The Forbidden City was originally constructed in the 15th century and consists of almost 1,000 buildings surrounded by strong defensive walls and a moat. It represented the seat of Chinese Government for about 500 years during the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Located in the heart of Beijing at the northern end of Tiananmen Square, it defines the centre of the city.
Said to be the largest collection of traditional Chinese architecture anywhere in the world, the Forbidden City is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Of particular interest are a number of large halls which were reserved for specific purposes such as discussing affairs of state, rehearsing ceremonies or as the official residences of the emperor and his family. There is also a traditionally designed Imperial Garden. Many tourists simply follow the straight route through the Forbidden City but to get a better feel for the scale and layout of the site, explore some of the areas away from the central axis.
The Summer Palace is a large recreational
area which is noted for its gardens, lake and
traditional buildings. Originally built in 1750
and reconstructed in 1886, the Summer
Palace is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site
recognised for its importance as a work of
Chinese landscaped garden design.
One of the most memorable features of the
grounds is the Long Corridor. This intricately
decorated covered walkway is over 700
metres in length and is the longest in any
traditional Chinese garden. A delightful
circuit is to cross Seventeen-Arch Bridge to
South Lake Island and board a boat to ride
across Kunming Lake. This will take you to
the decorative Marble Boat from where you
may return via the Long Corridor.
Temple of Heaven
Built in the 15th century, around the same
time as the Forbidden City, the Temple of
Heaven was used by the emperors of the
Ming and Qing Dynasties for ceremonies
and prayers. The most important temple is
the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, which
is a circular wooden building constructed
without the use of a single nail.
The temple complex is located in extensive
grounds containing pavilions, gardens and
walkways and is a popular place for the local
residents. Watch out for people practicing tai
chi, dancing and playing badminton.
The Hutong districts of Beijing are the
original residential areas of the city with
old buildings lining narrow streets. Many
of these areas have been demolished to
make way for modern developments but
several have been reprieved to preserve
the traditional way of life. The best way
to see one of the Hutongs is using a
cyclo-rickshaw with a driver who will
pedal you around the area at a relaxed
pace. Ride around the alleyways soaking
up the atmosphere of a time long past.
Great Wall of China
The most iconic attraction in the country is surely the Great Wall of China, a UNESCO
World Heritage Site. Construction started around 2,700 years ago with the different
sections joined under the control of Qin Shihuang, the First Emperor, in the 3rd
century BC. Much of the wall that you will see today dates from the Ming Dynasty
in the 14th century when stone and brick construction began to be used.
The sections of the Great Wall we like to visit are at Mutianyu and Juyongguan, just
north of Beijing, which are well restored and with good facilities but usually do not
attract as many people as at some other locations. For a more remote experience and
for some extended walking we recommend a visit to Jinshanling. Be prepared for a
stiff climb as your walk can sometime resemble ascending a staircase, although the
commonly visited sections of the Great Wall are well maintained with good steps.
The Mutianyu and Jinshanling sections both feature a cable car for those that prefer
a more relaxing journey up or down.
The Lama Temple, officially known as the Yonghe Temple, is one of the most important Tibetan Buddhist monasteries in the world. The monastery is a centre for the Gulug School (or Yellow Hat Sect) of Buddhism, which has as its head the abbot of the Ganden Monastery in Lhasa. Look out for the Maitreya Buddha statue in the Pavilion of Ten Thousand Happiness, which holds the Guinness World Record for the largest carving created from a single sandalwood tree.
Chengde Mountain Resort
Chengde is the site of a Qing Dynasty resort
built for the emperors to escape the summer
heat of Beijing. Set against a landscape of
mountains, forests and lakes the complex
features palaces, temples and gardens. They
are designed in a wide range of architectural
styles representing many of the regions
The Chengde Mountain Resort was built over
a period spanning most of the 18th century
and was used by the emperors of the time
for meeting high officials and foreign
dignitaries. The resort is now a UNESCO
World Heritage Site and is easily reached
from Beijing by a scenic train journey.
Located on the Songhua River, Harbin is on the crossroads between Russia and China. These combined influences make it one of the most fascinating cities in China. Harbin is most famous for its annual Snow and Ice Festival which takes place during January and early February. Enormous sculptures are created from huge ice blocks taken from the river and they are beautifully illuminated by colourful lights. But be prepared for the cold as temperatures in Harbin can sometimes drop as low as -30 degrees celsius.