Beijing is the capital of the People's Republic of China. Its name literally translates as ‘northern capital’ due to its location on the north China plain and is one of the four Ancient Capitals of the Middle Kingdom.
Home to seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Beijing is a historical treasure trove, filled with imperial palaces, religious structures and political relics.
Beijing is a city of contrasts where the medieval hutong lanes nestle under the towering skyscrapers of the modern urban centre; where the bustling, vibrant roads clash with the serene calm of the Houhai Lakes; where the majestic Great Wall sits peacefully amongst lush vegetation to the north of the city: it is no wonder Beijing has 252 million visitors a year!
Beijing has a seasonal climate, giving the city four distinct seasons. Spring and autumn offer the most pleasant weather for sightseeing; with clear, blue skies, cooling breezes and warm temperatures. Winter, though a bit chillier, offers the clearest skies all year round, perfect for any camera enthusiast.
Whenever you visit, Beijing has something for you!
The Great Wall of China is one of the highlights of any tour to China. As one of, if not the most famous attraction in China, the Great Wall attracts tens of thousands of visitors from both home and abroad annually. The Great Wall reaches a span of 5,500 miles, stretching from the Gobi Desert in the west to the Bohai Sea in the east.
Original construction on the wall began more than 2,000 years ago during the reign of the first Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, to protect China from the nomad threat in the north. The wall we see today dates back to the Ming Dynasty in the 14th century and since then, has been added to and maintained to the present day.
There are many sections of the Great Wall to visit in the proximity of Beijing. The most popular of these is Badaling which is the best preserved and most accessible section of the Wall, however does tend to get busy during the high season. The sections of the Great Wall we at Wendy Wu Tours like to visit are Mutianyu and Juyongguan. Both these sections are in close proximity to Beijing, but do not get as crowded and clustered as Badaling does. The Mutianyu and Jinshanling sections both feature a cable car for those that prefer a more relaxing journey up or down. For a more remote experience and for some extended walking, we recommend a visit to Jinshanling. Jinshanling offers the most stunning vistas of the lush scenery surrounding the Great Wall. Be prepared for a stiff climb as your walk can sometime resemble ascending a staircase.
Synonymous with China, the Great Wall lives up to its name and further, as one of the most exciting, magnificence and unbelievable feats mankind has ever seen.
Arguably the most iconic sight in Beijing, the Forbidden City stands majestically in the centre of the city, the symbolic heart of Beijing. The Forbidden City’s history dates back to the early 15th century and was constructed under the direction of the Ming Dynasty’s Yongle Emperor as a residence for the Emperors after the capital was moved to Beijing.
From 1420 to 1912, the Forbidden City was the imperial seat of the Ming and Qing Emperors. Access to the palace grounds was prohibited to all but members of the royal court, on punishment of death, hence why the city is ‘forbidden’. After the abdication of Puyi - the last Emperor of China - the Forbidden City was open to the public and in 1925, the Palace Museum was established within its grounds. In 1987, the Forbidden City was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Forbidden City covers an area of 180 acres and consists of 980 buildings. The style of the Forbidden City is typical of Chinese palatial architecture, with bilateral symmetry, construction from wood and use of gold and red – imperial colours. There is also a clear reference to dragons in the Forbidden City, with the dragon representing the Emperor.
There are many buildings located in the Forbidden City with some of the most famous including the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the largest structure in the Forbidden City used for ceremonial occasions; the Hall of Mental Cultivation, from where the Emperors ruled; and the Hall of Preserving Harmony, where the Emperor would hold banquets for esteemed guests. There is also an Imperial Garden located within the Forbidden City, which was a private retreat for the Emperor’s family and is typical of Chinese garden style.
The Forbidden City, like Buckingham Palace in the UK, is the central heart of Beijing’s royal history in China and is at the forefront of Chinese imperial architecture in Beijing.
The Temple of Heaven is a religious altar complex that was constructed during the Ming Dynasty as a place of prayer for the Emperor of China. The Emperors from the Ming and Qing Dynasties would come here annually to ask the gods for good harvest and make sacrifices. The Temple of Heaven was built between 1406 and 1420 under the guidance of the Yongle Emperor, who also designed the Forbidden City. The Temple of Heaven is a Taoist temple and in 1998 was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The architecture and layout of the Temple of Heaven is based on elaborate Taoist symbolism. The complex is designed in the shape of a circle. The northern half of the circle is meant to represent the heavens; whereas the southern part represents the earth.
The most iconic building in the Temple of Heaven is the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. Standing on a three-tiered marble base, this wooden building is circular in construction and was built without the use of a single nail. Other buildings within the Temple of Heaven complex include the smaller, circular Imperial Vault of Heaven.
The temple complex is located in extensive grounds containing gardens, trees and walkways. Here you will see the many groups of local people that gather here every day to sing folk songs, practice Tai-Chi and sword dancing, play chess or just come to sit and chat.
The Summer Palace is the former holiday home of the Qing Emperors and is located north west of the Forbidden City. The design of the Summer Palace follows the traditional principles of fengshui and its grounds are typical of Chinese garden style. The Summer Palace is primarily made up of two sections: Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake.
Longevity Hill stretches 60m in height and has many buildings positioned in sequence. The front of the hill which faces Kunming Lake is home to many splendid halls and pavilions, whilst at the back, there is a myriad of scenic beauty.
The second section of this beauty spot is Kunming Lake which is the more predominant section of the Summer Palace, covering over three quarters of the ground. The lake’s layout was based on the Hangzhou West Lake which is one of the most serene and romantic lakes in China. Kunming Lake is host to the Seventeen Arch Bridge, named for its 17 distinctly shaped arches, and the Marble Boat, a pavilion carved from marble, designed into the shape of a boat which dates back to the 18th century.
One of the most noticeable features of the Summer Palace is the Long Corridor. This intricately decorated covered walkway is over 700m in length and is the longest traditional Chinese garden in existence.
The Summer Palace was first commissioned under the reign of the Qianlong Emperor in the mid-18th century as a present to his mother, the Empress Dowager Chongqing. During the 19th century, the Summer Palace received substantial damage from the British and French during the Opium Wars and was rebuilt under the supervision of the Empress Dowager Cixi in the late 19th century. It is said that Empress Dowager Cixi was so enamoured with the Summer Palace that she diverted funds away from the military in order to rebuild the grounds.
The Summer Palace blends perfectly Chinese garden style with ancient philosophy. The calm setting of the grounds make it an ideal place for contemplation and inspiration.
Tiananmen Square is located in the heart of Beijing and covers over 44 hectares. It is the largest city square in China and is one of the largest public squares in the world.
Tiananmen Square was the spot where in 1949, Chairman Mao Zedong declared to the Chinese People the founding of the People’s Republic of China and since then has been a symbol of China’s modern development and image of power. In contrast to the Forbidden City’s traditional Chinese style, Tiananmen Square exudes a modern, industrial face which makes for an interesting juxtaposition.
On each side of Tiananmen Square sits one of the city’s most iconic structures. To the south of Tiananmen, stands Qianmen Gate which dates back to the Ming Dynasty and is the original gate into Beijing. To the west of Tiananmen stands the Great Hall of the People, the meeting place of the National People’s Congress (Chinese parliament) and the host for many special political events. To the east stands the National Museum of China which houses an array of artefacts and cultural relics from China’s extensive history. To the north stands the Forbidden City, probably the most famous neighbour of Tiananmen. The Forbidden City was the former residence of the Ming and Qing Emperors and named so as it was forbidden for non-members of the Royal Court to enter. At the front of Tiananmen Gate, which is the entrance to the Forbidden City, hangs a portrait of Mao, looking over Tiananmen Square.
On Tiananmen Square stands the Monument to the People’s Heroes, an obelisk shaped commemoration to remember those who served the People’s Republic of China. Just south of this monument stands the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong which contains the remains of the late Chairman Mao.
The Lama Temple, officially known as the Yonghe Temple, is the most renowned Tibetan Buddhist temple outside of Tibet.
Located north of the Forbidden City, the Lama Temple is based on the Tibetan Buddhist school of Gelug, also known as the Yellow Hat Sect. Gelug has been practiced since the 16th century and was very popular with both the northern Chinese and the Mongolians.
The Lama Temple is a combination of Han Chinese and Tibetan architectural style, and was built in 1694 during the Qing Dynasty as the residence for the Yongzheng Emperor when he was a prince. After Yongzheng ascended the throne in 1722, half of the Lama Temple was converted into a lamasery, a monastery for monks of Tibetan Buddhism, while the other half served as an imperial palace for the emperors.
After Yongzheng died, the Qianglong Emperor, Yongzheng’s successor, gave the Lama Temple imperial status. The temple then began to serve as a residence for Tibetan Buddhist monks from Mongolia and Tibet, and became the national centre of administrating Lamas.
Along the main axis of the Lama Temple stand five main halls, the Hall of the Heavenly Kings (Tian Wang Dian), the Hall of Harmony and Peace (Yonghegong), the Hall of Everlasting Protection (Yongyoudian), the Hall of the Wheel of the Law (Falundian), and the Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happiness (Wanfuge). The most prized possession in the Lama Temple is the 55ft high sandalwood statue of the Maitreya Buddha in the Wanfu Pavilion which holds the Guinness World Record for the largest carving created from a single sandalwood tree.
The hutongs are a network of alleys and lanes which are unique to areas in northern China, most famously in Beijing. The hutongs were created to accommodate the growing population of Beijing when the capital was moved there during the Mongolian Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). The architectural style of the hutongs is very unique, usually with four hutongs joining in a square formation, with a shared courtyard in the middle, known as a siheyuan. By the early 20th century, there were over 6,000 hutongs in Beijing, making these dwellings a prominent and distinct feature of the capital.
Since the birth of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, the hutongs in Beijing have been under threat from new developments and their number has swiftly declined. In modern times, Beijingers have worked together to protect these important historical alleyways and now many of the remaining hutongs are protected for conservation.
The hutongs are primarily located in the north of the city, situated between the Drum and Bell Tower in the north and the Houhai Lakes in the south. An authentic Beijing social hub, the hutongs are a warren-like community that epitomizes the true character of the Beijinger.
Beijing is a foodie paradise, offering not only its own delicious local food but also gastronomic delights from many of China’s diverse provinces. And it’s not only the domestic cuisine that is delicious, the city’s international offerings are also world class, meaning that you can eat whatever you fancy from anywhere in the world.
Beijing’s local fare is mouth-wateringly scrumptious with famous dishes such as Peking Duck, Zhajiangmian Noodles and, of course, the multitude of bitesize morsels that can be found on one of the many snack streets, most notably perhaps on Wangfujing.
Peking Roasted Duck
Peking Duck is Beijing’s most iconic delicacy and is known and enjoyed in both China and the West. The preparation of this delicacy is a unique and difficult skill to master – firstly hot air is blown into the duck to separate the skin from the fat and then the duck in hung to dry and cooked by the heat from an oven underneath.
A favourite of the Emperor’s court and the upper class elite during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), Peking Duck quickly spread throughout Chinese society to become the nation’s favourite dish.
Zhajiangmian Noodles is one of the most popular meals in Beijing, eaten extensively throughout the city. Ground pork is cooked with soybean paste, a popular Beijing ingredient, and then placed over thick wheat noodles. For a more infused flavour, mix the pork concoction through the noodles. The name Zhajiangmian is, in the classic Chinese style, very direct and descriptive and translates literally as ‘fried paste noodles’.
Beijing’s snack streets are not just an excuse to taste the delicious local tastes, but are also an opportunity to witness Beijingers at their most lively, with vendors calling out to entice customers to their fares. Snack streets are numerous in Beijing, but the most famous district is Wangfujing, located just to the east of the Forbidden City, where there is a plethora of dishes, including dumplings, Beijing pancake, noodles and many more delicacies.
Daoxiangcun is a famous bakery chain popular in Beijing. It was established in 1895 during the Qing Dynasty and its popularity with Beijingers is still great today. Daoxiangcun is famous for its selection of desserts popular during Chinese celebrations. Examples include mooncakes which are eaten during the Mid-Autumn Festival, Zongzi during the Dragon Boat Festival and rice balls for Chinese New Year.
Beijing is a shopper’s paradise, with numerous shopping malls and world-famous brands available. In central Beijing, department stores and shopping plazas are plentiful. Beijing’s Chaoyang District is great for international brands whereas Dazhanlan near the Temple of Heaven is great for local wares. If you are interested in antiques, visit the outdoor Panjiayuan antique market, designed to resemble a Qing Dynasty courtyard.
Beijing is famous for its silk, jade and cloisonné production and during your time on a Wendy Wu tour, you will have the opportunity to see the manufacturing process of some of these products as well as have the opportunity to purchase one of these products as a memento of your time in China.