A huge, sprawling city that’s home to almost 12 million people, Beijing is the capital of China and has been the political and cultural heartbeat of the country for centuries. With its great monuments, parks, palaces and traditions, this is the perfect city in which to start an exploration of this remarkable country.
- Explore the historic, labyrithine lanes of the hutongs by bicycle
- Hike and picnic on a remote section of the Great Wall
- Enjoy special access to the Chonghua Palace in the Forbidden City
- Learn to roll, knead and fill dumplings – a prized Chinese dish
At its centre is the enormous Tiananmen Square, the largest public square in the world conceived by Chairman Mao as a place to portray the Communist Party’s importance. Home to Mao’s mausoleum this vast arena of monolithic monuments that pay homage to Communist glory is juxtaposed with that most imperial of sites, the Forbidden City. This was the former residence of the emperors of the Ming and Qing Dynasties who lived in this enclave that was off limits, hence its name, for over 500 years and is China’s best preserved complex of ancient buildings.
Once a playground for the Emperor and his court to escape the heat of the city, The Summer Palace is a vast area of temples, pavilions, gardens, bridges and the huge Kunming Lake and one of the city’s most important sites. The UNESCO designated Temple of Heaven is another key highlight as is the serene park in which it is situated. Here you can escape the hustle of the city and relax and watch the locals as they enjoy their Tai Chi classes and go about their daily life.
The Hutongs are the old residential district of the city and another fascinating part of the city. With its warren of narrow, bustling backstreets, vibrant markets, courtyard homes and smoky temples this is an area of Beijing that transports you back to an olden and more traditional era of China.
A trip to Beijing would be incomplete without a visit to the Great Wall, China’s greatest engineering triumph. One of the world’s great wonders, the wall starts east of the capital and then snakes its way through undulating hills. Parts of the wall have been beautifully restored and to walk along this ancient structure is breathtaking, but it is also well worth visiting parts of the wall that are now slowly crumbling away as these are far less crowded and offer equally wonderful views.