In the north-west suburbs of Beijing rests the Summer Palace, the Emperor’s immense private getaway. Over 290 hectares, including a small lake, the Summer Palace is filled with halls, pavilions, corridors, towers, temples, gardens, and countless other things to see and experience. It is a must-see for anyone traveling around the capital city.
Four times larger than the Forbidden City, it becomes a daunting task for even the most eager sightseer to take in everything the Summer Palace has to offer. Arienne and I spent over four hours wandering the Palace grounds, and barely even covered a quarter of what was available to see.
To help you plan out your excursion (be conservative!), there is a tourist’s guide to the grounds that is available for purchase (10yuan) just past the ticket booth. The guide is beautifully packaged and provides information on each of the Summer Palace’s sights. If you are looking for a cheap souvenir, the guide may be just the thing you are looking for. Indeed, the term ‘tourist’s guide’ is much more appropriate than “tourist’s map”. Though beautiful to look at, the guide’s painting of the grounds fails to easily reveal the paths between locations. Instead, travelers must use a mix of occasional “you are here maps” and their own sense of direction to keep them moving towards their next destination.
It would be unfair to highlight any of the Palace’s wide variety of buildings. Each one has something different to contribute to your appreciation of the aesthetic of the Qing dynasty. Everywhere you turn something new and astonishing awaits even the untrained eye. I can recall even being amazed by a simple crossbeam in a corridor of the Garden of Virtue and Harmony. Resting above an archway, the beam of wood served as the canvas for a beautiful painting of nearby scenery. Looking around, each column or crossbeam had it’s own unique painting, turning a simple corridor into a gallery of art. If I’m writing about a crossbeam, you can imagine the actual structures are a sight to be reckoned.
For us, the true gem of the Summer Palace is the quiet walks between the buildings. Stone pathways meandering between ancient pine and cypress trees create a welcome escape from the oppressive Beijing atmosphere. It is no wonder why the Emperor used these grounds for rest and relaxation. The secret beauty of the Summer Palace lies not with its impressive structures or sense of regality, but with it’s soothing and refreshing air of peace and serenity.
To get more of a perspective on the beauty of the Summer Palace, check out the video below!
What You Need to Know: Admission is 60rbm. Take subway line 4 up to Beigongmen Station. Start up at the top of the grounds and work your way down. Exit through the East Gate and pick up the subway at Xiyuan tation.