Beijing Travel Guide

Beijing Sights

Summer Palace (Yíhéyuán)

  • Castle/Palace/Chateau
  • Fodor's Choice

Published 01/20/2010

Fodor's Review

Emperor Qianlong commissioned this giant royal retreat in 1750. Anglo–French forces plundered, then burned, many of the palaces in 1860, and funds were diverted from China's naval budget for the renovations. Empress Dowager Cixi retired here in 1889. Nine years later it was here that she imprisoned her nephew, Emperor Guangxu, after his reform movement failed.

Nowadays the place is undoubtedly romantic. Pagodas and temples perch on hillsides; rowboats dip under arched stone bridges; and willow branches brush the water. The greenery is a relief from the loud, bustling city. It also teaches a fabulous history lesson. You can see firsthand the results of corruption: the opulence here was bought with siphoned money as China crumbled, while suffering repeated humiliations at the hands of colonialist powers. UNESCO placed the Summer Palace on its World Heritage list in 1998.

The Hall of Benevolent Longevity is where Cixi held court and received foreign dignitaries. It's

said that the first electric lights in China shone here. Just behind the hall and next to the lake is the Hall of Jade Ripples, where Cixi kept the hapless Guangxu under guard while she ran China in his name. Strung with pagodas and temples, Longevity Hill is the place where you can escape the hordes of visitors.

Most of this 700-acre park is underwater. Kunming Lake makes up around three-fourths of the complex, and is largely man-made. The less-traveled southern shore near Humpbacked Bridge is an ideal picnic spot.

At the west end of the lake you'll find the Marble Boat, which doesn't actually float and was built by Dowager Empress Cixi with money meant for the navy. The Long Corridor is a wooden walkway that skirts the northern shoreline of Kunming Lake for about half a mile until it reaches the marble boat.

Subway Line 4 stops at the Summer Palace. Get off at Beigongmen and take Exit C for the easiest access to the north gate of the park. Otherwise, you'll have to take a taxi. It's best to come early in the morning to get a head start before the busloads of visitors arrive. You'll need the better part of a day to explore the grounds. Automatic audio guides can be rented for Y40 at stalls near the ticket booth.

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Sight Information

Address:

Yiheyuan Lu and Kunminghu Lu, 12 km (7½ miles) northwest of downtown Beijing, Beijing, Beijing, China

Phone:

010-6288–1144

Sight Details:

  • Y60 summer (all-inclusive); Y50 winter (all-inclusive)

Published 01/20/2010

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