Beijing is the beating heart of China’s political, cultural and historical heritage, surviving invasion and revolution to shine once more on the world stage.
Beijing is a hub of power and influence on the Chinese mainland, whose busy streets are home to 20 million residents. Getting around is easy, with a good subway system and public buses as well as a plentiful supply of city taxis. If you’re feeling brave, rent a bike and head out to explore China’s capital on two wheels.
The history of this expansive city can be seen in the extraordinary mix of architecture lining the pavements: spectacular imperial palaces sit next to utilitarian warehouses reminiscent of the early Communist era and daring modern designs symbolising the nation’s leap into the twenty-first century.
For a taste of ancient China, retrace the steps of the emperors from Tiananmen Square through the Front Gate (Qianmen Gate) to the immense palace buildings of the Forbidden City. Visit manicured pleasure gardens such as Jingshan Park and the Summer Palace where royalty used to relax in the shade of cypress trees. Further opportunities for refuge from the packed urban centre can be found in the spiritual quiet of Lama Temple and Temple of Heaven, or the peaceful surroundings of the Old Summer Palace and Beihai Park.
The city also served as the theatre of much twentieth-century conflict. Marco Polo Bridge to the southwest of central Beijing saw the first gunfire of the Sino-Japanese War. The National Museum of China in the city centre will lead you through the more recent history of the Chinese Communist party, which came to power in the 1950s, while you can come face to face with the dinosaurs that roamed this land at the Natural History Museum. In 2008, Beijing returned to the international stage with a bang as it played host to the world’s greatest sporting event in the ultra-modern Olympic Park.
Nowadays the city is gaining a reputation as a cultural centre, with the arts district around 798 Space at the vanguard of modern art and music. As well as galleries, the area has numerous restaurants and cafés serving the local delicacy Peking duck. Shopping lovers should head to Wangfujing Street – a commercial street with great shops and traditional tearooms.