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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrAs the capital city of China, Beijing, sometimes known as Peking, is a sprawling metropolis, home to over 21 million people. Located in Northeast China, the city experiences a dry climate, influenced by the monsoon, and experiences hot summers and dry, cold winters. Surrounded by mountains on three sides, Beijing is situated in the middle of a stunning landscape.
The city is, however, filled with smog, and on any given day, the air pollution can be up to five times above the standard recommended as safe by the World Trade Organisation. Since the 2008 Olympics however, Beijing made huge efforts to clean up the air, spending a massive 17 billion USD. Factories, and car pollution contribute to the smog, as well as frequent dust storms that dump up to 50,000 tons of dust onto the city.
HistoryBeijing’s rich history dates back 3,000 years, to when Beijing was the capital of the ancient states of Yan, prior to the unification of China. Almost continually since 1279, Beijing has remained China’s capital.
Beijing’s recent history began when the Manchus seized Beijing in 1644. The Manchus began appointing Ming officials, and moved the new capital seat to the Forbidden City, and made Beijing the new seat of Beijing. When the Manchus were in charge of the city, and later the rest of the country, Beijing was known as Jingshi. It was during the Manchu rule of Beijing that the city developed the local dialect of Mandarin Chinese, which consequently became the national language of China.
During the Second Opium War, in 1860, English and French forces annihilated the Qing army just outside Beijing, capturing the Summer Palace and ransacking the Old Summer Palace, and the British consul ordered the burning of the Old Summer Palace, but thankfully saving the Forbidden City. At the end of the war, with the signing of the Convention of Peking, Western powers forcibly established a permanent diplomatic in the city, with embassies located south of the Forbidden City.
Beijing has quickly become a world capital, the proof comes from being awarded the Olympics, and today Beijing is still growing at an astonishing rate. With the establishment of world-class transportation services, and the construction of many astounding skyscrapers, Beijing is fast becoming one of the most impressive cities.
SightseeingYou could easily spend a month in Beijing and not run out of things to do and places to see. There are, however, some ‘must-do’ experiences!
Great Wall of ChinaThe Great Wall of China, a classic symbol of Beijing, is one of the oldest man-made walls in the world. Construction first started as early as the 7th century BC, along the northern and eastern border, in order to protect the Chinese Empire against intrusion by other groups looking to attack.
The wall has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1987. The wall has been rebuilt in many places and expanded upon, and most of the current wall originated from the Ming Dynasty . At 21,196 kilometers long, the wall contains watchtowers, troop barracks, as well as signalling mechanisms. Most of the wall is closed to the public, but there are considerable parts that can be walked along. The majority of the wall is in disrepair, and sometimes people use parts of the wall as a playground, or utilize the stones to rebuild houses and walls. The parts closest to Beijing have, however, mostly been preserved for tourism.
Forbidden CityThe Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming Dynasty until the end of the Qing Dynasty , and is located in the center of Beijing. For almost 500 years it served as the home of emperors, and was the political center of the Chinese government. Today, it is one of the biggest tourist sites in the world. In 1987, it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is listed as the largest collection of preserved, ancient, wooden structures in the world.
The Forbidden City, or palace, is in the shape of a rectangle, and it is estimated that there are 9,999 rooms in the whole compound, though this has not been verified. From north to south, the length is 961 meters, and from east to west, it is 753 meters. The palace was designed to be built at the center of Beijing and has largely remained so. It is surrounded by a 8-meter high wall, as well as a moat. The entire ‘city’ was planned according to religious and symbolic customs. Entrance into the Palace Museum depends on the type of tour you take, and although it is recommended it is not essential. The museum is open 7 days a week, until late.
Tiananmen SquareTiananmen Square is located in the center of Beijing, and is the fourth-largest square in the world. Located just north of the Forbidden City, it holds a central point in Chinese history as the sight of many culturally significant events.
Although it is also the place of the brutal Tiananmen Square massacre, this square has been a gathering place for more peaceful rallies and political protests. The Tiananmen Square protests, also known as the July Fourth incident, occurred in 1989, and were student-led protests, supported by the vast majority of local residents. The main goals of the protests were social equality, freedom of the press, freedom of speech, and to some degree, democracy. Chinese leaders heavily suppressed these protests resulting in the use of lethal force and the death of hundreds or possibly thousands of people – though there are few reliable statistics.
Situated in the square is Chairman Mao’s resting place, though you may have to wait a while to get a glimpse. The square is huge and impressive, and it seems no matter how many people there are, it is never crowded. You are able to take photographs, but be aware that security is very tight, and there are a number of undercover policemen watching what you say and do. There are many tour operators, and if you do decide to hire a guide, make sure you bargain the price – as there is not much to see in the square, it is recommended to save the money for a tour guide for the Forbidden City. The square is open every day, and it is best to visit early in the morning when there are fewer tourists.
The Summer PalaceThe Summer Palace, a beautiful garden complex, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and today, a public park. Located approximately 10 kilometers north of Central Beijing, the park is the largest and most well-preserved park in China. Situated in the middle of the park is the beautiful Kunming Lake, and you can take a variety of boat tours around the lake. The palace also features numerous halls, pavilions, and traditional buildings, many of which can be viewed from the inside.
Destroyed during the Second Opium War, it was rebuilt by Emperor Guangxu for use by Empress Dowager Cixi, and since 1924, has been a public park. Open from 6.30 AM, it is truly incredible to see the sunrise while in the Summer Palace. Alternatively, it is open until 6.00 PM, and you can also watch the sunset during the summer months. There is an entrance fee, and some separate buildings charge an extra feehow much is the fee.
Temple of HeavenThe Temple of Heaven, also known as Tian Tan, is a large complex of religious buildings, often regarded as Daoist Temple, though the Chinese act of worshiping heaven predates Daoism. The Temple was often visited by emperors and empresses for annual ceremonies of prayer to Heaven for the good harvest. The construction of the Temple took 14 years, starting in 1406 to 1420, during the reign of Emperor Yongle, the same person responsible for the construction of the Forbidden City, Beijing.
During the Second Opium War, the temple was occupied by British and French forces, and by international forces during the Boxer Rebellion , in 1900, turning it into a temporary command center in Beijing. The Temple was opened to the public for the first time in 1918, after the then President of the Republic of China, Yuan Shikai performed a Ming prayer ceremony with the intention of becoming an Emperor of China.
Most recently, the Temple was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998, noting ‘a masterpiece of architecture and landscape design’. The surroundings of the Temple are beautiful, and you can arrange a tour to have a Tai Chi lesson in one the courtyards, which makes for an interesting experience. The buildings are well-kept, as are the gardens and you should set aside a few hours to walk around exploring. Entrance is a small donation – be sure to go early in the morning or before closing during high season as the high number of tourist can really spoil the experience.
Lugou BridgeLuguo Bridge, also known as Marco Polo Bridge, is a bridge located just outside of Beijing, over the Yongding River, and is most famous for being the site of the beginning of China's entry into WWII. In July, 1937, conflict erupted between Japanese and Chinese troops, sparking the entrance of Pacific forces into WWII. The bridge is adorned with many statues of lions, all in slightly different styles.
Beihai ParkBeihai Park, located in the center of the city, covers an area of just under 1 square kilometer, making it one of the smaller parks by Chinese standards. A large portion of the park is taken up by the lake, located in the middle of the park, and other features include a white dagoba, a jade flowery islet and a botanical garden. There are several other, mostly spiritual buildings you can visit, though it is equally enjoyable to simply stroll around the lake. Admission to the park is 10 CNY, and it is open from early to late, closing at sundown. To get there take subway line 4 and get off at Ping'anli station. The park is located twenty minutes by foot from the subway station along Dianmen Xi Dajie.
National Museum of ChinaThe National Museum of China, sits next to Tiananment Square, in the center of Beijing. The National Museum of China documents modern China's history, and is one of the most comprehensive museums in the world, covering events in-depth. There are several permanent exhibitions as well as rotating ones, including exhibitions on specific aspects of Chinese culture and trade, such as the Ming furniture exhibition, and the display of state gifts. The majority of the museum is free, but there are some exhibitions that require additional fees. The museum is open from 9 am to 5 pm, everyday except Monday. To get there take subway line 1 to Tiananmen East, or subway line 2 to Qianmen.
Happy Valley BeijingHappy Valley Beijing is an amusement park built just outside the city center, and actually comprises six theme parks, each with different features and all with rides. The rides are geared more towards thrill-seeking adults, though you will find something for kids as well. The park is well set out, and you can easily spend the whole day here. Consider bringing your own food though, because the food they have is expensive and not great quality. Go on a week day if you can, when their are significantly less people. Tickets are 200 CNY for adults, and 130 CNY for children. Senior citizens and young children go free. To get there, take subway line 1 to Dawang Lu Station, before changing to bus 31, and going to Houfengqiao Nan station.
Beijing National Aquatics CenterThe Beijing National Aquatics Center, also known as the water cube, was built for the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and has since become a main attraction in the city, seating up to an incredible 91'000 people. It now features an extensive water park, with 4 slides, and a number of pools for both young children and teenagers. There is also a restaurant serving hot food and drinks. An adult ticket is 200 CNY, and includes entrance to the water park and a chance to visit the stadium as well. Children under a certain height receive discounted tickets. The park is open throughout the year from 10 am - 9.30 pm.
Beijing World ParkBeijing World Park, is an amusement park that aims to allow visitors to see the world without ever leaving Beijing. It features extensive miniature sculptures, and has been open since 1993. Situated in Fengtai District, it is a short ride from the center of Beijing. The park covers around 50 countries, featuring iconic landmarks from all continents. During the summer, there are several song and dance performances, and the occasional simulation film. Entrance is 100 CNY during the summer and 65 CNY during the winter. Children under 1.2 meters go free of charge. To get there take the bus (#969, 959, 967, 981, 840 or 913) to Jie Gong Yuan station.
798 Art ZoneLocated in the Dashanzi zone of Beijing, is an incredible conglomeration of artist studios known as the 798 Art Zone, and sometimes as the 798 Factory.
The Art District is located in an unused military factory, creating a unique architectural space that houses a thriving, growing art community. The artists specialize mostly in modern art, all with a variety of styles and exhibition layouts.
Longmai Hot Spring VillageHead to the spa for some well-deserved rest and relaxation, and an escape from the busy streets of Beijing. Boasting indoor and outdoor springs, the spa offers pools filled with water filtered directly from the ground, providing an array of health-benefits. Unlike most spa's you'll find in Europe, this one features extensive fake foliage, and is certainly quite kitsch. Alongside the springs, you also have a pool, sand bath, herbal saunas, a wave pool and heated stone beds. The complex also features a bowling alley, badminton courts, table tennis and archery, so you can easily fill up an entire day. To get there take subway line 5 to Tiantongyuan station. From here change to bus number 52 or 985, and get off at Xiaotangshan Zhengfu Zha. The Longmai Hot Spring Village is 500 meters from here.
AccommodationThere are over 80 hostels in Beijing offering a wide variety of choices, enabling you to find suitable accommodation even on a tight budget. The Great Wall Box House offers private rooms from $ 35 USD a night, and offers a free dinner as well as free breakfast throughout your stay. This is a small hostel, and with only six rooms it makes it feel more like a house. The house is, however, located in the countryside, next to the Wall which makes for a perfect retreat after long days spent in the center.
Michael’s House is a three-star hotel located in the Haidian District of Beijing. Although a little difficult to find, the service is incredible, with staff willing to go the extra mile to help with things such as train tickets and restaurant reservations. The hotel is small, so be sure to book in advance – it is located next to some good restaurants and a short walk from the train station, and a cab ride away from the center. The hotel includes breakfast, with rooms starting at around $ 55 USD .
The Marriott Beijing, is the largest Marriott outside of the United States, and it does not disappoint. With a sprawling, ‘all you can eat’ breakfast buffet, offering both local and international dishes, the breakfast alone is worth the price tag. The hotel is huge, but the concierge is great and will help out with any requests you may have. There are also several restaurants, making for any easy dinner if you don’t want to leave the hotel.
EatingAs the capital of one of the largest countries in the world, Beijing has a huge variety of food at different prices in different settings. Rated number one is the Swisscow Café, run by Mr. Zhou, a Chinese national who used to teach in Switzerland. The café is cosy and warm, offering Swiss hot chocolate, as well as great burgers and fries. Find the café on Fangjia Hutong Road, in Dongcheng District.
The Black Sesame Kitchen, which currently operates out of the Orchid Hotel, prepares a unique ten-course menu, with waiters who will explain in detail what you are about to have. You can rent the kitchen, which prepares typical Chinese food, for private events, so long as you have a minimum of 8 people. They now also offer a ‘wine and dine’ experience, in which you can make individual reservations to eat with other people. The menu comes with wine, and while it is more expensive than many restaurants, at $ 50 USD it is definitely worth it for a once in a lifetime experience.
No trip to Beijing is complete without the legendary Peking Duck. Most commonly eaten in the form of pancakes, with so many places to choose from it is hard to know which place serves the best Peking Duck. Da Dong Roast Duck Restaurant is widely known as the place that does it best, and luckily they now have three restaurants, as demand was so high. Offering a wide variety of dishes, the Peking Duck pancakes are really all you need to worry about. There is no website, and no reservations are taken, so ask your concierge or hostel about how to get there, and if they can help with getting you in.
Just in case you haven’t quite got your fill of dumplings yet, Beijing is another great place to try them out. Jiaozi Wu, is one of the best places, and even has an English menu. Everything is made to order, and they offer pork and chives, as well as more international options such as mushrooms with chicken, and have a lot of seafood on offer as well.
Getting ThereBeijing has a large international airport servicing most major airport around the world; it is the second-busiest airport in the world in terms of passenger volume. Located approximately 26 km north of the center of Beijing, an airport express train easily gets you to Central Beijing.
Travelling to Beijing from Shanghai, you can now take the infamous bullet train and travel at over 300 km an hour – turning what is normally a 12-hour journey into a 5-hour journey. Beijing has six train stations, causing some confusion about which one to go to. Most trains arrive at the north, south, east, or west train stations depending on which part of the country they come from. Beijing offers great connections to all major Chinese cities and it is an efficient and cheap way to travel around the country.
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Author: hannahbarkan. Last updated: Jan 09, 2015