The Great Wall
77 kilometers/1 hour
The Great Wall stretches across deserts, grasslands, mountains and plateaus covering about 6,700 kilometers (4,163 miles) of China from the East to the West. Over 2000 years old, some of the wall’s sections are in ruins or gone altogether, but this doesn’t change the fact that this is truly one of the greatest wonders of the world. Visiting the wall can be a study in ancient building techniques, geography, or mythology and sociology depending on where your interests lie.
The Forbidden City
Four kilometers/10 -15 minutes
This masterpiece of classical Chinese architecture was built in the exact center of ancient Beijing’s boundaries and was China’s Imperial Palace between the mid-Ming through the Qing dynasties. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987, the Forbidden City is no longer occupied by royalty, but remains as a symbol of Chinese sovereignty and is one of the world’s most popular tourist attractions.
This squat tower of primitive stargazing equipment peeks out next to the elevated highways of the Second Ring Road. It dates to the time of Genghis Khan, who believed that his fortunes could be read in the stars. The instruments in this ancient observatory were among the emperor's most valuable possessions. Many of the bronze devices on display were gifts from Jesuit missionaries who arrived in Beijing and shortly thereafter ensconced themselves as the Ming court's resident stargazers. They offered this technology in a bid to persuade the Chinese of the superiority of the Christian tradition that had produced it. The main astronomical devices are arranged on the roof; inside, the dusty exhibition rooms shelter ancient star maps with information dating back to the Tang Dynasty.
Temple of Heaven
15 kilometers/15-20 minutes
Built around 1420, the Temple of Heaven is part of a complex of buildings - The Circular Mound Altar (Yuanqiutan) the Imperial Vault of Heaven (Huangqiongyu) and Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest (Qiniandian) - that symbolize Heaven and Earth and are mostly connected by the Vermilion Steps Bridge (Danbiqiao). Traditionally the Temple was used by the Emperor to pray for a bountiful harvest. Today it stands as a glorious example of Imperial architecture with meaningful landscaping and design.
Prince Gong's Palace
This grand compound sits in a neighborhood once reserved for imperial relatives. Built during the Ming Dynasty, it fell to Prince Gong, brother of Qing emperor Xianfeng and later an adviser to Empress Dowager Cixi. With nine courtyards joined by covered walkways, it was once one of Beijing's most lavish residences. The largest hall offers summertime Beijing opera and afternoon tea to guests on guided hutong tours. Some literary scholars believe this was the setting of the Dream of the Red Chamber, China's best-known classic novel.
Lama Temple (Yonghe Temple)
Beijing's most visited religious site and one of the most important functioning Buddhist temples in Beijing, this Tibetan Buddhist masterpiece has five main halls and numerous galleries hung with finely detailed thangkhas (painted cloth scrolls). The entire temple is decorated with Buddha images -- all guarded by somber lamas (monks) dressed in brown robes. Originally a palace for Prince Yongzheng, it was transformed into a temple once he became the Qing's third emperor in 1723. The temple flourished under Emperor Qianlong, housing some 500 resident monks.
While the souvenir shops add some kitsch, the monks temper this with their own brand of serenity. And although indoor photography is prohibited, the exterior of the temple is quite photogenic: the walls are richly painted, and the monks peep through misty incense smoke.
798 Art District
The 798 Art Space is located in Dashanzi, an area to the northeast of the hotel. It was formerly a large state-owned enterprise built by the Russians in early 1959 as part of a war-reparations deal with Germany.
In 2002, artists and cultural organizations began using the space for design, photography, publishing, exhibitions, performance and art. They rented space in the factory and converted individual workshops into independent studios for art, architecture, music and fashion.
Most of 798 galleries are open to the public free. In the area there are cafés, bookstores, and various galleries from different artists.
This tranquil temple to China's great sage has endured close to eight centuries of additions and restorations. In 2006 it was once again under scaffolding and is now combined with the Imperial Academy (next door), once the highest educational institution in the country. The Great Accomplishment Hall in the temple houses Confucius's funeral tablet and shrine, flanked by copper-color statues depicting China's wisest Confucian scholars. Like in Buddhist and Taoist temples, worshippers can offer sacrifices (in this case, to a mortal, not a deity).
White Pagoda Temple
Two kilometers/less than 10 minutes
The White Pagoda Temple dates from the late 11th Century and was restored between 1270 and 1271 by Kublai Khan. Later it burned to the ground, only to be rebuilt in 1457. During a restoration in 1978, religious artifacts and scrolls were discovered in the tip of the pagoda and are now on display. Besides these cultural treasures, visitors are mesmerized by the dozens of jingling bells that decorate the temple’s gold-covered, copper top.
Until the late 1920s, the 24 drums once housed in this tower were Beijing's timepiece. Sadly, all but one of these huge drums have been destroyed, and the survivor is in serious need of renovation. Kublai Khan built the first drum tower on this site in 1272. You can climb to the top of the present tower, which dates from the Ming Dynasty. Old photos of hutong neighborhoods line the walls beyond the drum; there's also a scale model of a traditional courtyard house. The nearby Bell Tower, renovated after a fire in 1747, offers fabulous views from the top of a long, narrow staircase. The huge 63-ton bronze bell, supported by lacquered wood stanchions, is also worth seeing.
Four kilometers/10 -15 minutes
The Chinese name Tiān'ānmé, 天安門, is made up of the Chinese characters for "heaven," "peace" and gate." The gate's position at the front of the Imperial City (and historical events that have taken place on Tiananmen Square) give it great political significance. The imperial roof decorations, lions and columns are impressive reminders of the majesty of the old Imperial government.