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Travel to Beijing, China

Beijing, still sometimes referred to as Peking, is the capital of the People's Republic of China, the most highly populated country in the world ( 1,420,062,022 residents according to data for 2019).

The urban area of Beijing is populated by 21 million residents as per data for 2018. A megacity, Beijing is the second largest Chinese city by urban population after Shanghai and is the nation's political, cultural, and educational center. Located in northern China, Beijing serves as a major transportation hub and port of entry. The capital of China is one of the oldest cities in the world, with a rich history dating back three millennia. As the last of the Four Great Ancient Capitals of China, Beijing has been the political center of the country for most of the past eight centuries. Beijing is also a global power city and one of the world's leading centers for politics, economy, business, finance, education, culture, architecture, innovation and technology. Combining both contemporary and traditional architecture, Beijing offers travelers a unique combination to explore the city's ancient past and impressive ultra-modern development. In 2008 Beijing hosted the Summer Olympic games offering a spectacular opening ceremony. The dynamic city has become one of the most popular travel destinations in the world, with about 140 million Chinese tourists and 4.4 million international visitors in a year. Beijing has seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites - the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, Ming Tombs, Zhoukoudian, and parts of the Great Wall and the Grand Canal - all tourist locations. Beijing offers a great variety of attractions - temples, palaces, museums, parks, theaters, restaurants, street markets, shopping malls and you will probably need at least 3-4 days to see all the major sights and places. It's been quite a while since my visit to China in September 2009, but I still remember the excitement and incredible impressions I've got from this mega country.

Gate of Heavenly Peace that leads to the Forbidden City

Here are some of the most important Beijing's landmarks you must see:

  • Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen Square, (Gate of heavenly peace) is located in the center of Beijing and is a must-visit place.

It was built as a gate in the wall of the Imperial City in 1415 during the Ming dynasty. Throughout the years it has gone through destruction and renovation and by 1950 it has enlarged its size by four times.

Today, designed to hold a million people, the square is considered the largest inner-city square in the world.

It has great cultural significance as it was the site of several important events in Chinese history.

Tiananmen square is largely associated with students' protests and demonstrations in 1989, calling for democracy, free speech and a free press in China. They were halted in a bloody crackdown, known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre, by the Chinese government on June 4 and 5, 1989.

The main buildings in the square include:

The Monument to the People's Heroes, the Great Hall of the People, the National Museum of China, the Gate of Heavenly Peace, that leads to the Forbidden City.

Another highlight is the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, where the body of Mao rests in a crystal sarcophagus.

Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People's Republic of China in the square on October 1, 1949, and the anniversary of this event is still observed there.

  • The Forbidden City

The Forbidden City is one of the most significant attractions not only in Beijing, but in whole China with an important role in Chinese history.

Located next to Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City is a former imperial palace of the emperors of Ming and Qing dynasties. First built in 1406 in the fourth year of Emperor Yongle, it is the place where 24 emperors were enthroned.

The Forbidden City served as the home of emperors and their households as well as the ceremonial and political center of Chinese government for almost 500 years ( 1420 to 1912 ).

It has received its nickname of the Forbidden City due to the fact that ordinary citizens weren't allowed access.

The complex occupies an area of 720,000 square meters, surrounded by an 8-meter-high wall with towers in the four corners and a 50-meter-wide moat.

It consists of 980 buildings and 8,707 rooms ( according to some controversial data the rooms are 9,999 ), and is divided into an area used for ceremonial and administrative purposes, as well as the private quarters used by the Emperor and his concubines.

The main highlights of the complex include:

  • the impressive 35-meter-high Hall of Supreme Harmony, notable as the country's largest surviving wooden building and for its splendidly decorated gilded imperial throne.

  • the Hall of Preserving Harmony, which functioned as the Emperor's banquet hall

  • the Hall of Central Harmony

  • the Palace of Heavenly Purity, the largest hall in the Inner Court

  • the Hall of Military Courage, a permanent residence and private audience hall for the emperors

  • the Meridian Gate, built in 1420 and the Golden River Bridges, a network of five richly decorated white marble bridges

The Forbidden City was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987 and is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.

Since 1925, the Forbidden City has been under the charge of the Palace Museum, whose extensive collection of artwork and artifacts were built upon the imperial collections of the Ming and Qing dynasties.

Since 2012, the Forbidden City has seen an average of 15 million visitors annually and received more than 16 million visitors in 2016 and 2017.

  • The Summer Palace

Located northwest of Beijing and 15 km from the city center, the Summer Palace ranks number one among China's ancient parks.

It is a vast ensemble of lakes, gardens and palaces in Beijing, and it was designed to achieve harmony with nature, to soothe, and to please the eye.

The structure was an imperial palace built during the first year of Emperor Zhenyuan (1153) of the Jin Dynasty.

In 1888, Empress Dowager Cixi embezzled navy funds to reconstruct it as a resort where to spend the rest of her life. After its completion she renamed it "The Summer Palace".

The Longevity Hill and the man-made Kunming Lake are part of the Summer Palace and cover an area of 290 hectares. The area between the mountain and the lake has exquisite architecture.

The highlights of the park include Kunming Lake, The Long Corridor, Longevity Hill, The Marble Boat, and the Garden of Virtue and Harmony.

In 1998 the UNESCO listed the Summer Palace as part of world cultural heritage.

  • The Temple of Heaven

Located in southern Beijing, the Temple of Heaven was built in 1420 during the reign of Emperor Yongle of the Ming dynasty.

Covering an area of 2,730,000 sq.m., this was the site on which emperors of the Ming Dynasty (1368 - 1644) and Qing Dynasty (1644 - 1911) held the Heaven Worship Ceremony and offered sacrifices to Heaven, prayed for rain and a good harvest.

The Temple of Heaven is the largest extant sacrificial temple in China. Its architectural layout, structure and decoration have not only occupied an important position in China but are also part of valuable world heritage.

The Hall of Prayer for a Good Year is the main building of the Temple of Heaven. In 1998, the UNESCO listed the Temple of Heaven as part of world cultural heritage.

  • The Great Wall

The Great Wall of China is the collective name of a series of fortification systems generally built across the historical northern borders of China to protect and consolidate territories of Chinese states and empires against the threats and attacks of various nomadic groups.

The Great Wall of China is considered one of the greatest wonders of the world, and it was listed as a World Heritage by UNESCO in 1987.

After Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty united China in 221 BC, he linked the walls protecting the northern frontiers of the states of Qin, Yan and Zhao, and rebuilt many sections, known as the 5000-km Great wall.

Later on the construction of the wall continued during the reign of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 ).

The Wall we see today was mostly built during the Ming Dynasty. The magnificent wall was built on high mountains.

It is said that as many as 400,000 people died during the wall's construction ( some reports say 1 million people ). Many of these workers were buried within the wall itself, making it the world's biggest burial site.

Depending on what parts and sections of the Wall are being measured, there are different figures about the length of the Wall.

According to an official archaeological survey the entire Wall with all of its branches measures out to be 21,196 km (13,171 mi).

Today, big sections of the Great Wall are in ruins or have completely disappeared. However, it is still one of the most remarkable structures on Earth.

The touristic sections of the Wall can get sometimes very busy and crowded by tourists, thus making the process of climbing slow and difficult. Nevertheless, climbing the steps of The Great Wall of China is an incredible and unforgettable experience one should undertake once there.

The stone steps of the Wall are in different sizes and shapes, and going up and then down can be quite of a challenge and not suitable for everyone, especially if it's hot and humid.

In the past there were speculations that the Wall can be seen from space. In reality this is a myth and it was confirmed by a Chinese astronaut during a space flight in 2003.

The Lama Temple (Yonghe)

The Lama Yonghe Temple, also known as Harmony and Peace Palace Lamasery, is located at the northeast corner of Beijing City, considered as the largest and best-preserved lamasery in China. A former residence of the royal court, the Lama Temple was built in 1694 during the Qing Dynasty, and has a blend of Han, Mongol and Tibetan style of architecture. The temple contains 5 main halls along a central axis plus three Memorial Archways. The Hall of Harmony and Peace is the main building of the temple. The biggest single wood Buddha statue in the world is in this temple. The statue attracts both the local Buddhist and travelers too.

More attractions you may consider to visit:

  • Beihai Park Circular Wall

Located in the heart of downtown Beijing, a short distance from the Forbidden City, Beihai Park is one of the oldest surviving imperial gardens in Beijing.

It is known for its Qionghua Islet, Beihai Lake and White Pagoda. It is an ideal place to go boating in summer and skiing in winter.

The Circular Wall on the west side of the southern gate was part of the royal garden of the Ming and Qing dynasties.

Coal Hill Park (Jingshan) offers some of the best views in Beijing, particularly over Beihai Park Lake and the Forbidden City.

  • The Beijing Temple of Confucius

It is the second-largest Confucian temple in China, after the one in Confucius's hometown of Qufu.

The Temple of Confucius in Beijing was initially built in 1302 and additions were made during the Ming and Qing dynasties. It has a total area of 5.4 acres (22,000 square meters).

This temple consists of four courtyards. The main structures include Xianshi Gate (Gate of the First Teacher), Dacheng Gate (Gate of Great Accomplishment), Dacheng Hall (Hall of Great Accomplishment) and Chongshengci (Worship Hall).

  • The Ming Tombs

The Ming Tombs lie in a broad valleyto the south of Tianshou Mountain in Changping district, about 50 km northwest of Beijing. Three mountains surround it on three sides.

Thirteen Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) emperors and their empresses were buried in the 40-square-km basin.

The Sacred Way, The Dingling, the Changling and the Zhaoling are open to the public.

  • Beijing National Stadium

Built at great cost, the spectacular National Stadium, also known as the Bird's Nest, was built for the 2008 Summer Olympics and Paralympics and will be used again in the 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics.

The remarkable structure has been used to host athletic events, football matches, as well as cultural events and pop concerts. In winter, it's turned into a large man-made indoor ski slope and an ice rink.

  • National Museum of China

Located on the Tiananmen square it is one of the largest and most visited museums in the world. The museum was opened in 2003 and is dedicated to education about the arts and the rich history of China.

  • The Capital Museum

Another museum worth visiting is the Capital Museum which houses a large collection of ancient porcelain, bronze, calligraphy, painting, jade, sculpture, and Buddhist statues from imperial China as well as other Asian cultures. The museum dedicated to art was opened in 1981 and moved into its present building in 2006.

More Photos of Beijing, Shanghai, Xian, Hong Kong and Macao from 2009


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