November 26, 2020

City Guide: Explore the Different Facets of Beijing

You might have already heard this before. If you want to experience the present status of China, visit Shanghai. If you want to see the future of China, visit Shenzhen. But if you want to see the country’s past—its beautiful history, visit Beijing. However, this doesn’t mean that everything you can see in the Chinese capital city is old—old houses, old people. Beijing, being the heart of China, is always the first choice of travellers who want to experience the country’s culture and heritage. Having been in existence for more than 800 years, this city has been the capital of six ancient dynasties.

Beautiful Beijing is actually a mix of old and new—royal buildings with a long history and contemporary structures such as the National Aquatics and the National Stadium.

Before we show you the different facets of Beijing, let’s look at these interesting facts about the city that’s truly going to entice you to come here.

Interesting facts about Beijing

1. It’s one of the world’s oldest cities

Quite obviously, it’s one of the oldest cities that’s almost as old as London and six times older than New York City. Beijing is also one of the oldest inhabited places in the world.

2. Beijing has seven UNESCO World Heritage Sites

There is no other city in the world with this number of sites that made it to the UNESCO World Heritage list. Among these places are the Forbidden City, the Great Wall, the Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace, the Grand Canal, the Peking Man Site at Zhoukoudian, and the Ming Tombs.

3. The city will be the first to host the summer and winter Olympics

One of the important sites to see in Beijing is the Olympic Park for the Summer 2008 Olympics. It is composed of the Bird’s Nest, the Water Cube, and the National Aquatics Center. And come 2022, Beijing will host the Winter Olympics, investing large sums of money for skiing and winter sports resorts.

4. Beijing is the second-largest city in China

After Shanghai, Beijing comes in second with 22.5 million residents in a 16,800-square kilometre area.

5. The city’s air quality is better

In the past, we’ve heard a lot of news about the bad air quality in Beijing. With all the factories here, plus the cold winter months, it’s only natural for a large developing world city to have air pollution. Fortunately, its air quality has significantly improved over the past few years, stating that breathing Beijing air for 6 days is only equivalent to smoking one cigarette.

Now, it’s time to see what Beijing has to offer and discover its many facets, specifically its top attractions, imperial gardens and mausoleums, temples, historical sites, and modern scenic spots.

Different Facets of Beijing

Top attractions

1. The Forbidden City

Beijing: a Chinese dragon statue on the foreground

The Forbidden City is the largest and best-preserved imperial palace complex in the world with 9,999 rooms. This is just a single room short of what ancient Chinese believe is the ‘Divine Perfection’. The palace is surrounded by a 6-metre deep moat and a ten-metre high wall. The Forbidden City served as the country’s administrative centre for five centuries.

2. The Great Wall

aerial view of the Great Wall of China

Who hasn’t heard anything about the Great Wall? Considered one of the Eight Wonders of the World and listed as a UNESCO Heritage Site, the Great Wall was built to keep invaders out and inhabitants in. The structure is so vast that it encompasses five provinces from the east’s Shanhaiguan Pass to the west’s Jiayuguan Pass. From an aerial view, it looks like a gigantic snake moving across mountains, grasslands, and deserts.

3. The Tiananmen Square

Beijing: Tiananmen Square with a photo of their leader

Tiananmen Square is the world’s largest central city square and also serves as the city and country’s symbol. Here, you can find the Memorial Hall of Chairman Mao, Tiananmen Tower, Great Hall of the People, Monument to the People’s Heroes, National Museum, and the Great Hall of the People.

Top Imperial Gardens

1. Summer Palace

distant view of the Summer Palace with the sea and a house structure

The Summer Palace is located 15 kilometres from the downtown area, specifically in the Haidan District northwest of Beijing. It influences the Chinese landscape and horticulture and is China’s largest and most-preserved royal park, making it recognised as ‘the Museum of Royal Gardens’.

2. The Ming Tombs

Beijing: facade of the Ming Tomb showing a tiny door

The Ming Tombs is also called the Thirteen Tombs of Ming Dynasty located at the foot of Tianshou Mountain some 51 kilometres from Beijing. Here, you can see each mausoleum has its own independent unit, but the layout and arrangement of the 13 tombs are similar.

Temples

1. Temple of Confucius

Beijing: Temple of Confucius

The Temple of Confucius is where people paid homage to Confucius during the Ming Dynasty, Yuan Dynasty, and Qing Dynasty. The temple features four courtyards with main structures that include the Xianshi Gate, Dacheng Hall, Dacheng Gate, and the Chongshengci or Worship Hall. There are 198 stone tablets inside the temple that contain 51,624 names of the Jinshi of the dynasties mentioned above.

2. Temple of Heaven

Temple of Heaven with tourists everywhere

The Temple of Heaven has a 2.7-million square metre area located in the Dongcheng District. In 1988, the place was opened to the public as a park to showcase ancient religion, history, and philosophy. Through its grand architectural style and cultural connotation, you can have an insight into the ancient Eastern civilization’s practices.

Historical sites

1. Hutongs

Aerial view of one area of a hutong

It is believed that to experience the real culture of Beijing, you need to experience the culture of Hutong, which refers to a narrow alley, lane, or small street situated between rows of single-story Siheyuan. From an aerial view, these resemble a maze or a chessboard characterised by delicate gardens.

2. Prince Gong’s Mansion

facade of an old Chinese palace

Prince Gong’s Mansion, also known as Prince Kung’s Mansion, is the best-preserved Qing Dynasty princely mansion and the largest in Beijing. It was constructed in 1777 and served as the original residence of Heshen who was a member of the imperial guard. This place is an asset for anyone who wishes to study the privileged classes’ lifestyle in feudal society.

Modern sites

1. National Stadium

Beijing: red seats in a stadium

The National Stadium and the other modern site we will discuss were part of the Summer Olympics in 2008. This specific structure is more endearingly called the Bird’s Nest for its shape. In this very stadium were held track and field, football, discus, weight throw, and gavelock. After the Olympics ended, the stadium was opened as a tourist attraction and is now the centre for domestic or international sports competitions and recreational activities.

2. National Aquatics Center

Beijing: a bubble wall

To the west of the National Stadium contains the 2008 Olympics official swimming facility. The construction took 5 years, beginning in 2003 and ended in 2008. The centre has four floors—two above street level, one street level, and one below street level. The first floor is dedicated to tourists, while the auditorium is located on the second floor with 6,000 fixed seats and 11,000 temporary seats.

The National Aquatics Center’s design was a combination of Chinese and Australian ideas and is the world’s first building to be built upon the ‘soap bubble’ theory.

So you see, Beijing is not just about the ancient. It is as much a modern, contemporary city that the world looks up to!

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