Beijing is rightly regarded as a major center of world culture. Occupied for over 3,000 years, it has seen dynasties come and go, each of which has left its mark. As a result, visitors may find themselves faced with a common traveler’s dilemma – too much to see with too little time. In Beijing, or Peking as it was known for decades, this is true times ten.
One of the most popular sights isn’t even inside Beijing – the Great Wall. Located about 60-125km outside it, the distance varies depending on which part of the wall you visit.
It stretches over 6,000km and is easily visible from a low-level satellite orbit. Visitors would have to take that kind of trip to see even a small portion of this immense structure. But even what you see on the average walking tour is astounding.
Mutianyu is the site of one of the best preserved sections. The wall was under construction for over 2,000 years, but this 6th-century section was used as a northern barrier against invaders.
To get another superb high view that allows you even to see Beijing you can take a trip to Jingshan Park. Built in 1179 AD, it looks out over the Forbidden City and features spectacular views of the city and its surroundings.
An equally impressive man-made achievement is the Imperial Palace, sometimes called the Forbidden City. The name arose because for centuries only royalty and invited visitors were allowed to freely enter. And sometimes wished they hadn’t.
The Imperial Palace sports over 9,000 rooms spread over 250 acres. First built in the 15th century, it was later renovated during the 18th by rulers of the Qing dynasty.
The Temple of Heaven was built around the same period and covers 270 acres. Today, thanks to the relaxing of religious repression, visitors can see this largest of religious buildings in China. Wandering around, it’s easy to imagine the ancient emperors kneeling on its floors.
China has many religious sites. One very popular is the Lama Temple. The temple, built by Tibetan monks features a 54-foot high Buddha that was carved from a single piece of sandalwood.
The Da Zhong Si (Big Bell) temple is also worth a visit. Built in 1733 AD, it features thousands of intricately carved bells. Among them is reputedly the world’s oldest and largest. It makes the already hugely impressive one in Notre Dame look like a toy.
But there are many sights in the capital city that offer a peaceful atmosphere. At Yiheyuan is a 290-acre park where tourists can stroll over bridges and rest in pavilions beside a large lake. Sip tea at one of the many tea-houses, or saunter along one of the many tree-lined paths.
One site is a must see for every tourist: Tiananmen Square. It’s the largest open square in the world. One million people can comfortably fit within the area, provided they don’t have to share space with tanks.
Many will want to visit the famous Beijing Zoo. Nearly 600 species make their home here. And the pandas are far from the most exotic. Over 6,000 animals drawn from all over the globe are on display.
Be sure to budget enough time. Beijing has many fascinating sights and you’ll find it hard to choose. The more time you have, the easier your decisions.