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Beijing’s imperial history

  • Beijing, China

  • Bucket List Experience

Last updated: 17 April, 2024

The divine middle of the ‘Middle Kingdom’, Beijing has ruled over China since the 13th century. In 1287, Kublai Khan established the Yuan Dynasty and built Khanbaliq, a predecessor to today’s city. Less than a century later, Khanbaliq was razed by the emergent Ming Dynasty, and Beijing as we know it took shape.

Ming emperor Yongle designed his capital as a compass-perfect exercise in feng shui, with the newly built Forbidden City at its heart. Twenty-four emperors ruled from its hallowed halls, together with their eunuchs and concubines, until revolution swept aside China’s last imperial rulers, the Qing Dynasty, in 1911.

Who to go with: tour operators

13

‘Old’ Summer Palace

  • Beijing, China

‘Old’ Summer Palace

Experience

Destroyed by British and French armies during the Second Opium War, what was one of the world’s greatest classical Chinese gardens is now wistful ruins, lakes and parkland. A relaxing place for a wander, it sees far fewer crowds than the ‘new’ Summer Palace nearby.

Adult price: 2

Good for age: 18+

Ming Tombs

  • Beijing, China

Detail of Historic Architecture and statue of the Hall of Central Harmony at Changling Tomb of Ming Dynasty Tombs in Beijing, China - A UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Experience

An hour outside Beijing are the mausolea of 13 emperors of the Ming Dynasty. You can walk the ‘Spirit Way’ to the first tomb, a funerary avenue flanked by statues of animals, mythical beasts and officials, and descend into another of the tombs.

Adult price: 6

Good for age: 18+

  • Beijing, China

  • Bucket List Experience

Lakes in Beihai Park

Experience

Beihai Park

Once the preserve of emperors, the sculpted surrounds of Beihai Park are dotted with fascinating temples, halls and pavilions, and crowned by the magnificent White Dagoba, towering over the central boating lake.

Good for age: 18+

Prince Gong’s Mansion

  • Beijing, China

Prince Gong’s Mansion

Experience

The grand residence of an imperial prince, this magnificent mansion close to Houhai Lake is most notable for its classical Chinese gardens. Pathways wind between carp ponds, artificial hills, ornate pavilions and even a miniature Great Wall folly.

Adult price: 5

Good for age: 18+

Tian Yi Tomb

  • Beijing, China

Tian Yi Tomb

Experience

On the western outskirts of the city, this imperial mausoleum is unusual in that it was bestowed upon a powerful eunuch from the late Ming dynasty. An attached museum has centuries-old castration knives and the corpse of one of the tomb’s occupants.

Adult price: 3

Good for age: 18+

Workers’ Cultural Palace

  • Beijing, China

Exterior of the Workers Cultural Palace

Experience

Qing emperors would come to this complex, resembling a miniature Forbidden City, to worship their royal ancestors. The rearmost Sacrificial Hall, now a gallery space, is one of the most magnificent imperial buildings in China.

Adult price: 2

Good for age: 18+

Fragrant Hills Park

  • Beijing, China

Fragrant Hills Park

Experience

For centuries, Beijing’s royals have decamped to the Fragrant Hills, an undulating landscape of pine forest dotted with temples, pagodas and lookouts. On a clear day you can see the skyscrapers of downtown Beijing from 557m-high Incense-Burner Peak.

Good for age: 18+

Bell Tower

  • Beijing, China

Bell Tower

Experience

Beijing’s official timekeeper since the age of the Mongols, this splendid, 47-meter tall stone tower, facing its compatriot the Drum Tower, houses a gigantic copper bell said to weigh over 60 tons.

Adult price: 3

Good for age: 18+

  • Beijing, China

  • Bucket List Experience

Exterior of the palace complex

Experience

Forbidden City

A magnificent and unique 15th-century complex of imperial palaces that served as the home of Chinese emperors for 500 years. Beijing’s must-see attraction.

Adult price: 6

Good for age: 13+

  • Beijing, China

  • Bucket List Experience

North Gate and Wanchun Pavilion in Jingshan Park - Beijing, China

Experience

Jingshan Park

Beijing’s best park is also one of its only central hills, offering inspiring views of the Forbidden City. It’s also where elderly locals come to sing, dance and let off steam.

Adult price: 3

Good for age: 18+

  • Beijing, China

  • Bucket List Experience

Once a site for esoteric imperial rites, this marvellous complex of temples, altars and pavilions is set in a sprawling grove of knotted cypress trees. One of Beijing’s must-see sights.

Adult price: 2

Good for age: 13+

  • Beijing, China

  • Bucket List Experience

The Imperial Summer palace in Beijing exterior. showing a rising tower

Experience

Summer Palace

The former retreat of China’s imperial rulers, the Summer Palace is a masterpiece of classical Chinese garden design on a truly awesome scale. Artificial hills, lakes, opulent buildings and graceful arched bridges.

Adult price: 3

Good for age: 13+

Bai Family Mansion

  • Beijing, China

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Experience

Feast on the splendid banquet dishes of imperial cuisine, the fare served to emperors, at this high-end themed restaurant where Peking opera singers regale diners and staff dress as Qing dynasty nobles.

Adult price: 50

Good for age: 18+

Logistics

Price: Free
Minimum age: 0
Age suitable: 18+
When: All year around

Who to go with: organised tours

6

Our selection of the best Viator tours of this attraction or activity

Beijing Historical Tour II including Summer Palace, Lama Temple & Panda Garden

  • Beijing

Visit two of Beijing’s most important historic sites on a full-day tour that features the Lama Temple (Yonghegong) and UNESCO heritage-listed Summer Palace. You also see giant pandas, stop at a jade store and tea house, and relax over a Chinese-style lunch. Your experienced guide provides informative commentary on the history and culture of each site, as well as background on China's famous panda bears and an introduction to modern Beijing. Enjoy time for photos and questions at each stop on this fascinating Beijing sightseeing tour.

Price $99

Min age 0

Rating 4.07 / 5 [148 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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All Inclusive Private Day Tour: Tian'anmen Square, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven and Summer Palace

  • Beijing

This is private full-day tour covers four major UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Beijing including Tian'anmen Square, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven and Summer Palace. All entrance fees, tasty local lunch, private guide and transfer service are all inclusive.

Price $178

Min age 0

Rating 4.95 / 5 [40 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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Full-Day Beijing Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven and Summer Palace Tour

  • Beijing

This is a classic Beijing city tour route, covering the highlight wonders in Beijing, such as the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, and Summer Palace. A private tour offers you more privacy and flexibility. Lunch will also be included. The tour makes you a worry-free Beijing city exploration.

Price $215

Min age 3

Rating 4.20 / 5 [24 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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Beijing Imperial Dining Experience at Bai Jia Da Yuan Restaurant with Houhai Lake Bar Tour

  • Beijing

Take your love one to enjoy this unforgettable Chinese Imperial Dining experience at famous Bai Jia Da Yuan restaurant in Beijing where you will be surrounded by the beautiful royal garden and immerse in an ancient times atmosphere. A great show will be preformed during the dinner time. You will also have a bar tour in romantic Houhai area during the night.

Price $248

Min age 0

Rating 4.66 / 5 [12 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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1-Day Private Beijing City Tour: Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace

  • Beijing

Gain insight into imperial China on a private full-day tour of several UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Beijing. Start with a look at the monuments of Tiananmen Square, then tour the immense Forbidden City complex with your knowledgeable guide. After lunch, enjoy the tranquility of the Temple of Heaven, then head to the Summer Palace to walk around magnificent gardens decorated with pavilions and a lake. Travel in comfort with your guide in your own private vehicle, with hotel pickup and drop-off included. · Private full-day tour of Beijing · Visit the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven and Summer Palace · Explore the vast Forbidden City complex accompanied by an informative guide · Admire the Temple of Heaven’s decor and watch locals enjoying the park outside · Take in the beautiful pavilions, marble boat and gardens at the Summer Palace

Price $235

Min age 0

Rating 5 / 5 [11 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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