Beijing - Sightseeing
Century Arts Centre (Gongrentiyuchang Dong Lu A-6)
The last word in contemporary chic just happens to be 500 year old antique Tibetan cabinets - and this treasure trove of a store is a one-stop Tibetan cabinet shop. On display in the shop are only a small fraction of what is available; many more can be rummaged for at the shop's warehouse.
Beijing Friendship Supermarket (7 Sanlitun Lu)
Once the only place in town to buy textiles and housewares, strictly controlled by the State, this is an entertainingly Chinese take on a department store. There’s a good selection of silk, cotton, and linen - all eagerly hawked by tailors who’ll be only too happy to whip you up a new suit.
China World Shopping Mall (1 Jianguomenwai Dajie)
Designer boutiques such as Prada and Calvin Klein are the chief draw at this cool new shopping mall. For more traditional souvenirs, check out Tian Fu, a branch of the famous Chinese tea merchants, while Emperor sells bedding, tablecloths, and napkins made from Chinese silk and Liuligongfang sells Chinese-style crystal creations and jewellery.
Panjiayuan Market, (Huaweiqiaoxinan Jie, Dongsanhuan)
Beijing's liveliest and least tourist-centred (and therefore most authentic) Sunday market. Stalls, arranged in a chaotic order, sell spices, silks and earthenware from all points of the country - but, amid the truly priceless and collectible there’s a lot of junk too. Old clocks, wood carvings, Tibetan rugs, Chairman Mao memorabilia, iconography and tat. It’s all here. Bargaining is essential - with opening prices vastly inflated.
Beijing Arts and Crafts Central Store (Gongyi Meishu Fuwubu)
Beijing’s most enticing centre of jade, carvings, jewellery, carpets and curios. Lacquer ware, silks and cloisonne ware (all with certificates of authentication) are all good value.
Silk Alley Market (Xiushui Nan Jie and Xiushui Dong Jie)
Chaotic and colourful, a warren of open-air clothing and accessory stalls trade home-made and exotic, overseas imports. Cashmere shawls, bird cages, carved wooden Buddhas and brand name watches (undoubtedly fake) are all good buys. Pickpockets operate here, be careful.
Sun Dongan Plaza Shopping Centre (138 Wangfujing Dajie)
Part traditional Peking-style bazaar, part shiny new mall, the Sun Dongan Centre is a two level shopping centre with a good mix of designer stores, souvenir outlets and big name chains. The selection of Gipaos (Chinese style-dresses) is among the best in the city.
Ancient Observatory (Gu Guanxiangtai)
Initially built in the Ming Dynasty (around AD. 1442), the Ancient Observatory is one of the oldest observatories in the world. Recently renovated, the Observatory is a fascinating, complicated set piece of navigational equipment, bronze dials and astronomical spheres. Thoroughly unique, and still in working order, the Ancient Observatory’s huge scale shows just how ahead of its time Imperial China really was. The first NASA, you might say.
Big Bell Temple (1A Beisanhuanxi Lu)
Inscriptions from over 100 Buddhist texts encircle the mammoth, 45 tonne bell at this temple which doubles, suitably enough, as a bell museum. More interesting than it sounds.
Tian'anmen Square (Central Beijing)
Right at the heart of the city, Tian'anmen Square is lined with many of Beijing’s must-see attractions. The largest open square in the world, Tian'anmen is an enormous, Communist- inspired statement of control, order and power. What it lacks in grace it gains in power- with the Chairman Mao Mausoleum at the symbolic centre of the Chinese universe. Equally chilling (especially if you remember those scenes of student-led unrest at the beginning of the 90’s) and inspiring, Tian'anmen is certainly breathtaking.
The Gate of Heavenly Peace, bedecked in a massive portrait of ever-watchful Mao is a solid, potent reminder that the People’s Republic remains the World’s strongest bastion of Communist rule - climb the gate for wonderful views of the complex below.
White Clouds Taoist Temple (Lianhuachidong Lu)
The centre for China's only indigenous religion, White Clouds is a serene haven where blue-robed Taoist monks shuffle about, deep in contemplation. Visitors are warmly received, and are encouraged to burn incense to send a prayer heavenwards, wander the back gardens in quiet meditation, or rub the bellies of the temple's three monkey statues for good luck or throw coins at the temple’s two large brass bells.
Temple of Heaven (Yongdingmen Dajie (South Gate)
Ming emperor Yongle built the Temple of Heaven, one of Beijing's premier attractions, as a site for imperial sacrifices. The Temple, twice the size of the Forbidden City, is a powerfully mystical attraction - with its strict feng shui and numerology principles and ‘heaven and earth’ symbolism.
A raised walkway, the Vermillion Bridge (Danbi Qiao), leads northward to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests (Qiniandian), the temple's breathtaking centre piece. This magnificent blue-roofed wooden tower, originally built in 1420, is based on the calendar: four center pillars represent the seasons, the next 12 pillars represent months, and 12 outer pillars signify the parts of a day. Together these 28 poles, which correspond to the 28 constellations of Heaven, support the structure without nails.
Forbidden City (Dongcheng, Zijin Cheng)
So called because, for half a millennium, this elaborate construction of temples, palaces and courtyards was off-limits to all but the ruling elite, the Forbidden City is the largest and best preserved complex of ancient Chinese structures in the whole of the country. And what a complex. You’ll need a good day’s wandering to really do this meticulously restored and constantly engaging open-air museum justice. They say there are 9,999 buildings within, but who’s counting? The Forbidden City is divided into two parts – the first beiong the southern section, or the Outer Court was where the emperor exercised his supreme power over the nation.
The northern section, or the Inner Court was where he lived with his royal family. Now a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site, the Palace Museum is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world - records state that it took one million workers 14 years to complete. The Hall of Supreme Harmony is the city’s largest structure, with a richly decorated Dragon’s Throne, used in ceremonial occasions. The Hall of Preserving Harmony is an eye-poppingly ornate banqueting hall, while the Supreme Harmony Gate overlooks a welcoming courtyard capable of receiving 100,000 visiting guests.
Lama Temple (Yonghegong)
Probably Beijing’s most colourful temple - all bright, cascading rooftops and decorative frescoes, the Lama Temple is a vast, joyous compound of Tibetan Buddhism. At its centre, the 55 foot statue of Miatreya Buddha is carved out of a single sandalwood trunk.
Summer Palace (19 Xinjian Gongmen)
Beijing’s most visited outdoor attraction, Summer Palace is a vast royal park crammed with interesting temples, buildings, museums and pavilions. Spend a good half day to a day here, to really explore the Park’s best sights. Kunming Lake is a typically huge expanse of water (man-made, of course) where you can hire a pleasure boat, or even take a ferry ride (yes, it’s that big). Longevity Hill houses many temples such as the Temple of the Sea of Wisdom. Art galleries, teahouses and willow bridges complete the picture - all perfect for a summer day’s stroll.
Beijing Zoo (Fuguo Haidi Shijie)
Located to the west of Beijing City, next to the Beijing Exhibition Hall, the zoo exhibits rare Chinese animals such as the Panda and the Golden Monkey and a strong selection of beasts from all around the world, from Polar Bears to Kangaroos, set within a rich landscape of trees, ferns and palms.
Within its 50,000 square meters, there’s a monkey hall, panda hall, lion and tiger hall, elephant hall, and sea beast hall. Most enclosures are generous enough, but it’s the Ocean Hall which really impresses, the largest aquarium in China. As Zoo’s go, this isn’t such a bad one - and there is a committed programme of conservation ongoing, which keepers are happy to talk about.
Underground City (Beijing Dixiacheng)
A curious reminder of the days when Chairman Mao, alarmed by the escalating talks of nuclear proliferation, considered his captial’s best chance of survival lay underground. And so, burrowing beneath the streets of Beijing, remains this testament to those Cold War days - a warren of bombproof tunnels which now make up one of the city’s most curious tourist attractions.
ExploraScience (Suoni Tanmeng)
As you’d expect, a typically interactive series of exhibits dealing with all manner of scientific phenomina - from vacuums to electricity, optical illusions to computers - it’s all refreshingly multi-lingual, and kids from all corners of the globe seem to love it.
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