Beijing Travel Guide
You haven’t really been to China if you haven’t seen Beijing. More than just the country’s capital city, Beijing is the political, economic, cultural, educational and international trade and communication center of the nation. The city is also one of the world’s great ancient capitals as it houses some of the finest remnants and relics of China’s imperial past. Beijing’s primeval treasures stand in stark contrast with its impressive skylines, vibrant neighborhoods and booming districts. These give the city a complex yet compelling character that makes Beijing an energetic hodgepodge of culture, tradition, development and modernity.
With all these said, it’s actually a must to spend a couple of days or more in Beijing. The question is, where to start? There’s a variety of places to see and explore in this part of China – from the world famous Great Wall and Forbidden City down to quaint hutongs and hidden temples. My two days weren’t enough to travel around the city, but we still managed to get a feel of the place, its people and the culture after checking out some remarkable spots and under-the-radar districts.
This is perhaps one of the most popular destinations in Beijing for being the best-preserved imperial palace in China and the largest ancient palatial structure in the world. The Forbidden City, having housed 24 emperors during the Ming and Qing dynasties, reflects the essence and culmination of traditional Chinese architectural accomplishment. The grand temples, deluxe halls and splendid structures inside its walls exude authentic magnificence. It was named Forbidden City because ordinary people were prohibited to enter such a divine place, unless they have special permission from the emperor. The scenario inside the Forbidden City is nothing like its name though. Locals and tourists are everywhere. If ever you grow tired of the crowd (which will eventually happen), you can head to the peripheral courtyards for a pleasing escape.
Another remarkable attraction is the Tiananmen Square, the world’s largest public square, located at the center of Beijing. Visitors can get to see the Tiananmen Tower, Monument to the People’s Heroes, Chairman Mao Zedong Memorial Hall, the Great Hall of the People, and, if you get up early, the national flag raising ceremony. This morning ritual is performed by a troop of People’s Liberation Army soldiers trained to march at precisely 108 paces per minute. We weren’t able to walk on the square’s grounds due to the energy-draining heat so we just viewed it from the big windows of the hop-on-hop-off bus. 1950s Soviet-style buildings ringed by white perimeter fences can be seen from afar.
Temple of Heaven Park
This masterpiece of architecture and landscape design is considered as the most holy of Beijing’s imperial temples. The Temple of Heaven Park resembles a tranquil oasis of peace and methodical Confucian design where the emperor used to perform solemn rites and prayers for prosperity. The best time to visit this UNESCO World Cultural Heritage site is early morning for an interesting experience of watching older locals do their morning exercise, practice tai chi or sing songs. We were there late afternoon, thus the chance to go inside the temple was gray. We settled to watching the sights and scenes happening inside its long walls which, for me, were just as amusing.
Great Wall in Mutianyu
Who doesn’t know China’s famed Great Wall? If you’re left with only a day in Beijing, I’d say make visiting the Great Wall your top priority. It is China’s greatest engineering triumph and must-see sight, and the experience of hiking it can leave you lost for words. The Great Wall of China runs over 342 miles and has about 827 city wall platforms, 71 passes and countless towers. The section nearest Beijing (and most crowded) is Badaling. We wanted to avoid the flock of tourists so we went to Mutianyu instead. It was a good choice as this section of the wall gives better views and excellent cultural experience. The wall is impressive and manageable, with watchtowers tensely distributed along it. The crowd wasn’t as big as what we expected, plus the surrounding natural scenery is breathtaking.
After all the temple-hopping and sightseeing around Beijing, it would be nice to do some shopping or food tripping in one of China’s most famous shopping districts. Wangfujing is one exciting place to cap off the day with large upscale shopping malls, trendy boutiques, small shops, various restaurants and eats lining the street. Visitors can shop for all kinds of finds – from paintings and traditional Chinese arts and crafts down to clothes, apparel and more. Food choices are also aplenty as restaurants serve a wide range of cuisine, be it fastfood, peking duck, Western dishes or dessert. We found a shake kiosk somewhere in the middle of Wangfujing and sipped on some freshly-made yogurt shake while watching people pass by.
Beijing is a city with a lot to offer, be it about culture, food, people, entertainment or art. SImply walking around local neighborhoods and districts would give one a sense of wonder on the remarkable contrast of ancient times and modern transformation present in China’s capital city.
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