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Top Reasons to Go to Beijing
The Forbidden City has been home to a long line of emperors, beginning with Yongle, in 1420, and ending with Puyi (made famous by Bernardo Bertolucci's film The Last Emperor), who was forced out of the complex by a warlord in 1924. The Forbidden City is the largest palace in the world, as well as the best preserved, and offers the most complete collection of imperial architecture in China.
It's hard to resist: so much to bargain for, so little time! Visit outdoor Panjiayuan (aka the Dirt Market), where some 3,000 vendors sell antiques, Cultural Revolution memorabilia, and handicrafts from across China. Looking for knockoffs? The Silk Alley Market is popular with tourists, but local expats prefer the Yashow Market, which has better prices.
The sweet smell of incense permeates one of the few functioning Buddhist temples in Beijing. When Emperor Yongzheng took the throne in 1723, his former residence was converted into this temple. During the Qianlong Period (1736–1795) it became a center of the Yellow Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism. At its high point, 1,500 lamas lived here. The Hall of Celestial Kings houses a statue of Maitreya, and the Wanfu Pavilion has a 23-meter (75½-foot) Buddha carved from one piece of sandalwood.
This garden complex dates back eight centuries to when the first emperor of the Jin Dynasty built the Gold Mountain Palace on Longevity Hill. Notable sights are the Long Corridor (a covered wooden walkway) and the Hall of Benevolent Longevity. At the west end of the lake is the famous Marble Boat that Cixi built with money intended to create a Chinese navy. The palace, which served as an imperial retreat from dripping summer heat, was ransacked by British and French soldiers in 1860 and burned in 1900 by Western soldiers seeking revenge for the Boxer Rebellion.
This temple, with its towering cypress and pine trees, offers a serene escape from the crowds at nearby Lama Temple. This is the second-largest Confucian temple after that in Qufu, the master's hometown in Shandong province. First built in the 13th century, the Confucius Temple was renovated in the 18th century.
Temple of Heaven
The Temple of Heaven is one of the best examples of religious architecture in China. Construction began in the early 15th century under the order of Emperor Yongle. The complex took 14 years to complete; it contains three main buildings where the emperor, as the "Son of Heaven," offered semiannual prayers. The sprawling, tree-filled complex is a pleasant place for wandering: watch locals practicing martial arts, playing traditional instruments, and enjoying ballroom dancing on the grass.
Walking beneath the red flags of Tiananmen Square is quintessential Beijing. The political heart of modern China, the square covers 100 acres, making it the largest public square in the world. It was from the Gate of Heavenly Peace that Mao Zedong pronounced the People's Republic of China in 1949. Many Westerners think only of the massive student protests here in the 1980s, but it has been the site of protests, rallies, and marches for close to 100 years.
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