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Beijing China - My Top Ten Attractions
Video which I took of the eight Chinese Acrobats riding motorcycles inside the sphere-like cage.
Beijing, China has so many sights and attractions that it is difficult to see them all in a short time frame. You really need much more time or several visits to see all that Beijing has to offer.
I spent three days in Beijing in early spring 2013 and saw numerous attractions while on several tours all three days. I will not list everything I saw but only my top 10 attractions that I visited and not in any particular order.
1. Tiananmen Square
Any tourist coming to Beijing should visit Tiananmen Square because it is huge, impressive, has a lot of history and is one of the major symbols of China.
We were there on a Saturday morning with thousands of tourists, mostly Chinese people from all over China. To the Chinese people, this is a must see attraction when in Beijing and hundreds were lined up for hours to see Chairman Mao's tomb. We however were satisfied with just being there and mingling with so many Chinese people and also the hundreds of foreign tourists. The square is huge and difficult to see every building unless you spend a full day there. Make sure you get a picture of yourself with the portrait of Chairman Mao in the background on one of the buildings.
We also drove past Tiananmen Square at night when it was lit up, however it was basically empty of people. We did not stop, but you would have Tiananmen Square all to yourself if you did walk it at night.
2. "The Forbidden City" or as it now is called, "The Palace Museum" - UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Forbidden City was built between 1406 and 1420 and consists of 980 buildings. It was home to the Chinese Emperors and their families for almost 500 years until 1912. It was called Forbidden because the common person could not go there, yet it was home to about 17,000 people at its peak.
As you can imagine, no tourist can see this complex in a short visit. Thus our visit of a few hours just gives you enough time to walk through it from one end to the other and barely seeing a few buildings, gardens and structures.
Again we were there on a Saturday and again there were thousands of tourists from all over China and the world.
If you want to see impressive old Chinese architecture, gardens, and how the Chinese Emperors lived, including their concubines, this is the place to visit.
3. Hutongs of Beijing
The old Chinese housing in Beijing and their neighbourhood is called Hutong. The Hutongs of Beijing are disappearing so fast to make way for modern construction such as skyscrapers and condos and apartments, that the Beijing authorities have now designated several areas as historical sites and cannot be removed.
The best way to compare a Hutong is to that of a historical area in any city where the old buildings are to be preserved.
We were on a tour bus and of course a tour bus cannot manage the narrow and crowded streets of the Hutongs, thus we took a rick-sha ride (a covered tricycle) into them which is a worthwhile experience.
The added bonus we had was visiting the inside of one of these Hutong homes! We met the owner and she described her life there (through an interpreter) and this was the highlight of seeing the old Beijing!
They do not have washrooms in their home, instead they have to go to the public toilets in their neighbourhood! Some do have water for washing, most have no heat, no basements and no upstairs. What is surprising is that these remaining Hutong homes are now very expensive as many people prefer to live there instead of in large condos or apartment buildings.
4. Temple of Heaven - UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Temple of Heaven buildings were built also from 1406 to 1420 and were for the use of the Emperor and their families and not the public. It was used for annual ceremonies of prayer to Heaven for good harvest, thus the main building also is referred to as the Temple For Good Harvest and has been regarded as a Taoist temple. Over the years additional buildings were constructed on the grounds, such that it now is fairly large with several temples.
In 1918 the Temple of Heaven complex was turned into a park, and for the first time, open to the public.
Not only is this Temple of Heaven building amazing, but the park now is used by seniors or retired Chinese people and every day you will see hundreds of retirees meeting, exercising, playing games, doing Tai Chi, doing Tai Chi with swords, knitting, etc. on the park grounds. This was the amazing thing; to see retired Chinese people enjoying life in the city!
You may notice in the pictures that it was sunny while at the Temple of Heaven. Heaven indeed was shining down on us, as these few hours on Monday morning, was the only time in Beijing without smog or fog for our three days there!
5. Great Wall of China - UNESCO World Heritage Site
The Great Wall of China technically is not in Beijing, however tours to see it do originate from Beijing and the Great Wall is about one to two hours north of the city by bus, depending on traffic. We visited the Badaling section of the Great Wall which has been restored to its full grandeur.
On arriving at the Great Wall, the fog we encountered during our two hour drive in heavy traffic grew worse with visibility down to 15 m (50 ft.) in some areas. In addition the temperature was at the freezing point which caused ice crystals to form on the tree branches.
My pictures showing the Great Wall are unique as they show this massive structure disappearing into a heavy fog and that is exactly what we saw!
We did walk up a couple sections of the Great Wall but became worried as we had to count how many lookouts we had passed to determine where to return to find our entrance as we could not see it, even when close to it.
The Great Wall is amazing and well worth the trip there, even though we could not see much of it from any one location.
6. The Summer Palace - UNESCO World Heritage Site
The SummerPalace in Beijing dates back to 1750 when it was originally built along with KunmingLake on which it is situated. It was destroyed by European Imperialists in 1860 and 1900 but much of what is there now was rebuilt in 1886 and 1902 by the Dowager Empress Cixi.
Not all the buildings are open to the public, however that is not a problem as the main attraction is its beauty, a park-like setting with a summer cottage feel to it, but on a grand Chinese style!
We visited it on Sunday afternoon with several thousand other tourists during a heavy fog not knowing what to expect. Impressed we were as we did not want to leave, the same feeling you get when you go to a summer cottage or resort on a lake.
There is the longest covered walkway which we leisurely strolled along to the Marble Boat, taking in the views of gardens, pagodas, lake, boats on the lake, etc.
Being there in a fog gave it a mystic quality, as if you could relax completely and forget all your problems!
7. The Wangfujing Night Food Market
This is a nightly occurrence where a section of road on Wangfujing Street near Tiananmen Square has vendors selling every imaginable food in China for eating. This may be for tourists, however some locals were seen eating there as well.
We had just finished our dinner, thus we only browsed the market without trying any of their delicacies which included: silk worm larvae, snakes, insects, seahorses and all types of seafood, all types of meat, pigeons, etc.
It appeared safe to eat as the food looked fresh, and most vendors wore identification, had a vendor's permit posted behind them, and all were wearing uniforms and hats. Maybe next time we will have the courage to try some of these unusual foods.
8. Peking Duck Dinner
The ultimate Chinese dining experience is to have a Peking Duck dinner. We had it three times and enjoyed everyone of them! There are many fine restaurants in Beijing that serve Peking Duck, thus I will not mention any names.
A typical family style Chinese dinner has a round table with a round turntable in the centre on which the plates of food are placed. The turntable can be rotated so everyone can serve themselves without asking others to pass the food.
One of the courses in a Peking Duck dinner is a duck which has been carved by a chef (similar to having a chef carve a turkey or roast beef) and placed onto platters which then are placed onto each table. Each piece of duck has the skin attached to it. You place the meat onto a thin wrap with a few Chinese condiments, then eat it like a small wrap. Delicious! We highly recommend that you try it at least once.
9. Chinese Acrobats
One evening we attended the Chaoyang Theatre in Beijing to see the Chinese Acrobatic show. Our first impression of the building was not good as it was cool in the building as it appeared there was no heat there. Even the lady guiding us to our seats wore a winter coat. Also there is no fixed seating, you have to arrive early to get your seat in the section of your price range.
The show however was amazing and one of the best acrobatic performances that we have ever seen! Apparently the show changes all the time with different acts, thus often no two shows are the same.
The three memorable acts included a lady balancing herself on numerous chairs stacked one on top of each other, nine ladies riding on one bicycle and eight men riding eight motorcycles inside a giant cage at the same time!
Here is a link to a video which I took of the motorcycles inside the sphere-like cage: http://youtu.be/Diuvpu9AauU (or click on the video link at the bottom of the page).
10. Olympic Park
Olympic Park was built for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and can be considered a symbol of the modern China. The two most interesting buildings in the Olympic Park would be The Bird's Nest and the National Aquatics Centre.
We only stopped beside the park while on our trip to the Great Wall and as you can guess, it was extremely foggy. We could barely see these buildings, but even so, it was worth the stop to catch a glimpse of these two famous modern structures.