Of the millions of visitors who arrive in Beijing each year, few are prepared for the modern cityscape canvas that awaits them. China’s capital city is unique tapestry of old and new, where a thousand years of imperial history is woven with 21st-century architecture: modern structures of concrete and glass mingle starkly with ancient spiritual heritage. At first sight, the unassuming visitor may see only the busy eight-lane freeways that randomly criss-cross the city or the vast apartment blocks which house the majority of Beijing’s dense populace. Beyond the urban jungle, however, lies some of the country’s most impressive and beautiful landmarks which should form the basis of any visitor’s travel itinerary.
Recent history has cemented Tiananmen Square’s reputation as a symbol of the common people’s uprising against repressive leadership and, unforgettably, of innocents slain in their thousands by military forces. Visiting Beijing’s most notorious landmark is as much a journey of remembrance for those lost in the uprising of 1989, but its symbolism stretches back much further in time. It was here, in the largest square of its kind in the world, that the People’s Republic of China was born by Chairman Mao in 1949 at the Gate of Heavenly Peace, and its place in the country’s political fabric is celebrated daily with the hoisting and lowering of the Chinese flag by members of the armed forces in a spectacle that is definitely worth witnessing.
The Forbidden City
Built between 1406 and 1420, the Forbidden City is a vast imperial palace consisting of 9,000 rooms over 250 acres. For over 500 years, it was China’s political heartbeat and reflects the architectural style of the Ming Dynasty, during whose time construction started. Now a World Heritage Site, the Forbidden City is home to the Palace Museum which boasts an extensive collection of relics and artwork from the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Due to the size of the site and the amount of walking involved, comfortable shoes are highly recommended.
Photo Credit: mingtomb.com
Located in the northwest of the city, the Ming Tombs – also known as the 13 Tombs – is the resting place of the most of the emperors from the Ming Dynasty which ruled China for nearly 300 years until 1644 and is therefore, a key part of political and cultural history. Two tombs have been excavated and opened to the public, the Changling Tomb and Dingling Tomb, both of which can be visited by entering the vast burial chambers themselves, with a variety of relics from the era on display.
China’s largest imperial garden, Summer Palace is an expansive royal retreat covering 10 square miles in the north of the city and is a popular hideaway for visitors and residents alike. Although a leisurely day exploring the park will still leave some areas untrodden, its collection of temples, bridges and pavilions around the immense Kunming Lake is a delightful and relaxing experience. The park, which has been declared a World Heritage Site, is highly regarded for its superb garden landscapes and traditional Chinese architecture.
The Great Wall of China
Located just north of Beijing, the Great Wall of China is a day trip experience unlike any other. Contrary to popular opinion, the huge stone structure, which was constructed as early as 700 B.C. to prevent incursions from nomadic tribes into the land held by the Chinese states, cannot be seen from space, but nevertheless there is no doubting its majestic scale when walking upon it. Eight sections of the Great Wall across the north of Beijing over a distance of 600 kilometres. It’s worth remembering that in summer temperatures, it can reach 40° celsius (104° Fahrenheit) while in the winter they plunge to -20° celsius (-4° Fahrenheit)
Beijing is a city strong in culture, politics and heritage with a wealth of unique attractions unsurpassed in the modern world. If you’re looking to soak up authentic Chinese traditions while saving money on your holiday, Beijing could just be the next city on your travel itinerary.
About the Author
Theresa Oesterreich‘s passion is traveling. She enjoys traveling to South America and Asia as the culture and people are particularly lovable and interesting. If she is not on tour you can find her working in the online editorial department at CoupoRando.