Once known as the "wild wall" for the extent to which nature had reclaimed it, the Great Wall at Huanghua (Huánghuā Chángchéng, 黄花长城) was partly renovated in 2005. However, it's still a long way from becoming anything like the super-touristy Badaling and, as such, Huanghua makes a great alternative Great Wall hike for those willing to do a bit of climbing. Like other sections of the Great Wall near Beijing, Huanghua snakes along mountain ridges, rising and falling with the peaks. On the site's..
Only a 70 km (44 mi) drive from Beijing, Badaling (Bādálǐng, 八达岭) is the most visited section of the Great Wall. Constructed during the Ming Dynasty, Badaling underwent extensive reconstruction during the 1950s and 1980s and now features amenities that invading barbarians would certainly kill for, from cable car rides to snack stands, caged bears, souvenir shops and restaurants, not to mention air-conditioned tour buses traveling down the expressway which links this length of wall to the capital. With all the extras and the site's..
Fragrant Hills Park (Xiāngshān Gōngyuán, 香山公园) is located some 20 km (12 mi) northwest of Beijing, not far from the Summer Palace. Though the name could easily refer to the area's relatively fresh air (for Beijing) and the scent of trees and flowers, it instead comes from the shape of the hills themselves. If you look closely, squint a bit and crank up your imagination, you might just make out the shape of a Chinese incense burner at the summit of the hills. If this image eludes you, you may be glad to know the park also goes by..
Home to the biggest bell in China, the Great Bell Temple (Dàzhōng Sì, 大钟寺) was built in 1733 during the Qing Dynasty. The bell itself, known as the "King of Bells," was cast in 1405 during the rule of the Ming Emperor Yongle. Covered with Buddhist writings in Chinese and Sanskrit, the bell weighs a hefty 46.5 tonnes (51 tons) and is 6.75 m (22 ft 2 in) tall. It's rung 108 times—a lucky number—on special occasions such as the Chinese New Year. The legend behind this behemoth of a bell, tells that the emperor..
The Temple of Heaven (Tiāntán, 天坛), completed in 1420 during the reign of the Ming Emperor Yongle, was the most sacred space in which the emperor—also known as the Son of Heaven—performed the most important sacrifices and rites. The gods of earth, water, war, and civilian affairs were all honored, but it was the god of agriculture who received special attention. On the winter solstice, the emperor, after ritual fasts and purification, would beseech Heaven for bountiful harvests. The temple's layout reflects the..
The Old Summer Palace, known in Chinese as the "Gardens of Perfect Clarity" (Yuánmíng Yuán, 圆明园), served as a retreat for the imperial Qing court before it was looted and leveled in 1860 during the second Opium War by British and French troops under the command of James Bruce, the Earl of Elgin, in retaliation for the torture and killing of troops sent to negotiate with the Qing government. Today it is a haunting but melancholy place, with the ruins only hinting at what was once a resplendent complex of fountains,..
Beihai Park (Běihǎi Gōngyuán, 北海公园) lies just to the west of the Forbidden City and until 1925, it was considered part of the imperial complex and therefore off-limits to the masses. The heart of the park consists of three man-made lakes: Beihai (Běihǎi, 北海), Zhonghai (Zhōnghǎi, 中海) and Nanhai (Nánhǎi, 南海). The lakes are connected by the Jade Islet (Qióng Dǎo, 琼岛) which, along with the lakes, was created during the Jin Dynasty (1115-1234 AD), although the site's history as an imperial playground goes back even further..
One of Beijing little known scenic spots, Qinglong Xia (Green Dragon Gorge), is a large reservoir located some 75km from Beijing's 3rd ring road, near the town of Huairou. The area's vast body of deep green water curves and snakes around between the feet of a pair of mountains, and when viewed from a height, resembles a typical Chinese dragon—hence the name. There are activities aplenty, enough to please outdoor enthusiasts and thrill seekers alike. Nature walks up mountain trails take in some beautiful scenery and flora. Set atop the..
Standing in the middle of Tian'anmen Square (Tiān'ānmén Guǎngchǎng, 天安门广场), one is confronted with overwhelming representations of China's past and present powers-that-be, cast in an immense space that dramatizes China's modern history in spectacular fashion. Standing on ground where the Emperor's high officials once did business in classical courtyards and halls, one now finds the world's largest public square, with Mao's Mausoleum, the Great Hall of the People and the Monument to the People's Heroes..
Once you've seen the Forbidden City, where all but two of fifteen Ming emperors lived, take a trip out to their final resting place, the Ming Tombs, or "Thirteen Tombs" (Shísān Líng, 十三陵). The third Ming emperor, Yongle (1402-1424), chose the site based on its excellent feng shui and the harmonic balance of wooded mountains to the north, rich dark earth and calm waters is as pleasant today as it must have been when chosen as the last resting place of emperors. Only three of the tombs are presently open to the public,..
Running along a Jundu Shan (Jūndū Shān, 军都山) ridge, this section of the Great Wall is particularly scenic, with its renovated watchtowers looking out over wooded hills that change with the seasons. Spring sees blossoming trees set against dark hills and budding green leaves; summer gives way to a lusher green carpeting the slopes and ridges; snow dusts the hilltops in winter; and autumn at Mutianyu (Mùtiányù, 慕田峪) is especially well-known for its colorful foliage. Located in Huairou Rural District..
Located 45 kilometers west of Beijing, Tanzhe Temple dates back to the Jin Dynasty (265-420 AD) and is not only the oldest temple in the surrounding hills, but was also once one of Beijing's most important and famous temples. Despite its old age, most of the temple has been refurbished since Tanzhe became an official satellite tourist attraction; however, the two "Emperor" gingko trees are originals, dating back roughly 1,000 years. Comprised of the Archway, the Front Gate, Deveraja Hall,..