Formerly known as ‘Peking’ in English, Beijing has been described as one of the world’s greatest cities. Although it serves as the national capital of the People’s Republic of China, and is the second largest city in the country, it holds greater significance than just that. It is, in fact, the political, educational and cultural hub of the country. Having been one of the Great Ancient Capitals of China, there is hardly any building in the city that is not steeped in history.
The ‘Peking Man’ has been documented as having been the earliest inhabitant of the Beijing; his remains were found in the Dragon Bone Hill. The fossils date back to about 230,000-250,000 years old. Today, the city is spread in an area of over 16, 410 square kilometers, and has a population of about 15 million. However, do not get daunted by its teeming population. Beijing is a must-stop on your discovery of the Orient. Apart from other aspects, the seasons of Beijing are said to be distinct too. Although the city is at its best during the seasons of spring and autumn, it is the latter that is said to be the ‘golden tourist season of the year’. However, the months of May, September, and October are best times to visit this city.
For lessons in Chinese history, your first stop should be the Forbidden City. The Forbidden City is a huge palace complex that has housed the Emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties. In the complex, you can the visit the Palace museum which has an astounding collection of the Chinese imperial art. You may also stroll in the four imperial gardens and parks such as Beihai, Houhai, Shichahai, Zhongnanhai, Jingshan, and Zhongshan. Beihai Park in particular, is said to be a prime example of the fine Chinese gardening art. Right across the Forbidden City is the Tiananmen Square. The Tiananmen Square is near the heart of the city, and also has the distinction of the being the largest open-urban square in the world. It has been named after the Tiananmen Gate, meaning the Gate of Heavenly Peace. This square is of great importance, both politically and historically. In the middle of the Square stand the Monument to the People’s Heroes and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong. The Monument to the People’s Heroes is 125ft high and was built in 1958.
If you want to get an even better glimpse of the Chinese royalty, a visit to the Summer Palace should be on your itinerary. Located on the western section of the city, the Summer Palace has been declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO. Here you will be able to see a vast collection of gardens and palaces that served as summer retreats for the Qing dynasty rulers. Another World Heritage Site, and perhaps, Beijing’s best religious site is the Tiantan or Temple of Heaven. The rulers of both the Ming and the Qing dynasty used to visit this temple to pray to the Heaven for a good harvest. Do not forget to include a visit to the Pagoda of Tianning Temple and the Logou Bridge in your itinerary.