If you are visiting China, take a trip to Beijing, where you will discover the country’s vibrant beauty. Beijing (formerly known as Peking) is the capital of the People’s Republic of China. It is one of the ancient cities of China and has been at the heart of the country’s long, and sometimes turbulent, history. The 3,000-year-old city is steeped in China’s history and culture. Here, you can simultaneously immerse yourself in ancient architecture and traditions and feast your eyes on the many contemporary developments that mark Beijing’s prosperity and modernity.
Direct flights to Beijing will bring you to Beijing Capital Airport (PEK), situated 20 miles from the city centre. With its incredible design, Beijing Airport is one of the busiest in the world, with 90.1 million passengers passing through its doors in 2015.
Beijing is hot and humid during the summer months, and can be bitterly cold in winter. During September and October, the city is warm, dry and sunny, and from March to May a light breeze blows away some of the pollution, but can occasionally bring sandstorms.
Whether seen beneath a blanket of snow or in the bright sunshine, Beijing is breathtakingly beautiful. Unsurprisingly, however, it is a popular destination for domestic tourists, who arrive in their millions during national holidays, such as New Year’s Day (Jan 1st), Spring Festival (Chinese New Year) and Labour Day (May 1st). If you are looking for good hotel deals and cheap flights to Beijing, visit in March – April or September- October, when the temperatures are mild and there are fewer tourists.
During its 3000-year history, Beijing has seen three magnificent dynasties and 34 Emperors. As a result, the city is overflowing with opulent architecture and palaces that tell the story of its rich past.
The Temple of Heaven was built in 1420, by emperor Zhu Di. Ancient emperors would visit the temple at winter solstice to pray for a good harvest; the magnificent building still whispers with the sombre rituals and voices of the past. Try to visit early in the morning, when the grounds will be filled with people young and old, taking their morning exercise. From tai chi, to kickboxing, dance and traditional sword fighting, the enactment of ancient traditions fills the space with a magical serenity. If you want to experience the ritual first-hand, consider booking a tai chi lesson, where you can practise martial arts that have been performed and respected for generations.
The Summer Palace was created as a lavish summer retreat for emperors and is renowned for being the largest imperial garden in China, and one of the best preserved in the world. Situated 9 miles northwest of Beijing, the palace boasts more than 3,000 houses set in 70,000 square metres. Originally built in 1750, the palace was destroyed in the late 1800s before being rebuilt by the Government of the Qing Dynasty in 1912. The exquisite arched bridges, stunning gardens, waterways and architecture make you feel a million miles away from the hustle and bustle of the modern world, allowing you to immerse yourself in bygone eras.
Even though many of Beijing’s monuments were destroyed in the 18th and early 19th centuries, there are still many, many exquisite examples of Chinese architecture through the ages, many of which are UNESCO World Cultural Heritage sites. Each piece tells its own unique story of the majesty of its era with the dignified grace and splendour associated with this glorious city.
Just as Beijing’s ancient architecture tells the story of the city’s influences over the centuries, so do its modern structures. The city’s contemporary monuments contrast starkly with its ancient ones. However, rather than jarring with the ancient culture of China, they seem to harmonise with it, bringing the country’s past and present together to build a thriving future.
Adjacent to Tian’anmen square, in Beijing’s centre, you will find the National Centre for Performing Arts. The building possesses a mercurial beauty, afforded by its titanium shell. Rising through the surface like an island in a tranquil lake, the vast building houses three auditoriums: an opera house, a concert hall and a theatre, with a total of 5,473 seats.
In 2008, Beijing hosted the Olympics and they marked the historical moment with reality-defying architecture. Dubbed “The Birds’ Nest”, the National Stadium features an intricate grid design which required more than 22 miles of steel weighing over 45 tonnes. Come dusk, the stadium is beautifully illuminated in a style that is reminiscent of Gaudi’s stained glass. The National Aquatics Centre (T”he Water Cube”) was created to house the water elements of the Olympics and is the largest ETFE building in the world. ETFE (Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene) is a transparent polymer sheeting which is difficult to work with, but creates a stunning effect. During the day the cube radiates an ethereal blue, while at night it glows with LED bubbles; a sight which is truly spectacular to behold.
Beijing is one of the most populated cities in the world. It is not surprising, therefore, that it boasts food from across the globe. In ancient times, Beijing’s food was considered to be imperial cuisine; rich dishes such as duck were not considered to be fare for the lower classes. However, due to the mass migration of people from all around China to the capital, today’s food is a delicious blend of rural specialities such as rice and dumplings, mixed with traditional dishes fit for an emperor. Crispy duck, Peking style, must be tried in Beijing. A distant relative of the dish that we know in the UK, the traditional dish is roasted over red date wood and served crispy on the outside and succulent in the centre.
Dining choices in Beijing are plentiful: you can grab a snack from a street stall or dine like royalty in one of the high-end markets. As always, if you are looking for a more authentic experience, take the time to explore and eat where the locals do.
There is so much to see and do in the vibrant city of Beijing, a city which draws on its glorious past to build a vibrant future. The challenge will be deciding where to go and what to see; whatever you choose, you will undoubtedly be left wanting more.
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