- Beijing’s Best Sights
- Beijing’s Best Restaurants
- Beijing’s Best Nightlife
- Beijing’s Best Arts and Leisure
- Beijing’s Best Shops
- Beijing’s Best Hotels
- Best of the Great Wall
- Shanghai’s Best Sights
- Shanghai’s Best Restaurants
- Shanghai’s Best Nightlife
- Shanghai’s Best Arts and Leisure
- Shanghai’s Best Shops
- Shanghai’s Best Hotels
- Shanghai’s Best Excursions
Few cities in Asia have so many iconic historical sights as Beijing. The old city was built around the Forbidden City (named so because it was “forbidden” to all but the emperor and his court), with a series of concentric roads fanning out around it, ringed with gatehouses to prevent attacks from enemy tribes.
Under various dynasties, China’s capital has moved among different cities throughout the country’s history, from Xi’an in the northeast to Nanjing and Hangzhou in the south.
Beijing was the capital of the Yuan Dynasty that came down from Mongolia under Kublai Khan. The Yuan-era capital was known as Dadu and was renamed Beijing (meaning “northern capital”) when the Ming rose to power in 1368.
As you would expect from a city with such a rich and varied history, Beijing is awash with gorgeous old palaces, temples, and imperial buildings. The most important of these is the Forbidden City, but equally famous is the Summer Palace in the northwest part of downtown Beijing, where the emperor took refuge from the heat of the capital. The Temple of Heaven, where he paid tribute to his ancestors and thanked them for the harvest, is another must-see.
The Drum and Bell Towers that lie northeast of the Forbidden City form the epicenter of a bustling nightlife and leisure scene. The three lakes behind the palace complex make up the Houhai area, the banks of which are lined with bars and cafés, spilling over into the hutong (alleys) behind.
The 20th century was a period of much political turmoil for China and the vestiges of revolution, civil war, and the era of Communism can be seen in more modern historic sites like Tian’anmen Square, the mausoleum of Chairman Mao, and the stark, Soviet-style architecture around town.
In sharp contrast to the older structures are the contemporary office buildings, leisure facilities, and hotels of the Central Business District (CBD), the highlights of which are the oddly shaped CCTV building and the nest-like Olympic Stadium. With so many sights both modern and ancient, a trip to Beijing can easily become an exploration of time itself.
- Best Historic Sight: Forbidden City
- Most Morbidly Fascinating Sight: Mausoleum of Mao Zedong
- Most Iconic Sight: Tian’anmen Square
- Best Activity for the Kids: Blue Zoo Aquarium
- Most Surprising Modern Architecture: New CCTV Tower
- Hidden Gem: Temple of Wisdom Attained
- Most Surprising Ancient Architecture: Five Pagodas Temple
- Best Reprieve: Summer Palace
- Best Greenery: Fragrant Hills Park
© Susie Gordon from Moon Beijing & Shanghai, 2nd Edition