Arriving in the capital of China is an assault on all the senses of the average Westerner. Thousands of years of history, exotic smells and stunning vistas to delight the eye abound, and it is hard not to feel overwhelmed. Exploring this fascinating and ancient culture is one of the delights of having the freedom to travel and should be on everyone’s bucket list.
Here are a few suggestions of things to enjoy around this marvelous city:
Great Wall of China
One of the most famous landmarks in the world must be the Great Wall of China. This incredible edifice can be found a couple of hours from Beijing and is well worth a visit. It is highly recommended that you hire a guide who can explain the intricacies of the wall, its history and the building itself.
The wall, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, winds its way over the hills north of Beijing and it is easy to marvel at the fabulous stonework while you take photographs of this iconic edifice. Remember to wear comfortable walking shoes, as you will do quite a lot of walking.
Another very well-known site is the Forbidden City, and no visit to Beijing would be complete without touring this fascinating site. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and for over 500 years, it was home to the emperors of this fantastic country.
Try to hire a guide who can give you a deeper insight into the fabulous paintings, ceramics and calligraphy from the various imperial collections. Again, wear comfortable shoes, as exploring this palace will take most of the day and you will end up walking a fair distance. There are lots of places to stop and rest while admiring your surroundings, so there is no need to rush.
Events that unfolded in 1989 with the student uprising made Tiananmen Square infamous all over the world. Now, almost 30 years on, the Chinese government still fears another similar uprising, so no one is allowed to hold anything up in the air while walking in the square. Stand in the place where the students faced tanks and imagine trying to face one down while demonstrating for your rights. This is recent history that we can all appreciate.
Xiushui Silk Market
No one can visit Beijing and not purchase silk and silk products. This sumptuous cloth can be made into many things, and there is nowhere better to search for and buy the perfect item of clothing or piece of silk than the Xiushui Silk Market. This market carries not only silk but also electronic goods, souvenirs and food. This market is very frequented by tourists, but the shop owners still enjoy haggling over prices. Since most of them speak English, this should be a fun exercise.
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site in Beijing is the Summer Palace built in 1750 by Emperor Qianlong as a retreat for the imperial family during the height of summer. This lavish lakeside retreat built on the banks of Kunming Lake features a vast array of walkways, magnificent gardens and pavilions. A tour guide will make the visit more enjoyable, but again, wear comfortable shoes. You will be walking a fair distance and the ground is not always even.
The Temple of Heaven
The Temple of Heaven, situated in the south of the city, was built by the same emperor who created the Forbidden City. The temple was designed to be the place where the emperor undertook specific rituals that only he could do. These included requesting the gods to provide a bountiful harvest and a ceremony performed in mid-winter to ensure a propitious new year.
The temple sports a wealth of symbolism — especially related to the number nine, which represented the emperor. There are also pillars for each month of the year and colored murals that represent heaven and earth. The echo stones are favorite attractions where you can hear your voice reverberate or hear a whispered message travel around the circular echo chamber.
Of course, no one can visit Beijing and not indulge in the exotic cuisine of this area. Many tours will help you discover Chinese delicacies. One of the most popular is a walking tour of the street vendors. These local markets hum with activity and the street vendors offer a wide array of foods. Some are very strange to the tourist palate, while others may be quite familiar.
What is excellent about a walking tour of the markets is that you can also learn how to make the various delicacies that you sample. It would be a great pity if you visited Beijing and did not take the time to enjoy Peking Duck. Discover the secrets behind the roasting of the duck and the intricacies of carving it, then enjoy eating it Beijing style. You will not be sorry!
Beijing and China as a whole have much to offer tourists, with history and ancient culture that the people of this city are eager to share with any traveler. It is unlikely that you will visit Beijing and come away dissatisfied.