Beijing has a plethora of attractions, both historic and ultra modern. As well as being the foremost Beijing tourist attraction, The 72-hectare complex of The Forbidden City affords a fascinating view of China's imperial past. Coal Hill, an artificial mound built during the Ming dynasty, is a great place to survey the expanse of modern-day Beijing. Pause for spiritual reflection at the huge white pagoda inside Beihai Park and remember no visit to Beijing is complete without paying homage to the Great Wall. Modern Chinese architectural icons include the CCTV tower, and National Grand Theatre.
This 440,000sqm public square is one of the largest in the world and an impressive, if not slightly oppressive, sight. The vast, flat paved mall is located in the centre of Beijing and can hold a whopping one million people. Named after Tiananmen Gate (Gate of Heavenly Peace) - the entrance to the Forbidden City, the square was originally built in 1651. Tiananmen Square has since quadrupled in size with most expansion during 1958 to 1959 under Chairman Mao Zedong with the aim to make the area the largest square in the world. The immense, flat layout of the square is flanked by Tiananmen Gate to the north and the Front Gate (Qianmen) to the south. To the west is the Great Hall of the People and on the east, the National Museum of China.. At night, Tiananmen Square is illuminated by lamp posts and quite breathtaking.
One of the modern wonders of the world, China's most famous attraction, the Great Wall, is an impressive feat of construction. The Great Wall of China is actually a series of several walls that cumulatively stretches thousands of kilometres from Liaoning Province to Gansu Province. The Great Wall varies in condition from ruins to perfect examples and through quite different terrains and climates. Located only 60km away from downtown Beijing, the restored Badaling section of the Great Wall is the most popular tourist site. Stretching 3.7km, the Badaling Great Wall is built along the ridges of mountains and offers that undulating brick wall image associated with the iconic structure. Different areas of the Great Wall have different admission prices so if you plan to visit separate sections you will need to pay for each section.
Also known as the harmoniously sounding Ruins of the Yuanmingyuan (Garden of Perfection and Light), the Old Summer Palace is located northwest of Beijing and east of the site of the present-day Summer Palace. The Old Summer Palace covers a huge area and consists of three idyllic parks: the aforementioned Garden of Perfection and Light, Wanchunyuan (Garden of 10,000 Springs), and Changchunyuan (Garden of Everlasting Spring) which house the ruins of the European buildings which were fashioned after the palace of Versailles in France. The result is ancient Chinese landscape gardening and European architecture. One of the best preserved relics is the Great Fountain Ruins – a lion head fountain built in 1759. In winter, you can ice skate on the frozen lake.
The gargantuan Summer Palace, 12km from downtown Beijing, is up there with the Great Wall and the Forbidden City as a must-visit destination and was designated as a World Heritage-listed site in 1998. Set aside a day to escape the city and explore the 700-acre royal park with palaces, pagodas, gardens and temples all set on Kunming Lake. In winter, you can skate on the ice of Kunming Lake or travel to the Summer Palace by boat in the warmer months – boats leave from Beijing Zoo or near the Millenium Monument in summer. The impressive grounds are straight from a Chinese countryside painting with graceful willow trees and beautiful bridges. The site offers the opportunity for heart-pumping walks or hire a pedal boat to traverse the lake in the summer months.
The second largest Confucian temple in China (after the Temple of Confucius in Qufu), Beijing's Confucius Temple has been an important site to revere the great sage throughout the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. With over eight centuries of additions and restorative works, the temple is a peaceful, quiet and reverential religious locale. Built in 1302, the temple, which has four courtyards, gained additions during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Within the temple lies the main building, Dacheng Hall (Hall of Great Accomplishment), which houses Confucius' funeral tablet and shrine where you can dedicate offerings. Outside, there are 198 tablets lining the courtyard containing 51,624 names of advanced Confucian scholars from the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. In the Hall of Great Perfection, a wide variety of ancient musical instruments is on display.