. The banner above the throne bizarrely reads DOING NOTHING.

On either side of the Inner Palace are six western and six eastern palaces—the former living quarters of concubines and servants. The last building on the western side, the Hall of Mental Cultivation (Yangxindian), is the most important of these. Starting with Emperor Yongzheng, all Qing Dynasty emperors attended to daily state business in this hall.

The Gallery of Treasures (Zhenbaoguan), actually a series of halls, has breathtaking examples of imperial ornamentation. The first room displays candleholders, wine vessels, tea sets, and a golden pagoda commissioned by Qing emperor Qianlong in honor of his mother. A cabinet on one wall contains the 25 imperial seals. Jade bracelets, golden hairpins, and coral fill the second hall; carved jade landscapes a third.

North of Forbidden City’s private palaces, beyond the Gate of Earthly Tranquility (Kunningmen), lies the most pleasant part of the Forbidden City: the Imperial Gardens (Yuhuayuan), composed of ancient cypress trees and stone mosaic pathways. During festivals, the emperors, empresses, and concubines all scrambled to the top of the strange rock hill in the northwest of the gardens, called the Hill of Accumulated Elegance. You can exit the palace at the back of the gardens through the park’s Gate of the Divine Warrior (Shenwumen). | Facing Tiananmen Square on Chang’an Jie, Dongcheng District | Y40-60 | Nov 1-Mar 31, daily 8:30-4:30; Apr 1-Oct 31, daily 8:30-5. Closed on Mondays (throughout the year).

Jingshan Park (Jĭngshân gôngyuán).
This park, also known as Coal Hill Park, was built around a small peak formed from earth excavated for the Forbidden City’s moats. Ming rulers ordered the hill’s construction to improve the feng shui of their new palace to the south. You can climb a winding stone staircase past peach and apple trees to Wanchun Pavilion, the park’s highest point. On a clear day it offers unparalleled views of the Forbidden City and the Bell and Drum towers. Chongzhen, the last Ming emperor, is said to have hanged himself at the foot of Coal Hill as his dynasty collapsed in 1644. | Jingshanqian Dajie, opposite the north gate of the Forbidden City, Xicheng and Dongcheng districts | 010/6404-4071 | Y2 | Daily 6 am-7 pm.

Tips for Touring Beijing with Kids

Although incense-filled temples and ancient buildings may not, at first glance, seem child-friendly, Beijing’s historic sites do offer some unique and special activities for the young. The Summer Palace is a great place for kids to run around and go splashing in paddleboats; the old Summer Palace has a fun maze; Tiananmen Square is a popular spot to fly kites; the Drum Tower holds percussion performances; and the Temple of Heaven’s Echo Wall offers up some unusual acoustical fun. Budding astronomers might also be intrigued by the Ancient Observatory, with its Ming Dynasty star map and early heaven-gazing devices built by early Jesuit missionaries who worked for the imperial court. Wherever you go, remember this: Chinese kids are generally allowed to run around and act like children, so don’t worry that your own tyke’s behavior will be disapproved of.

Lama Temple (Yônghégông).
One of the most important functioning Buddhist temples in Beijing, this much-visited Tibetan Buddhist masterpiece has five main halls and numerous galleries hung with finely detailed thangkhas (Tibetan religious scroll paintings). The entire temple is decorated with Buddha images—all guarded by somber lamas dressed in brown robes. Originally a palace for Prince Yongzheng, it was transformed into a temple once he became the Qing’s third emperor in 1723. The temple flourished under Emperor Qianlong, housing some 500 resident monks. This was once the official “embassy” of Tibetan Buddhism in Beijing, but today only about two dozen monks live in this complex.

Don’t miss the The Hall of Heavenly Kings, with statues of Maitreya, the future Buddha, and Weitou, China’s guardian of Buddhism. This hall is worth a slow stroll. In the courtyard beyond, a pond with a bronze mandala represents paradise. The Statues of Buddhas of the Past, Present, and Future hold court in The Hall of Harmony. Look on the west wall where an exquisite silk thangkha of White Tara—the embodiment of compassion—hangs. Images of the Medicine and Longevity Buddhas line The Hall of Eternal Blessing. In The Pavilion of Ten Thousand Fortunes you see the breathtaking 26-meter (85-foot) Maitreya Buddha carved from a single block of sandalwood. TIP Combine a visit to the Lama Temple with the Confucius Temple and the Imperial Academy, which are a five-minute walk away, within the hutong neighborhood opposite the main entrance. | 12 Yonghegong Dajie, Beixinqiao, Dongcheng District | 010/6404-4499 | Y25 | Daily 9-4:30 | Station: Yonghegong, Line 2.

QUICK BITES: Lao She Teahouse.
The area just south of Qianmen was once the nightlife hub of imperial China. Visit this old teahouse for a taste of Chinese performing arts along with your cuppa. | Building 3,3 Qianmenxi Dajie,Xicheng District | 010/6303-6830.

Ming Dynasty City Wall Ruins Park (Míng chéngqiáng yízhĭ gôngyuán).
This rebuilt section of Beijing’s old inner-city wall is a nicely landscaped area with paths full of Chinese walking their dogs, flying kites, practicing martial arts, and playing with their children. It was made using original bricks that had been snatched decades earlier, after the city wall had been torn down. At the eastern end of the park is the grand Dongbianmen Watchtower, home to the popular Red Gate Gallery. | Dongbianmen, Dongdajie Street, Chongwen District | Free | Daily, park open 24 hrs | Station: Jiandemen.

National Museum of China (Zhōngguó guójiā bówùguăn).
This monumental edifice on the eastern side of Tiananmen Square showcases 5,000 years of history in immaculate surroundings. With 2 million square feet of exhibition space, it’s impossible to see everything. The propaganda-heavy history sections can be safely skipped; focus instead on the ancient China section on the lower level, which houses magnificent displays of bronzes and jade artifacts. The museum also features strong shows of visiting works from abroad, such as Renaissance art from Florence and ceramics from the British Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. | 16 Dong Chang An Jie, Dongcheng District | 010/6511-6400 | en.chnmuseum.cn | Free with passport | Tues.-Sun. 9-5, ticket booth closes at 3:30 | Station: Tiananmen East.

Fodor’s Choice | Red Gate Gallery (Hóngmén huàláng).
This gallery, one of the first to open in Beijing, displays and sells contemporary Chinese art in the extraordinary location of the old Dongbianmen Watchtower, which dates back to the 16th century. The venue is worth a visit even if you’re not interested in the art. Be aware that the subway stop listed here is about a 25-minute walk from the gallery. | 1/F & 4/F, Dongbianmen Watchtower, Chongwenmen Dongdajie, Dongcheng District | 010/6525-1005 | www.redgategallery.com | Station: Jianguomen.

Fodor’s Choice | Tiananmen Square (Tiânânmén guăngchăng).
The world’s largest public square, and the very heart of modern China, Tiananmen Square owes little to grand imperial designs and everything to Mao Zedong. At the height of the Cultural Revolution, hundreds of thousands of Red Guards crowded the square; in June 1989 the square was the scene of tragedy when student demonstrators were killed.

Today the square is packed with sightseers, families, and undercover policemen. Although formidable, the square is a little bleak, with no shade, benches, or trees. Come here at night for an eerie experience—it’s a little like being on a film set. Beijing’s ancient central axis runs right through the center of Mao’s mausoleum, the Forbidden City, the Drum and Bell towers, and the Olympic Green. The square is sandwiched between two grand gates: the Gate of Heavenly Peace (Tiananmen) to the north and the Front Gate (Qianmen) in the south. Along the western edge is the Great Hall of the People. The National Museum of China lies along the eastern side. The 125-foot granite obelisk you see is the Monument to the People’s Heroes; it commemorates those who died for the revolutionary cause of the Chinese people. | Bounded by Chang’an Jie to the north and Qianmen Dajie to the south, Dongcheng District | Free | 5 am-10 pm | Station: Qianmen.

DID YOU KNOW? A network of tunnels lies beneath Tiananmen Square. Mao Zedong is said to have ordered them dug in the late 1960s after Sino-Soviet relations soured. They extend across Beijing and many have been sealed up or fallen into disrepair, though migrant workers inhabit some.

Wangfujing (Wángfŭjĭng).
Wangfujing, one of the city’s oldest and busiest shopping districts, is still lined with a handful of laozihao, old brand-name shops, some dating back a century, and 1950s-era state-run stores. This short walking street is a pleasant place for window-shopping. Also on Wangfujing is the gleaming Oriental Plaza, with its expensive high-end shops (Tiffany’s, Burberry, Ermenegildo Zegna, and Audi among them), interspersed with Levi Jeans, Esprit, Starbucks, Pizza Hut, KFC, Häagen-Dazs, and a modern movie multiplex. | Wangfujing, Dongcheng District.


Ditan Park (Dìtán gôngyuán).
In “Temple of Earth Park,” 105 acres of 16th-century green space, are the square altar where emperors once made sacrifices to the earth god, and the Hall of Deities. This is a lovely place for a stroll, especially if you’re already near the Drum Tower or Lama Temple. | Hepingli Xilu, just north of Second Ring Rd., Dongcheng District | 010/6421-4657 | Y2 | Daily 6 am-9 pm.

Guijie (Guĭjiē).
This nearly mile-long stretch, also known as Ghost Street, is lined with more than 100 restaurants, many open 24 hours a day and attracting the spillover from nightclubs. Although the restaurants here are generally just average, the lively atmosphere is enticing, with red lanterns often strung across the sidewalks (these are taken down from time to time on the whim of the local authorities). There are a wide number of cuisines on the menus here, though night owls tend to favor spicy dishes such as fiery Sichuan hotpot, crayfish in chili oil, and barbecued fish. | Dongzhimennei Dajie,Dongcheng District.

Mao Zedong (1893-1976)

Some three decades after his passing, Mao continues to evoke radically different feelings. Born into a relatively affluent farming family in Hunan, Mao became active in politics at a young age; he was one of the founding members of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921. When the People’s Republic of China was established in 1949, Mao served as chairman. After a good start in improving the economy, he launched radical programs in the mid-1950s. The party’s official assessment is that Mao was 70% correct and 30% incorrect. His critics reverse this ratio.

Mao Zedong Memorial Hall (Máozhŭxí jìniàntáng).
Sentries here will assure that your communion with the Great Helmsman is brief. First, check your bag and camera at the designated point to the east of the hall. Then, join the long and winding line that leads first to a spacious lobby dominated by a marble Mao statue and then to the Hall of Reverence, where his embalmed body lies in state, wrapped in the red flag of the Communist Party of China and inside a crystal coffin that’s lowered each night into a subterranean freezer. In a bid to limit Mao’s deification, a second-story museum was added in 1983; it’s dedicated to the former Premier Zhou Enlai, former general Zhu De, and China’s president before the Cultural Revolution, Liu Shaoqi (who was persecuted to death during the Cultural Revolution). The hall’s builders willfully ignored Tiananmen Square’s geomancy: the mausoleum faces north, contradicting centuries of imperial ritual. Note that the hall is open only in the mornings. | Tiananmen Sq., Dongcheng District | 010/6513-2277 | Free | Sept.-June, Tues.-Sun. 8 am-noon; July and Aug., Tues.-Sun. 7 am-11 am.

Nan Luogu Xiang (Nánluógŭxiàng).
The narrow Nan Luogu Xiang, or South Gong and Bell Alley, which dates back some 700 years, got a new lease on life when it was discovered by young entrepreneurs around 2006. They quickly began opening souvenir shops, boutiques, cafés, bars, and snack stalls in the aging but rustic structures that line the sidewalks. The narrow street is flanked by eight historic hutongs to the east and west that are worth exploring, especially when the crowds in the main section get overwhelming, which, as the years go by, and the street’s popularity grows, they so often do. It’s a great place to try some of the snacks popular with young Chinese, such as milk tea, chicken wings, and the famous custard-like yogurt at Wenyu Nailao. | Nan Luogu Xiang, Dongcheng District | Station:Nanluoguxiang.

Nanxincang (Nánxîncâng).
China’s oldest existing granary, dating back to the Yongle period (1403-24), is now an entertainment hub of sorts, with couple of art galleries, a teahouse, and a changing line-up of bars and restaurants, including the most established of the bunch, a well-loved branch of the famed Dadong Roast Duck. The structures at Nanxincang—just 10 years younger than those of the Forbidden City—were just one of the more than 300 granaries that existed in this area during imperial days. | Dongsi Shitiao, 1 block west of the Second Ring Road, Dongcheng District.

The Poly Art Museum (Băolì yìshù bówùguăn).
This impressive but often overlooked museum, located in a gleaming glass office tower, was established in 1998 to promote traditional art and to protect Chinese art from being lost to foreign countries. The museum has focused on the overseas acquisition of ancient bronzes, sculpture, and painting. The space is divided into two galleries, one for the display of early Chinese bronzes, and the other for Buddhist scriptures carved in stone. Also on display here are four bronze animal heads that were once located in the Old Summer Palace. | New Poly Plaza,1 Chaoyangmen Bei Dajie, next to the Dongsishitiao subway stop on Line 2, Dongcheng District | 010/6500-8117 | Y20 | Mon.-Sat. 9:30-4:30 | Station: Dongsishitiao.

QUICK BITES: Donghuamen Night Market (Dônghuâmén yèshì).
Crunchy deep-fried scorpions and other critters are sold at the Donghuamen Night Market, at the northern end of Wangfujing’s wide walking boulevard. We’ll admit: this is more of a place to look at and perhaps photograph food rather than devour it. In addition to standard street foods, hawkers here also serve up deep-fried starfish, plus a variety of insects and other hard-to-identify food items. Most street-market food is usually safe to eat as long as it’s hot. The row of stalls makes for an intriguing walk with great photo ops. | Donganmen Dajie, on the northern side of Wangfujing,Dongcheng District.

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Xicheng District

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Top Attractions | Worth Noting

Xicheng District is home to a charming combination of some of the most distinctive things that the city has to offer: cozy hutongs, palatial courtyard houses, charming lakes, and fine restaurants. For many visitors, this is one of the best areas in which to fall in love with Beijing.

The best way to do that is to take a walk or bicycle tour of the hutongs here: there’s no better way to scratch the surface of this sprawling city (before it disappears) than by exploring these courtyard houses as you wander in and out of historic sites in the area.

This is also a great area for people-watching, especially along the shores of Houhai. As you wander, sample the local snacks sold from shop windows. Treats abound on Huguosi Jie (just west of Mei Lanfang’s house). In the evening, relax at a restaurant or bar with a view of the lake. The lakes at Shichahai are hopping day and night.


Sip coffee or an evening cocktail lakeside at Houhai or on one of the rooftop restaurants or bars overlooking the lake.

Explore Houhai’s well-preserved hutong and historical sites by pedicab or bicycle.

Skate on Houhai Lake in winter, or, in the warmer months, take an evening boat tour of the lake. Dine onboard on barbecued lamb provided by Kaorouji.

Wander the hills and temples of historic Beihai Park.

Shop for great gifts and snazzy clothes on the cheap at Xidan.


Xicheng’s must-see sites are few in number but all special. Walk around Beihai Park in the early afternoon. If you come to Beijing in the winter, Qianhai will be frozen and you can rent skates, runner-equipped bicycles, or the local favorite, a chair with runners welded to the bottom and a pair of metal sticks with which to propel yourself across the ice. Dinner along the shores of Houhai is a good option. Head toward the northern section for a more tranquil setting or join the crowds for a booming bar scene farther south. Plan to spend a few hours shopping at Xidan; this can be a great place to pick up funky, cheap gifts.


For a simple meal in the Xidan area, try Banmuyuan, a Taiwanese-owned restaurant that serves chewy zhajiang noodles, beef dishes, and vegetarian pies. It’s located directly behind the Bank of China headquarters, which was designed by I.M. Pei. | 45 Fuxingmen Nei Dajie | 010/5851-8208 | Station: Xidan.

Cangsu Style Restaurant.
Sleek Cangsu plates up beautiful creations along the shores of Houhai. It’s located on the southwest corner of the lake, just two minutes north of Di’anmen Xi Dajie. Be sure to save room for a picture-perfect dessert. | Xicheng District | 010/8328-6766.

Hutong Pizza.
This is a great spot to take a break from Houhai and the hutongs. It’s in a renovated courtyard house just west of the Silver Ingot Bridge. | 9 Yindingqiao Hutong, Xicheng District | 010/8322-8916.

Romantics, take note: you’ll be serenaded by your own personal pipa (four-stringed lute) musician at this old lakeside restaurant, which specializes in Chinese-style barbecue. | 14 Qianhai Dongyan, just southeast of the Silver Ingot Bridge, Xicheng District | 010/6404-2554.

Kong Yi Ji.
On the northwestern edge of Houhai, Kong Yi Ji is named after a story by the famous writer Lu Xun—it serves some of the dishes mentioned in the story. | Houhai South Bank,2A Deshengmennei Dajie, Xicheng District | 010/6618-4915.


Houhai and Beihai Park are conveniently reached by taxi. Line 1 subway stops include Tiananmen West, Xidan, and Fuxingmen. Line 2 makes stops from Fuxingmen to the Drum Tower (Gulou), following Xicheng’s perimeter.


Start just north of the Forbidden City at Jingshan Park. From here you can walk several blocks west to the south gate of Beihai Park, which is beautiful in August’s lotus season. Exit at the north gate. After crossing Di’anmen Xidajie, you’ll arrive at Qianhai, or “front lake.”

Xicheng District North

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Walk on the right, or east, side of the lake for about 10 minutes until you reach the famous Ming Dynasty Silver Ingot Bridge. Take a side trip to the Bell Tower, which is a short walk northeast of the bridge (and which straddles the border with the Dongcheng District). To get here, head down Yandai Xiejie, turn left at the end and you’ll see the tower. Directly behind it is the Drum Tower. Return to the Silver Ingot Bridge and follow the lake’s northern shore until you arrive at Soong Ching-ling’s Former Residence. Next, walk or take a short cab ride to Prince Gong’s Palace behind the opposite side of the lake, to see how imperial relatives once lived. An alternative to those lavish interiors is the Museum of Antique Currency, where you can feast your eyes on rare Chinese coins.

Xicheng District South

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Beihai Park (Běihăi gôngyuán).
A white stupa is perched on a small island just north of the south gate of this park. Also at the south entrance is Round City, which contains a white-jade Buddha and an enormous jade bowl given to Kublai Khan. Nearby, the well-restored Temple of Eternal Peace houses a variety of Buddhas. Climb to the stupa from Yongan Temple. Once there, you can pay an extra Y1 to ascend the Buddha-bedecked Shanyin Hall.

The lake is Beijing’s largest and most beautiful public waterway. On summer weekends the lake teems with paddleboats. The Five Dragon Pavilion, on Beihai’s northwest shore, was built in 1602 by a Ming Dynasty emperor who liked to fish under the moon. | Weijin Jie, Xicheng District | 010/6403-1102 | www.beihaipark.com.cn | Y10; extra fees for some sites | Apr.-May and Sept.-Oct., daily 6.30 am-8:30 pm; Nov.-Mar., daily 6.30 am-8 pm; June-Aug., daily 6.30 am-10 pm.

Capital Museum (Shŏdû bówùguăn).
Moved to an architecturally striking new home west of Tiananmen Square in 2005, this is one of China’s finest cultural museums. Artifacts are housed in a multistoried bronze cylinder that dominates the building’s facade, while paintings, calligraphy, and photographs of historic Beijing fill the remaining exhibition halls. The museum gets extra points for clear English descriptions and modern, informative displays. Entry is free, but tickets must be booked (via the website) in advance. | 16 Fuxingmenwai Dajie, Xicheng District | 010/6337-0491 | www.capitalmuseum.org.cn/en | Free | Tues.-Sun. 9-4.

Drum Tower (Gŭlóu).
Until the late 1920s, the 24 drums once housed in this tower were Beijing’s timepiece. Sadly, all but one of these huge drums have been destroyed. Kublai Khan built the first drum tower on this site in 1272. You can climb to the top of the present tower, which dates from the Ming Dynasty. Old photos of hutong neighborhoods line the walls beyond the drum; there’s also a scale model of a traditional courtyard house. The nearby Bell Tower, renovated after a fire in 1747, offers fabulous views of the hutong from the top of a long, narrow staircase. The huge 63-ton bronze bell, supported by lacquered wood stanchions, is also worth seeing. In recent years the authorities have demolished a number of historic hutongs in this area, so don’t be surprised if you come across serious signs of reconstruction around here. | North end of Dianmen Dajie, Xicheng District | 010/6404-1710 | Drum Tower Y20, Bell Tower Y20; ticket for both Y30 | Daily 9-5 | Station:Guloudajie.

Niujie (Ox Street) Mosque (Niújiē qîngzhēnsì).
Originally built during the Liao Dynasty in 996, Niujie is Beijing’s oldest and largest mosque. It sits at the center of the Muslim quarter and mimics a Chinese temple from the outside, with its hexagonal wooden structure. When the mosque was built, only traditional Chinese architecture was allowed in the capital. An exception was made for the Arabic calligraphy that decorates many of the mosque’s walls and inner sanctums. The interior arches and posts are inscribed with Koranic verse, and a special moon tower helps with determining the lunar calendar. The Spirit Wall stands opposite the main entrance and is meant to prevent ghosts from entering the mosque. This wall is covered with carved mural works on the premise that ghosts can’t turn sharp corners. Two dark tombs with Chinese and Arabic inscriptions are kept in one of the small courtyards. They belong to two Persian imams (the prayer leaders of a mosque) who came to preach at the mosque in the 13th and 14th centuries. Because Muslims must pray in the direction of Mecca, which is westward, the main prayer hall opens onto the east. At the rear of the complex is a minaret from which a muezzin calls the faithful to prayer. From this very tower, imams measure the beginning and end of Ramadan, Islam’s month of fasting and prayer. Ramadan begins when the imam sights the new moon, which appears as a slight crescent.

The hall, which is open only to Muslims, can fit up to 1,000 worshippers. All visitors must wear long trousers or skirts and keep their shoulders covered. It’s most convenient to get to the mosque by taxi. If you want to take the subway, it’s about a 10-minute walk from Line 4’s Caishikou station. | 18 Niu Jie, Xuanwu District | 010/6353-2564 | Y10 | Daily 8-4 | Station: Caishikou.

Qianhai and Houhai (Qiánhăi, Hòuhăi).
Most people come to these lakes, along with Xihai to the northwest, to stroll and enjoy the shoreside bars and restaurants. In summer you can boat or fish. In winter, sections of the frozen lakes are fenced off for skating. This day-trip is easily combined with a visit to Beihai Park or the Bell and Drum towers. | North of Beihai Lake, Xicheng District.

Temple of Heaven

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Fodor’s Choice | Temple of Heaven (Tiântán gôngyuán).
A prime example of Chinese religious architecture, this is where emperors once performed important rites. It was a site for imperial sacrifices, meant to please the gods so they would generate bumper harvests. Set in a huge, serene, mushroom-shaped park southeast of the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven is surrounded by splendid examples of Ming Dynasty architecture, including curved cobalt blue roofs layered with yellow and green tiles. Construction began in the early 15th century under Yongle, whom many call the “architect of Beijing.” Shaped like a semicircle on the northern rim to represent heaven and square on the south for the earth, the grounds were once believed to be the meeting point of the two. The area is double the size of the Forbidden City and is still laid out to divine rule: buildings and paths are positioned to represent the right directions for heaven and earth. This means, for example, that the northern part is higher than the south.

The temple’s hallmark structure is a magnificent blue-roofed wooden tower built in 1420. It burned to the ground in 1889 and was immediately rebuilt using Ming architectural methods (and timber imported from Oregon). The building’s design is based on the calendar: 4 center pillars represent the seasons, the next 12 pillars represent months, and 12 outer pillars signify the parts of a day. Together these 28 poles, which also correspond to the 28 constellations of heaven, support the structure without nails. A carved dragon swirling down from the ceiling represents the emperor.

Across the Danbi Bridge you’ll find the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. The middle section was once reserved for the Emperor of Heaven, who was the only one allowed to set foot on the eastern side, while aristocrats and high-ranking officials walked on the western strip. TIP If you’re coming by taxi, enter the park through the southern entrance (Tiantan Nanmen). This way you approach the beautiful Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests via the Danbi Bridge—the same route the emperor favored.

Directly east of this hall is a long, twisting platform, which once enclosed the animal-killing pavilion. The Long Corridor was traditionally hung with lanterns on the eve of sacrifices. Today it plays host to scores of Beijingers singing opera, playing cards and chess, and fan dancing.

Be sure to whisper into the echo wall encircling the Imperial Vault of Heaven. This structure allows anyone to eavesdrop. It takes a minute to get the hang of it, but with a friend on one side and you on the other it’s possible to hold a conversation by speaking into the wall. Tilt your head in the direction you want your voice to travel for best results. Just inside the south gate is the Round Altar, a three-tiered, white-marble structure where the emperor worshipped the winter solstice; it’s based around the divine number nine. Nine was regarded as a symbol of the power of the emperor, as it’s the biggest single-digit odd number, and odd numbers are considered masculine and therefore more powerful.

The Hall of Abstinence, on the western edge of the grounds, is where the emperor would retreat three days before the ritual sacrifice. To understand the significance of the harvest sacrifice at the Temple of Heaven, it’s important to keep in mind that the legitimacy of a Chinese emperor’s rule depended on what is known as the tian ming, or the mandate of heaven, essentially the emperor’s relationship with the gods.

A succession of bad harvests, for example, could be interpreted as the emperor’s losing the favor of heaven and could be used to justify a change in emperor or even in dynasty. When the emperor came to the Temple of Heaven to pray for good harvests and to pay homage to his ancestors, there may have been a good measure of self-interest to his fervor.

The sacrifices consisted mainly of animals and fruit placed on altars surrounded by candles. Many Chinese still offer sacrifices of fruit and incense on special occasions, such as births, deaths, and weddings.

TIP We recommend buying an all-inclusive ticket. If you only buy a ticket into the park, you’ll need to pay an additional Y20 to get into each building.

Beijing’s subway Line 5 (purple line) makes getting to the Temple of Heaven particularly simple. Get off at the Tiantandongmen (Temple of Heaven East Gate) stop. This line also runs direct to the Lama Temple (Yonghegong), so combining the two sites in a day makes a lot of sense.

Automatic audio guides (Y40) are available at stalls inside all four entrances. | Yongdingmen Dajie (South Gate), Xuanwu District | 010/6702-8866 | en.tiantanpark.com | All-inclusive ticket Y35; entrance to park only Y15 | Daily 6 am-10 pm; ticket booth closes at 4:30 | Station: Tiantandongmen.

Xidan (Xîdân).
This area teems with shopping malls and small stores selling clothing and accessories, and upwardly mobile Chinese coming to browse and buy. The glitzy 13-story Joy City mall, full of local and international brands, is a major sign of commerce’s grip here. |Station: Xidan.


Beijing Ancient Architecture Museum (Běijîng gŭdài jiànzhù bówùguăn).
This little-known museum, located inside a Ming Dynasty temple, exhibits photos, objects, and elaborate models of ancient Chinese architecture—from ancient huts and mud houses to Ming and Qing Dynasty palaces. The sand-table model of old Beijing is fascinating. | 21 Dongjing Lu, Xicheng District | 010/6317-2150 | Y15 | Tues.-Sun. 9-4.

Beijing Zoo (Běijîng dòngwù yuán).
Though visitors usually go straight to see the giant pandas, don’t miss the other interesting animals, like tigers from the northeast, yaks from Tibet, enormous sea turtles from China’s seas, and red pandas from Sichuan. The zoo started out as a garden belonging to one of the sons of Shunzhi, the first emperor of the Qing dynasty. In 1747 the Qianlong emperor had it refurbished (along with other imperial properties, including the summer palaces) and turned it into a park in honor of his mother’s 60th birthday. In 1901, the Empress Dowager gave it another extensive facelift and used it to house a collection of animals given to her as a gift by a Chinese minister who had bought them during a trip to Germany. By the 1930s most of the animals had died and were stuffed and put on display in a museum on the grounds. | 137 Xizhimenwai Dajie, Xicheng District | 010/6839-0274 | www.bjzoo.com | Apr.-Oct. Y15; Nov.-Mar. Y10; plus Y5 for the pandas | Apr.-Oct. 7:30-6; Nov.-Mar. 7:30-5.

Cultural Palace of Nationalities (Mínzú wénhuà gông).
Dedicated to the 56 official ethnic groups that make up China’s modern population, this museum houses traditional clothing and artifacts from the country’s remote border regions. Exhibits on topics like the “peaceful liberation of Tibet” are as interesting for the official government line as for what’s left out. Entrance is free, but you’ll need to show your passport to get in. | 49 Fuxingmennei Dajie, next to the Minzu Hotel, Xicheng District | 010/6602-4433 | Free | Daily 9-5.

Great Hall of the People (Rénmín dàhuìtáng).
This solid edifice owes its Stalinist weight to the last years of the Sino-Soviet pact. Its gargantuan dimensions (205,712 square yards of floor space) exceed that of the Forbidden City. It was built by 14,000 laborers, who worked around the clock for eight months. China’s legislature meets in the aptly named Ten Thousand People Assembly Hall, beneath a panoply of 500 star lights revolving around a giant red star. Thirty-one reception rooms are distinguished by the arts and crafts of the provinces they represent. Have someone who speaks Chinese call a day ahead to confirm that it’s open, as the hall often closes for political events and concerts. | West side of Tiananmen Sq., Xicheng District | 010/6309-6156 | Y30 | Dec.-Mar., daily 9-2; Apr.-June, daily 8:15-3; Jul.-Aug., daily 7:30-4; Sept.-Nov., daily 8:30-3.

Liulichang (Liúlíchăng).
This quaint old street is best known for its antiques, books, and paintings. The street has been completely restored and a multitude of small shops, many privately owned, make it a fun place to explore, even if you’re just window-shopping. Liulichang, often referred to as “Antiques Street,” was built more than 500 years ago during the Ming Dynasty. It was the site of a large factory that made glazed tiles for the Imperial Palace. Gradually other smaller tradesmen began to cluster around, and at the beginning of the Qing Dynasty booksellers began to move in. The area became a meeting place for intellectuals and a prime shopping district for art objects, books, handicrafts, and antiques. In 1949 Liulichang still had over 170 shops, but many were taken over by the state; the street was badly ransacked during the Cultural Revolution. Following large-scale renovation of the traditional architecture, the street reopened in 1984 under the policy that shops could only sell arts, crafts, and cultural objects. Today the street is a mixture of state-run and privately owned stores. | Liulichang, Xuanwu District.

Museum of Antique Currency (Běijîng gŭdài qiánbì bówùguăn).
This museum in a tiny courtyard house (within the Deshengmen tower complex) showcases a small but impressive selection of rare Chinese coins. Explanations are in Chinese only. Also in the courtyard are coin and curio dealers. | Deshengmen Jianlou, Bei’erhuan Zhonglu, Xicheng District | 010/6602-4178 | Y10 | Tues.-Sun. 9-4.

Prince Gong’s Palace (Gôngwángfŭ).
This grand compound sits in a neighborhood once reserved for imperial relatives. Built in 1777 during the Qing Dynasty, it fell to Prince Gong—brother of Qing emperor Xianfeng and later an adviser to Empress Dowager Cixi—after the original inhabitant was executed for corruption. With nine courtyards joined by covered walkways, it was once one of Beijing’s most lavish residences. The museum offers Beijing opera and tea to visitors who pay the higher ticket price. Some literary scholars believe this was the setting for Dream of the Red Chamber, one of China’s best-known classical novels. | 17 Qianhai Xijie, Xicheng District | 010/8328-8149 | www.pgm.org.cn | Y40-Y70 | Mid-Mar.-mid.-Nov., daily 8-4; mid.-Nov.-mid.-Mar., daily 7:30-4:30.

Qianmen (Front Gate) (Qiánmén dàjiě).
From its top, looking south, you can see that Qianmen (Front Gate) is actually two gates: the Sun-Facing Gate (Zhengyangmen) and the Arrow Tower (Jian Lou), which were, until 1915, connected by a defensive half-moon wall. The central gates of both structures opened only for the emperor’s biannual ceremonial trips to the Temple of Heaven. The gate now defines the southern edge of Tiananmen Square. | Xuanwumen Jie, Dongcheng District | 010/6522-9382 | Y10 | 8:30-4 | Station: Qianmen.

Ruifuxiang Silk Shop (Ruìfúxiáng chóubù diàn).
Established in 1893, this shop has thick bolts of silk, cotton, cashmere, and wool piled high, in more colors than you’ll find in a box of crayons: chartreuse, candy-pink, chocolate-brown, fresh-cut-grass-green—you name it. Clerks deftly cut yards of cloth while tailors take measurements for colorful qipao (traditional gowns). Even though you might not be shopping for fabric, it’s interesting to browse: in this corner of Beijing life seems to continue much as it did a century ago. | 5 Dazhalan Dajie, Xuanwu District | 010/6303-5313.

Soong Ching-ling’s Former Residence (Sòng Qìnglíng gùjû).
Soong Ching-ling (1893-1981) was the youngest daughter of Charles Soong, a wealthy, American-educated Bible publisher. At the age of 18, disregarding her family’s strong opposition, she eloped to marry the much older Sun Yat-sen. When her husband founded the Republic of China in 1911, Soong Ching-ling became a significant political figure. In 1924 she headed the Women’s Department of the Nationalist Party. Then in 1949 she became the vice president of the People’s Republic of China. Throughout her career she campaigned tirelessly for the emancipation of women, and she helped lay the foundations for many of the rights that modern-day Chinese women enjoy today. This former palace was her residence and workplace and now houses a small museum, which documents her life and work. | 46 Houhai Beiyan, Xicheng District | 010/6404-4205 | Y20 | Daily 9-4.

Source of Law Temple (Făyuánsì).
This quiet temple is also a school for monks—the Chinese Buddhist Theoretical Institute houses and trains them here. Of course, the temple functions within the boundaries of current regime policy. You can observe both elderly practitioners chanting mantras in the main prayer halls, as well as robed students kicking soccer balls in a side courtyard. Before lunch the smells of a vegetarian stir-fry tease the nose. The dining hall has simple wooden tables set with cloth-wrapped bowls and chopsticks. Dating from the 7th century, but last rebuilt in 1442, the temple holds a fine collection of Ming and Qing statues, including a sleeping Buddha and an unusual grouping of copper-cast Buddhas seated on a 1,000-petal lotus. | 7 Fayuan Si Qianjie, Xuanwu District | 010/6353-4171 | Y5 | Daily 8:30-3.30.

Temple of the White Pagoda (Báită).
This 13th-century Tibetan stupa, the largest of its kind in China, dates from Kublai Khan’s reign and owes its beauty to an unnamed Nepalese architect who built it to honor Shakyamuni Buddha (the historical Buddha). It stands bright and white against the Beijing skyline. Once hidden within the structure were Buddha statues, sacred texts, and other holy relics. Many of the statues are now on display in glass cases in the Miaoying temple, at the foot of the stupa. | 171 Fuchengmennei Dajie, Xicheng District | 010/6616-6099 | Y20 | Tues.-Sun. 9-4.

White Clouds Taoist Temple (Báiyúnguân).
This lively Taoist temple founded in the 8th century serves as a center for China’s only indigenous religion. Monks wearing blue-cotton coats and black-satin hats roam the grounds in silence. Thirty of them now live at the monastery, which also houses the official All-China Taoist Association. Visitors bow and burn incense to their favorite deities, wander the back gardens in search of a master of qigong (a series of exercises that involve slow movements and meditative breathing techniques), and rub the bellies of the temple’s three monkey statues for good fortune.

In the first courtyard, under the span of an arched bridge, hang two large brass bells. Ringing them with a well-tossed coin is said to bring wealth. In the main courtyards, the Shrine Hall for Seven Perfect Beings is lined with meditation cushions and low desks. Nearby is a museum of Taoist history (explanations in Chinese). In the western courtyard the temple’s oldest structure is a shrine housing the 60-Year Protector. Here the faithful locate the deity that corresponds to their birth year, bow to it, light incense, then scribble their names, or even a poem, on the wooden statue’s red-cloth cloak as a reminder of their dedication. A trinket stall in the front courtyard sells pictures of each protector deity. Also in the west courtyard is a shrine to Taoist sage Wen Ceng, depicted in a 3-meter- (10-foot-) tall bronze statue just outside the shrine’s main entrance. Students flock here to rub Wen Ceng’s belly for good luck on their college entrance exams. The area around the temple is packed with fortune-tellers. | Lianhuachi Donglu, near Xibianmen Bridge, Xicheng District | 010/6344-3666 | Y10 | Daily 8-4:30.

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Chaoyang District

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Top Attractions | Worth Noting

There’s precious little of Beijng’s ancient history found in Chaoyang District, where much of the old has been razed to make way for the blingy new. Impeccably dressed Chinese women shop the afternoons away at gleaming new malls, young tycoons and princelings park their Ferraris on the sidewalks, and everyone who’s anyone congregates at the booming nightclubs filled with hip-hop music and VIP bottle service.

Sitting outside the Second Ring Road, which marks the boundary of the old walled imperial capital, Chaoyang represents a rapidly modernizing China at its peak. Here’s where you’ll find the Central Business District, with the city’s tallest towers and the architecturally impressive CCTV Building; Sanlitun, the longtime playground of expats, filled with swanky bars and restaurants that could just as well be in New York City or London; shopping centers filled with just about every major global brand, from Apple to Zegna; and almost all of Beijing’s embassies, lending the area a distinctly international vibe.

For dining and nightlife, you can’t beat Sanlitun, which was once a sleepy farming village. In the middle of it all is Sanlitun Lu, popularly known as Bar Street, and wreathed in twinkling lights year-round. On one side of this stretch is the luxurious open-air Taikoo Li shopping center (once known as the Village Sanlitun), a destination in and of itself. On the other side is a row of dive bars, which are best avoided. There’s also great shopping to be found around here.


Have dinner in Sanlitun and check out one of the bars or nightclubs surrounding the Workers’ Stadium.

See what’s going on in Chinese art today in the 798 Art District. After strolling through the galleries, browse the vast selection of art books at Timezone 8.

Do some shopping at Yashow Market, where you can buy anything from knockoff jeans to a custom-tailored suit. Then take a half-hour walk north on Sanlitun North Street and pick a place to grab an espresso or some top-quality Western food. The Nali Patio complex has a number of worthwhile options.

Go for an early-morning stroll in Chaoyang Park and watch the traditional Chinese exercises.


You can spend years lost in Chaoyang District and never get bored. There’s plenty to do, but there are very few historic sights. Spend a morning shopping at Silk Alley Market or Panjiayuan Antiques Market (best on weekend mornings) and the afternoon cooling off at Ritan Park or Chaoyang Park, the latter a large and pleasant park with a lot of activities for kids. Next, head to one of the numerous bar streets for refreshments. If you like contemporary art, browse the galleries at 798 Art District. There are a number of nice cafés here as well.


Annie’s Café.
The various branches of Annie’s Café serve great pizza and Italian-American style specialties in a family-friendly atmosphere. | Chaoyang Park West Gate, Chaoyang District | 010/6591-1931 | en.annies.com.cn | 88 Jianguo Lu, west side of SOHO New Town.

Crepes + panini = Crepanini, a great spot for sweet and savory snacks right in the middle of the Sanlitun action. It’s open late, too. | Nali Patio,81 Sanlitun Lu, Chaoyang District.

Two Guys And A Pie.
Terrific savory pies, with combos such as beef brisket and onion, with mashed potatoes and gravy toppings. Plus Australian beer. | Behind Sanlitun Houjie, west of the Sanlitun Police Station,Chaoyang District | 186/1105-3912.

Taikoo Li.
If you’re looking for Western food, Taikoo Li (formerly known as the Village Sanlitun) has lots of options. | Sanlitun Lu, Chaoyang District.


The heart of Chaoyang District is accessible via Lines 1, 2, and 10 on the subway, but the district is huge and the sites are broadly distributed. Taking taxis between sites is usually the easiest way to get around. The 798 Art District is especially far away from central Beijing, so a taxi is also the best bet (about Y30-Y50 from the center of town). Buses go everywhere, but they’re slow.

Chaoyang District

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798 Art District (Qîjiŭbâ yìshù qû).
Chinese contemporary art has exploded in the past decade, and to see some of the finest examples of the scene look no further than 798 Art District, located in the northeast corner of the city. This was once the site of several state-owned factories, including Factory 798, that produced electronics. Beginning in 2002, artists and cultural organizations began to move into the area, gradually developing the old buildings into galleries, art centers, artists’ studios, design companies, restaurants, and bars. Note that most if not all of the galleries here are closed on Mondays.

Experimenting with classical mediums such as paint and printmaking as well as forays into new and digital media, installation, and performance art, young Chinese artists are caught between old and new, Communism and capitalism, urban and rural, rich and poor, and East and West. These conflicts set the stage and color their artistic output, with varying results. Although more and more Chinese artists are achieving international recognition, 798 still abounds with knockoffs of bad Western art and tacky Socialist Realist portraits. Nevertheless the area remains the hub of contemporary creative arts in Beijing and is definitely worth a visit if you’re at all interested in the state of the arts in China.

Built in the 1950s, this factory district was a major industrial project by East German architects backed by Soviet aid. All but abandoned by the 1980s, the complex was rediscovered in the late 1990s by a small group of Beijing artists who had just been evicted from their previous haunts and were looking for a new place to set up working and living spaces. Although the scene was at first a completely DIY affair, the quality of art produced and international media attention starting from the early 2000s meant that the district government took notice. Eventually the area was declared a protected arts district, paving the way for commercial galleries, cafés, and souvenir shops. Priced out of their original studios, many working artists have decamped further afield to the Caochangdi and Songzhuang neighborhoods. Both of these smaller areas are worth visiting, though neither is easily accessible except via taxi. Ask your hotel concierge for a detailed map or, better yet, call ahead to the galleries you’re interested in visiting and get driving instructions.

798 is more accessible, however, and eminently walkable. Keep in mind that cabs are prohibited from driving into the complex, and much of the area is pedestrianized. Though it’s also open Tuesday through Friday, most people visit on the weekend, when throngs of locals and foreigners congregate to see what’s on display.

Many of the galleries there now are hit or miss, but establishments such as the Ullens Center for Contemporary Arts (UCCA) always put on informative, challenging exhibitions. If you need to refuel, stop by At Cafe, billed as the first café in 798 and still co-owned by Huang Rui, one of the district’s cofounders. | 798 Art District,2-4 Jiuxianqiao Rd., Dashanzi, Chaoyang District | www.798district.com.

Ancient Observatory (Běijîng gŭguânxiàng tái).
This squat tower of primitive stargazing equipment peeks out next to the elevated highways of the Second Ring Road. It dates to the time of Genghis Khan, who believed that his fortunes could be read in the stars. Many of the bronze devices on display were gifts from Jesuit missionaries who arrived in Beijing and shortly thereafter ensconced themselves as the Ming court’s resident stargazers. To China’s imperial rulers, interpreting the heavens was key to holding onto power; a ruler knew when, say, an eclipse would occur, or he could predict the best time to plant crops. Celestial phenomena like eclipses and comets were believed to portend change; if left unheeded they might cost an emperor his legitimacy—his mandate of heaven. Records of celestial observations at or near this site go back more than 500 years, making this the longest documented astronomical viewing site in the world.

The main astronomical devices are arranged on the roof. Writhing bronze dragon sculptures adorn some of the astronomy pieces at Jianguo Tower, the main building that houses the observatory. Among the sculptures are an armillary sphere to pinpoint the position of heavenly bodies and a sextant to measure angular distances between stars, along with a celestial globe. Inside, the dusty exhibition rooms shelter ancient star maps with information dating back to the Tang Dynasty. A Ming Dynasty star map and ancient charts are also on display. Most of the ancient instruments were looted by the Allied Forces in 1900, during the Boxer Rebellion, only to be returned to China at the end of World War I. | 2 Dongbiaobei Hutong, Jianguomenwai Dajie, Chaoyang District | 010/6524-2202 | Y20 | Tues.-Sun. 9-4 | Station: Jianguomen.

Healthy, light dishes served in modern, hip surroundings make Moka Bros a surefire winner if you’re in downtown Sanlitun and time is tight. But not everyone here is in a rush: this is also where Beijing’s cool crowd comes to hang out over laptops and lattes. Trendy but not pretentious, this excellent café is the perfect place for a pit stop, especially if you’re after a nutritious salad and smoothie, a tasty wrap and filling rice bowl, or something similar. | Nali Patio,81 Sanlitun Lu, Chaoyang District | 010/5208-6079.

Central Business District (CBD) (Shângyè zhôngxîn qû).
The fast-rising CBD encompasses the China World Trade Center (the third tower, completed in 2010, is the tallest building in Beijing) and a slew of new and impressive skyscrapers, some designed by internationally known architects. One example is the CCTV Tower, by Rem Koolhaas and Ole Scheeren. The multimillion-dollar complex employs a continuous loop of horizontal and vertical sections, and its distinctive shape has earned it the moniker “big pants.” Nearby is The Place, a shopping mall best known for its massive canopy-style LED screen. | Chaoyang District.

Ritan Park (Rìtán gôngyuán).
A cool oasis of water, paths, and trees just west of the Central Business District, Ritan Park (also known as “Temple of the Sun Park”) is a popular place to go for some peace and quiet, and is where many locals head to stretch their legs. Stop in at the Stone Boat café if you’re in need of refreshment. | Ritan Lu, northeast of Jianguomen, Dongcheng District | 010/8563-5038 | Free | Daily 6am-9pm.

Sanlitun (Sânlĭtún).
The famous Sanlitun Bar Street, several blocks east of the Workers’ Stadium, is known for its nightlife offerings catering to foreigners, expats, and young Chinese. Avoid the dive bars on the east side of Bar Street, however. Vics and Mix at the north gate of the Workers’ Stadium are two clubs always packed with people looking for a big night out, while the bars at The Opposite House hotel are a swank respite. Taikoo Li, Beijing’s hottest shopping complex, can be credited with changing the face of what was once a fairly seedy area. The Japanese-designed open-air center includes a number of international shops as well as a movie theater and some of Beijing’s best restaurants and cafés, and has become the city’s major hangout for the in-crowd, both local and foreign. | Chaoyang District.


Chambers Fine Art (Qián bō huàláng).
Named after the noted British architect Sir William Chambers, Chambers Fine Art Beijing opened in 2007 in the art village of Caochangdi. Situated in a redbrick gallery complex designed by the internationally famous Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, Chambers puts on exhibitions of young native Chinese artists worth paying attention to. | Red No. 1-D, Caochangdi, Chaoyang District | 010/5127-3298 | www.chambersfineart.com.

Chaoyang Park (Cháoyáng gôngyuán).
The sprawling, modern Chaoyang Park lacks the imperial aura that marks other Beijing parks, but it has quite a bit to offer in terms of recreation. About one-fourth of the park is water, and there are several kinds of boating available, primarily pedal-powered paddleboats. There’s a swimming pool with an artificial beach, tennis courts, beach volleyball grounds, a gymnasium, and a small amusement park. You can hire a slow-going electromobile for easy mobility around this sprawling park on your own, or hail a ride on a group trolley. There are many snack stands serving simple dishes, but if you’re looking for something more substantive, walk around to the west gate of the park, where you’ll find a street lined with popular Western and Chinese eateries, or check out the Solana mall at the northwest corner of the park. | Nongzhanguan Road South, Chaoyang District | Y5 | Mid-Mar.-mid-Nov., daily 6 am-10 pm; mid-Nov.-mid-Mar., daily 6 am-9 pm.

Jianguomen (Jiànguómén).
The embassy area has some good foreign restaurants, but is mostly quiet blocks of gated embassy compounds; in the center there’s lovely Ritan Park with its winding paths, lotus-flower ponds, a climbing wall, and a few upmarket restaurants. The area is close to the heart of Beijing’s new Central Business District, aka CBD, which has some of the city’s most impressive modern architecture, including the CCTV Tower, the Park Hyatt Hotel, and Tower III of the China World Trade Center, which at 81 stories is Beijing’s tallest skyscraper. | Chaoyang District.

Pace Beijing (Pèisīběijīng).
This Beijing branch of the famed Pace Gallery operates with an independent program focusing on Chinese contemporary artists. | No. 2 Jiuxianqiao Lu, 798 Art District, Chaoyang District | 010/5978-9781 | www.pacegallery.com/beijing.

Pékin Fine Arts (Běijīng yì mén).
Founded by the expatriate Bostonian Meg Maggio, who has lived in Beijing for more than 20 years, Pékin Fine Arts focuses on contemporary artists from around Asia who have both international and domestic exhibition experience. | No. 241 Caochangdi, Cuigezhuang Village, Chaoyang District | 010/5127-3220 | pekinfinearts.com.

Workers’ Stadium (Gôngrén tĭyùcháng).
North of Ritan Park is the Workers’ Stadium complex, where many of the biggest visiting acts perform. The main stadium here is also home to Beijing’s top-division soccer team. Running north-south, the famous Sanlitun Bar Street is several blocks east of the Workers’ Stadium; it’s known for its nightlife catering to foreigners, expats, and young Chinese. | Gongti Rd., Chaoyang District | Station: Dongsishitiao.

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Haidian District

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Top Attractions | Worth Noting

In the last decade or so Haidian has become Beijing’s educational and technological center, although there’s still a lot of Old Beijing left here, including the wonderful Summer Palace, with its lakes and ancient pavilions.

The major IT players, including Microsoft, Siemens, NEC, and Sun, all have offices in this area, and in the Wudaokou and Zhongguancun neighborhoods you’ll find kids geeking out over the latest gadgets at electronics superstores, studying in one of the many cafés, or blowing off steam at some of the area’s dance clubs.

The campuses of China’s most elite educational institutions, Peking University and Tsinghua, are large by Chinese standards and provide a tranquil respite from the busy surrounding area, with wide lawns and Chinese gardens complete with scenic bridges and pagodas. A large number of foreign students attend Chinese universities, with South Koreans the most numerous, so restaurants and shops catering to their needs are easy to find, especially around Wudaokou station.


Spend a low-key day at the vast Summer Palace and Old Summer Palace. Don’t miss getting out onto the water at either the Kunming Lake or the Fuhai Lake.

Eat and chat all evening at Wudaokou Binguan beer garden.

Browse the biggest selection of electronics and computer goods (both legitimate and pirated) this side of the Pacific at Hailong Shopping Mall.

Listen to China’s biggest bell toll at the Big Bell Temple. Here you’ll find bells, both large and small, from the Ming, Song, and Yuan dynasties.

Get out of town with a day trip to Fragrant Hills Park or Beijing Botanical Garden.


Because the Summer Palace is so large, with its lovely lakes and ancient pavilions, it makes for an entire morning of great exploring. The Old Summer Palace is close by, so visiting the two sites together is ideal (if you’ve got the energy).

Fragrant Hills Park makes for a charming outing, but keep in mind that it takes at least an hour and a half to get there from the city center. The Botanical Garden, with some 2,000 types of orchids, bonsai, and peach and pear blossoms, along with the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, is also fun, especially for green thumbs. Plan to spend most of a day if you go to either of these sites.

Hailong Shopping Mall.
If you want to shop for electronics, spend an afternoon wandering the five floors of the Hailong Shopping Mall. | 1 Zhongguancun Dajie.

Evenings in Wudaokou can be fun. After dinner, visit a beer garden. A mug of Tsingtao is a great way to start a summer night off right.


There are plenty of restaurants on campus and around Zhongguancun, but the coolest places to eat in Haidian are in Wudaokou.

Bridge Café.
The Bridge Café, on Chengfu Lu (one block west of the subway station), serves great sandwiches, salads, and desserts. It’s popular with students. | Building 12,35 Chengfu Lu | 010/8286-7026 | Station: Wudaokou.

This hopping Japanese restaurant is popular with students from the surrounding campuses. | 35 Chengfu Lu, Haidian District | 010/8261-0136 | Station: Wudaokou.

Tan Tan Da Lu.
Try the excellent and innovative Korean barbecue here. | Fourth Floor,35 Chengfu Lu, Haidian District | 010/6256-0471 | Station: Wudaokou.

Haidian District West

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Subway Line 13 stops at Wudaokou, the heart of Haidian. Line 4 runs far into the northwest of the city with stops at the Summer Palace and the Old Summer Palace, though Fragrant Hills Park and the Beijing Botanical Garden are farther out still and best reached by taxi. To save money, take Line 10 to Baguo station and catch a cab from there.

Haidian District East

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Beijing Botanical Garden (Běijîng zhíwù yuán).
Sitting at the feet of the Western Hills in Beijing’s northwestern suburbs, the Beijing Botanical Garden, opened in 1955, hosts China’s largest plant collection: 6,000 different plant species from all over northern China, including 2,000 types of trees and bushes, more than 1,600 species of tropical and subtropical plants, 1,900 kinds of fruit trees, and 500 flower species. With its state-of-the-art greenhouse and a variety of different gardens, this is a pleasant place to explore, especially in spring, when the peach trees burst with pretty blooms. An added feature is the wonderful Temple of the Reclining Buddha, which has an enormous statue that, it’s said, took 7,000 slaves to build. | Xiangshan Wofosi, Haidian District | 010/8259-8771 | Outdoor garden Y10; conservatory Y50 | 7-5 (outdoor garden).

Big Bell Temple (Dàzhôngsì).
This 18th-century temple shields China’s biggest bell and more than 400 smaller bells and gongs from the Ming, Song, and Yuan dynasties. The Buddhist temple—originally used for rain prayers—was restored after major damage inflicted during the Cultural Revolution. Before it opened as a museum in 1985, the buildings were used as Beijing No. 2 Food Factory. The bells here range from a giant 7 meters (23 feet) high to hand-sized chimes, many of them corroded to a pale green by time.

The giant, two-story bell, inscribed with the texts of more than 100 Buddhist scriptures (230,000 Chinese characters), is also said to be China’s loudest. Believed to have been cast during Emperor Yongle’s reign, the sound of this 46-ton relic can carry more than 15 km (10 miles) when struck forcibly. The bell rings 108 times on special occasions like Spring Festival, one strike for each of the 108 personal worries defined in Buddhism. People used to throw coins into a hole in the top of the bell for luck. The money was swept up by the monks and used to buy food. Enough money was collected in a month to buy provisions that would last for a year. TIP You can ride the subway to the temple: transfer from Dongzhimen on Line 2 to the above-ground Line 13 and go one stop north to Dazhong Si station. | 1A Beisanhuanxi Lu, Haidian District | 010/8213-2630 | Y20 | Tues.-Sun. 9-4:30 | Station: Dazhong Si.

Fodor’s Choice | Old Summer Palace (Yuánmíngyuán).
About the size of New York’s Central Park, this ruin was once a grand collection of palaces—the emperor’s summer retreat from the 15th century to 1860, when it was looted and blown up by British and French soldiers. More than 90% of the original structures were Chinese-style wooden buildings, but only the European-style stone architecture (designed after Versailles by Jesuits and added during the Qing Dynasty) survived the fires. Many of the priceless relics that were looted are still on display in European museums, and China’s efforts to recover them have been mostly unsuccessful. Beijing has chosen to preserve the vast ruin as a “monument to China’s national humiliation,” though the patriotic slogans that were once scrawled on the rubble have now been cleaned off.

The palace is made up of three idyllic parks: Yuanmingyuan (Garden of Perfection and Light) in the west, Wanchunyuan (Garden of 10,000 Springs) in the south, and Changchunyuan (Garden of Everlasting Spring), where the ruins are like a surreal graveyard to European architecture. Here you’ll find ornately carved columns, squat lion statues, and crumbling stone blocks that lie like fallen dominoes. An engraved concrete wall maze, known as Huanghuazhen (Yellow Flower), twists and turns around a European-style pavilion. Recently restored and located just to the left of the west gate of Changchunyuan, it was once the site of lantern parties during midautumn festivals. Palace maids would race each other to the pavilion carrying lotus lanterns. The park costs an extra Y15 to enter, but it’s well worth it. The park and ruins take on a ghostly beauty if you come after a fresh snowfall. There’s also skating on the lake when it’s frozen over. TIP It’s a long trek to the European ruins from the main gate. Electric carts buzz around the park; hop on one heading to Changchunyuan if you feel tired. Tickets are Y5.

If you want to save money, travel there by subway; get out at Yuanmingyuan Park Station on Line 4. | 28 Qinghua Xilu, northeast of the Summer Palace, Haidian District | 010/6262-8501 | Park Y10; extra Y15 fee for sites | Apr.-Oct., daily 7-6:30; Nov.-Mar., daily 7-5:30. | Station: Yuanmingyuan Park.

Summer Palace

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Fodor’s Choice | Summer Palace (Yíhéyuán).
Emperor Qianlong commissioned this giant royal retreat for his mother’s 60th birthday in 1750. Anglo-French forces plundered, then burned, many of the palaces in 1860, and funds were diverted from China’s naval budget for the renovations. Empress Dowager Cixi retired here in 1889. Nine years later it was here that she imprisoned her nephew, Emperor Guangxu, after his reform movement failed. In 1903 she moved the seat of government from the Forbidden City to the Summer Palace, from which she controlled China until her death in 1908.

Nowadays the place is undoubtedly romantic. Pagodas and temples perch on hillsides; rowboats dip under arched stone bridges; and willow branches brush the water. The greenery is a relief from the loud, bustling city. It also teaches a fabulous history lesson. You can see firsthand the results of corruption: the opulence here was bought with siphoned money as China crumbled, while suffering repeated humiliations at the hands of colonialist powers. The entire gardens were for the Empress Dowager’s exclusive use. UNESCO placed the Summer Palace on its World Heritage list in 1998.

The Hall of Benevolent Longevity is where Cixi held court and received foreign dignitaries. It’s said that the first electric lights in China shone here. Just behind the hall and next to the lake is the Hall of Jade Ripples, where Cixi kept the hapless Guangxu under guard while she ran China in his name. Strung with pagodas and temples, including the impressive Tower of the Fragrance of Buddha, Glazed Tile Pagoda, and the Hall that Dispels Clouds, Longevity Hill is the place where you can escape the hordes of visitors—take your time exploring the lovely northern side of the hill.

Most of this 700-acre park is underwater. Kunming Lake makes up around three-fourths of the complex, and is largely man-made. The excavated dirt was used to build Longevity Hill. This giant body of water extends southward for 3 km (2 miles); it’s ringed by tree-lined dikes, arched stone bridges, and numerous gazebos. In winter you can skate on the ice. The less-traveled southern shore near Humpbacked Bridge is an ideal picnic spot.

At the west end of the lake you’ll find the Marble Boat, which doesn’t actually float and was built by Dowager Empress Cixi with money meant for the navy. The Long Corridor is a wooden walkway that skirts the northern shoreline of Kunming Lake for about half a mile until it reaches the marble boat. The ceiling and wooden rafters of the Long Corridor are richly painted with thousands of scenes from legends and nature—be on the lookout for Sun Wukong (the Monkey King). Cixi’s home, in the Hall of Joyful Longevity, is near the beginning of the Long Corridor. The residence is furnished and decorated as Cixi left it. Her private theater, called the Grand Theater Building, just east of the hall, was constructed for her 60th birthday and cost 700,000 taels of silver.

Subway Line 4 stops at the Summer Palace. Get off at Beigongmen and take exit C for the easiest access to the north gate of the park. Otherwise, you’ll have to take a taxi. It’s best to come early in the morning to get a head start before the busloads of visitors arrive. You’ll need the better part of a day to explore the grounds. Automatic audio guides can be rented for Y40 at stalls near the ticket booth. | Yiheyuan Lu and Kunminghu Lu, 12 km (7½ miles) northwest of downtown Beijing, Haidian District | 010/6288-1144 | www.summerpalace-china.com | Y60 summer (all-inclusive), Y50 winter (all-inclusive) | Apr.-Oct., daily 6:30-6; Nov.-Mar., daily 7-5 | Station: Beigongmen.

Fragrant Hills Park(Xiângshân gôngyuán).
Once an imperial retreat, Xiangshan Park is better known as Fragrant Hills Park. From the eastern gate you can hike to the summit on a trail dotted with small temples. If you’re short on time, ride a cable car to the top. Note that the park becomes extremely crowded on pleasant fall weekends, when Beijingers turn out en masse to view the changing colors of the autumn leaves. Haidian District | 010/6259-1155 | Y10, one-way cable car Y60 | Daily 6-6.


Five-Pagoda Temple (Wŭ Tă Sì).
Hidden among trees just behind the zoo and set amid carved stones, the temple’s five pagodas reveal obvious Indian influences. It was built during the Yongle years of the Ming Dynasty (1403-1424), in honor of an Indian Buddhist who came to China and presented a temple blueprint to the emperor. Elaborate carvings of curvaceous figures, floral patterns, birds, and hundreds of Buddhas decorate the pagodas. Also on the grounds is the Beijing Art Museum of Stone Carvings, with its collection of some 1,000 stelae and stone figures. | 24 Wuta Si, Baishiqiao Lu, Haidian District | 010/6217-3543 | Y20 | Tues.-Sun. 9-4 | Station: National Library.

Military Museum of the Chinese People’s Revolutions (Zhôngguó rénmín gémìng jûnshì bówùguăn).
Closed for major renovations, this museum is scheduled to reopen in 2015. Stuffed with everything from AK-47s to captured tanks to missile launchers, this is a must-see for military buffs. Five thousand years of Chinese military history are on display, and kids especially love every minute of it. It’s easily accessible by taking a 10-minute subway ride west from Tiananmen Square. | 9 Fuxing Road, Haidian District | 010/6686-6244 | eng.jb.mil.cn | Free | Tues.-Sun. 8:30-5.

Temple of Azure Clouds (Bìyún sì).
Once the home of a Yuan Dynasty official, the site was converted into a Buddhist temple in 1366 and enlarged during the 16th and 17th centuries by imperial eunuchs who hoped to be buried here. The temple’s five main courtyards ascend a slope in Fragrant Hills Park. Although severely damaged during the Cultural Revolution, the complex has been beautifully restored.

The main attraction is the Indian-influenced Vajra Throne Pagoda. Lining its walls and five pagodas are gracefully carved stone-relief Buddhas and bodhisattvas. The pagoda once housed the remains of Nationalist China’s founding father, Dr. Sun Yat-sen, who lay in state here between March and May 1925, while his mausoleum was being constructed in Nanjing. A hall in one of the temple’s western courtyards houses about 500 life-size wood and gilt statues of arhats (Buddhists who have reached enlightenment)—each displayed in a glass case. | Xiangshan Park, Haidian District | 010/6259-1155 | Park Y10, temple Y10 | Daily 9-5.

Temple of Longevity (Wànshòu sì).
A Ming empress built this temple to honor her son in 1578. Qing emperor Qianlong later restored it as a birthday present to his mother. From then until the fall of the Qing, it served as a rest stop for imperial processions traveling by boat to the Summer Palace and Western Hills. The site also served as a Japanese military command center during occupation. Today the temple is managed by the Beijing Art Museum and houses a small but exquisite collection of Buddha images. The statues in the main halls include dusty Ming-period Buddhas and one of Shakyamuni sitting on a 1,000-petal, 1,000-Buddha bronze throne. | Suzhou Jie, Xisanhuan Lu, on the north side of Zizhu Bridge, Haidian District | 010/6842-3565 | Y20 | Tues.-Sun. 9-4.

Temple of the Reclining Buddha (Wòfó sì).
Although the temple was damaged during the Cultural Revolution and poorly renovated afterward, the Sleeping Buddha remains. Built in 627-629, during the Tang Dynasty, the temple was named after the reclining Buddha that was brought in during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). An English-language description explains that the casting of the beautiful bronze, in 1321, enslaved 7,000 people. The temple is inside the Beijing Botanical Garden; stroll north from the entrance through the neatly manicured grounds. | Xiangshan Lu, 2 km (1 mile) northeast of Xiangshan Park,Haidian District | 010/8259-8771 | www.beijingbg.com | Temple Y5, gardens Y10 | Daily 8:00-4:30.

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