Things to Do in Beijing - page 2
The Beijing Drum Tower (Gulou) stands just south of its sibling, the Bell Tower (Zhonglou), in the Beijing district that bears its name. First built in the 13th century, the striking red structure has been rebuilt several times. It originally held 25 drums that kept time for the city, and today it hosts regular drumming performances.
Sitting to the west of Tiananmen Square in Beijing, the Great Hall of the People is where the National People’s Congress is held, along with other administrative, social, and ceremonial events. Built in just 10 months and completed in September 1959, the Great Hall is a grand and modern structure with a flat green and yellow roof. It’s divided into three wings, with the central one raised higher than the outer two.
The East Gate is the only visitors' entrance to the hall. Through this bronze door with the emblem of the PRC above it, an expansive lobby reveals itself and leads into the Central Hall. The Great Auditorium is also in this section, which seats almost 10,000 people with audio equipment for simultaneous interpretations of various languages. Elsewhere, the Banquet Hall is situated in the northern section, and the offices of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress are to the south.
There are two reasons to visit Wangfujing Street (Wangfujing Dajie) in Beijing: shopping and eating. The commercial street is home to nearly 300 Chinese and international brand-name stores selling everything from clothes to tea and herbs, while neighboring Wangfujing Snack Street appeals to intrepid tourists and adventurous local eaters.
Chairman Mao Memorial Hall, also known as the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong, houses the embalmed body of the revolutionary and dictator who was the founding father of the People’s Republic of China. The Soviet-style structure and the sculptures in front of it are one of the dominant features of Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
The Tiananmen (literally, Gate of Heavenly Peace) is featured on the official emblem of the People's Republic of China. Situated on the northern edge of Tiananmen Square, it served as the principal entry to the Imperial Palace during the Ming and Qing dynasties.
The Gate of Heavenly Peace is also the name of a documentary film about the protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989. The protests sparked the largest nonviolent political protest in the country’s history.
The Tiananmen itself is made up of a tower situated on top of a platform. It’s one of the most imposing monumental gates in the world, notable for its sheer size and ornate features, including its columns. Stone lions and white marble bridges guard the entrance to the tower and viewing stands flank both sides, which are opened up for visitors on the first day of each month.
During a 1773 renovation of a northeastern section of the Forbidden City, a Nine Dragon Screen—common in palaces and gardens throughout China—was added to provide privacy and protection from evil spirits for Emperor Qianlong’s retirement villa. The screen depicts nine Chinese dragons, each playing with a pearl amid ocean waves.
Experience the “wild” Great Wall at Gubeikou, one of the most historically significant and hard-to-reach sections of the Great Wall. Stretching across the Yan mountains, the Gubeikou section has remained unrestored, making it ideal for visitors looking for an authentic Great Wall experience, away from the crowds.
Towering 125 feet (38 meters) above Tiananmen Square, the Monument to the People’s Heroes is a Beijing landmark. Constructed during the 1950s, not long after the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, the granite structure pays tribute to Chinese revolutionaries with inscriptions and reliefs.
Chaoyang Theatre is one of the best places to see a Chinese acrobatics show. Young acrobats from across China perform here, spinning plates, balancing on stacks of chairs, and riding motorcycles upside down in a steel cage, among other seemingly impossible feats of athleticism and strength.
Uncrowded and off the beaten path, the Huanghuacheng Great Wall rewards hikers who want to experience part of the wall that is wilder and more private than the longer stretches. This is the only waterside portion that’s open to visitors, offering spectacular views of the surrounding countryside and reservoir.
More Things to Do in Beijing
The China Central Television (or CCTV) Headquarters is situated within an unusually-shaped skyscraper in Beijing’s central business district. This seemingly gravity-defying structure was designed by the Dutch architect, Rem Koolhaas, and is made up of two leaning towers joined at the top and bottom, creating an irregular grid with an open center. The building’s distinct shaped has earned it the nickname, ‘Big Underpants’ among Beijing locals.
While visitors are not allowed access to the CCTV Headquarters, the outside of the building is an attraction in itself. Security remains tight, particularly after fireworks during the Chinese New Year festivities of 2009 caused a fire in the Television Cultural Center, which sits adjacent to the main building.
The Communist-era factories and warehouses of northwest Beijing’s 798 Art Zone have all been converted into edgy galleries, studios, boutique shops, and cafes whose modern and sometimes whimsical contents sit in stark contrast to the austere Bauhaus architecture. Most of Beijing’s best contemporary galleries are housed here.
While the Juyongguan segment of the Great Wall of China is the closest to Beijing, it's not the most visited; after all, the steps here are still steep and often uneven. Those who make the tough climb up are rewarded with stellar views of the wall winding along the hilltops and—perhaps more importantly—sparser crowds.
The Juyongguan Great Wall (Great Wall at Juyong Pass), built during the Ming Dynasty, also features some interesting architectural elements (beyond the wall itself). Most notable is the Cloud Platform (Yun Tai), a squat white marble tower built in 1342 as a base for three stupas (and later a temple) that were subsequently destroyed. Visitors can still see carvings and inscriptions inside the platform's tunnel.
To Chinese, the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest is as much a symbol of Beijing as the Forbidden City or Tiananmen Square. The 3-tier circular structure, set atop a 3-stage marble terrace, is the star attraction of the Temple of Heaven, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This hall is a 19th-century reconstruction of the original, built in 1420.
Part of the Forbidden City during the Qing Dynasty, this 10th-century park is one of China’s oldest, largest, and most important ancient imperial gardens. Situated in the center of Beijing, the 171-acre (69-hectare) garden features a temple, bell and drum towers, a white pagoda, pavilions, lakes, and the intricate Nine-Dragon Wall.
Located in the Dongcheng District, Beijing’s Pearl Market (Hongqiao Market) is the place to go for anything pearl-related. The largest pearl market in the country, it sells the gems in nearly every size, shape, color, quality, and price imaginable, as well as a range of other goods, including clothing, electronics, and even seafood.
Once an imperial residence, the palace of the Forbidden City had an inner and an outer court. While the outer court was for official business, the inner court held the royal family’s personal living quarters and gardens. Visitors can now enter these once-private areas, to see how emperors lived until the 1720s.
Originally built in 1302, Confucius Temple in Beijing is China’s second-largest temple dedicated to the great ancient Chinese thinker and teacher, whose influence is still felt today. The temple, which covers a space of 5.4 acres (2.2 hectares), also offers a peaceful sanctuary from the urban hustle and bustle.
Literally “the Street of Eternal Peace,” Chang'an Avenue runs through Beijing from east to west. Its core section, first built during the 15th century, houses Tiananmen Square, the Forbidden City, the National Center for the Performing Arts (aka the Egg), and Wangfujing. The name is sometimes written “Chang’an Avenue.”
Qianmen Street is a famous commercial street in the heart of Beijing that has been restored to its former glory after initially being established in the Ming and Qing Dynasties (1368-1911).
The street was once the entrance to Beijing city and is now bustling with various shops and eateries. The area has the architectural style of old Peking, and is home to 50 courtyards and hutongs that are listed as protected heritage sites. Many of the traditional shops in the area have been in operation for well over a century.
Visitors can approach Qianmen Street from either its north of south entrance. The Dangdang Che (trams) that ran in Beijing from the 1920s until the 1960s can also be found running the length of the street. These are modelled on the old trams and serve as sightseeing cars for tourists.
Located in the Chaoyang District, the New Silk Alley Market (Xiu Shui) is a 376,737-square-foot (35,000-square-meter) complex housing more than 1,700 retail vendors. Popular with tourists looking for bargains, the market is jam-packed with silk goods, clothing, jewelry, electronics, souvenirs, and more.
The unmistakable National Center for the Performing Arts (NCPA) sits immediately to the west of Tiananmen Square and the Great Hall of the People in central Beijing. This oval structure is made from thousands of titanium plates combined with sheets of glass and is surrounded by an artificial lake, which from afar gives the appearance of a giant egg floating on the water. This appearance has earned the building the nickname, ‘The Giant Egg.’
The National Center for the Performing Arts houses three separate yet connected performance venues, including the Opera House, the Concert Hall, and the Theater Hall. The center hosts national and international classical music performances, as well as opera, ballet, and traditional Chinese dance performances.
Liyuan Theatre is situated in the Qianmen Jianguo Hotel in Beijing’s Xuanwu District, south of Tiananmen Square. The area is famous for being the birthplace of Peking Opera, and the Liyuan Theater has been hosting this traditional performing art since 1990.
Popular among tourists as well as Chinese opera lovers, the performances at the Liyuan Theatre offer a classic introduction to Peking Opera, with elements of Beijing culture, kung fu, and even humor featuring prominently. Performers wear theatrical makeup, dramatic masks, and stunning costumes to convey their stories, and spectators should expect thunderously loud music and heart-felt performances from the stage.
The Liyuan Theatre hosts a four-part Peking Opera every evening except Chinese New Year.
These ruins are all that remains of several grand palaces that made up a summer retreat for Chinese emperors from the 15th to mid-19th centuries. Occupying a space the size of Central Park in New York, the Old Summer Palace (Yuanming Yuan) is now a collection of marble chunks, crumbling statues, and broken columns.
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