Culture

Parks and Gardens

Visitors to Beijing should make sure to include several of the city’s outstandingly beautiful parks and gardens in their itinerary.

The Summer Palace (Yiheyuan) northwest of the city center was originally a retreat for the imperial family. It includes gorgeous classical Chinese gardens extending over 290 hectares and the man-made Kunming Lake and Longevity Hill. Destroyed in 1860 by the allied forces of the English and French, the Summer Palace gardens were reconstructed 25 years later. The Summer Palace has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it is “a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design. The natural landscape of hills and open water is combined with artificial features such as pavilions, halls, palaces, temples and bridges to form a harmonious ensemble of outstanding aesthetic value.”

(Garden in central Beijing) Garden in central Beijing.

The Beijing Botanical Gardens, established in 1955, are 9 miles northeast of central Beijing near Xiangshan (Fragrant Hills) Park. The gardens are beautiful and feature a lake and many specialized plant areas including rare plants. Some of the most popular sections of the Botanical Gardens are the peony garden, the perennial garden, the traditional Chinese medicinal herb garden, and the bulb garden. The Sunken Rose Garden has thousands of rose bushes arranged in tiers around a fountain. The hothouse exhibit is famous for its collections of orchids, palms, carnivorous plants and tropical aquatic plants.

Jingshan (Prospect Hill) Park to the north of the Palace Museum was an imperial pleasure garden and was barred to the public until 1928. The man-made Prospect Hill has five peaks, each with a pavilion, which form viewpoints for surveying the gardens and the surrounding cityscape. The central peak used to be the highest point in the Inner City before the days of multi-storey buildings. The park is famous for being the place where Chongzhen, the last emperor of the Ming dynasty, hung himself in 1644 after the city was taken over by the troops of Li Zicheng.

Xiangshan (Fragrant Hills) Park is a very large park of lakes and forests on the slopes of the western hills 17 miles northwest of Beijing. Established in 1186 during the Jin Dynasty, the park was extended in the Ming and Qing Dynasties. In the fall, the park is famous for its red smoke trees which turn a brilliant red and attract thousands of visitors. There are several beautiful lakes, (Kumquat tree with fruit) Kumquat tree with fruit. bridges and temples in the park and visitors can walk along pathways or take a ride in the cable cars to enjoy the stunning scenery.

Beihai (North Lake) Park is another former imperial pleasure garden, northwest of the Forbidden City. The gardens have many stunning features including palaces, pavilions and a temple. On the north shore of North Lake the Five Dragon Pavilions which are connected by stone bridges and the colorful Nine Dragon Wall can be reached by ferry.