To return home without seeing all of them is to not have really seen the Chinese capital. Tian’anmen, Forbidden City, Great Wall and the Summer Palace are the heart and soul of Beijing.
Tian’anmen Square, especially, is the heart and soul of Beijing. When something happens – good or bad – the Chinese flock to the square. Now centuries old, it’s one of the largest squares in the world.
Independent tourists can see Tian’anmen Square and the Forbidden City on the same day since these attractions are across the street from each other. It’s recommended that tourists start at the south end of Tian’anmen, then walk north toward the Forbidden City. On the way, see the statues memorializing the People’s Liberation Army which flank the mausoleum of Chairman Mao Zedong. Long lines of Chinese surround the mausoleum. They’re waiting to see Mao’s body.
Just north of the mausoleum is an obelisk, the first monument to the People’s heroes. This is where the students erected their Goddess of Democracy during the 1989 Massacre. The Great Hall of the People, where China’s congress meets, is to the west of the square; museums are to the right.
Forbidden City, Home to Emperors
The Forbidden City was home to the imperial family for centuries. It got the nickname Forbidden City because originally only the imperial family and their entourages were allowed inside the gated walls. Its official name today is the Palace Museum. Because it’s so popular, it can be very crowded. Most tour groups go there in the morning. Independent tourists may be able to miss out on some of the crowds by going later in the day. Audio tapes narrated by British actor Roger Moore are available for rent at the south entrance.
The Bernardo Bertolucci film, The Last Emperor, was filmed here. Watching it provides a good introduction to the Forbidden City, with its thousands of rooms and treasures.
Great Wall of China
Walking on the Great Wall of China is a profound experience and the highlight of the trip for many people. Man’s greatest engineering feat which snakes over the mountain tops around Beijing can only be described as “awesome!” Badaling is the closest site to Beijing; it’s where the Chinese government takes visiting leaders from other countries. It can get extremely crowded, but there are ways to avoid this.
Other sites close to Beijing include Huanghua, Mutianyu, Simatai and Jinshanling. Simatai has especially sharp peaks. Seeing the Great Wall arch up and down with them is very impressive. Many people like to spend the day hiking between Simatai and Jinshanling.
The Summer Palace has won accolades from around the world for its impressive beauty and intricately landscaped gardens. UNESCO named it a World Heritage Site because of its gardens. Focal point of the Summer Palace is the man-made Kunming Lake, a delight to walk around on hot summer days. Other features are the Long Corridor, with its thousands of small paintings, and Suzhou Street, where shops line a canal in the fashion of Ming Dynasty Suzhou, a city near Shanghai.
Tian’anmen Square is open around the clock, and is free. The other sites open at 8:30 a.m., with admission fees of 60 yuan (about US$8) for the Forbidden City and Summer Palace. Admission fees for the Great Wall vary by site, with the Badaling fee usually including admission to the Great Wall Museum.