Beijing is the capital of China and the country’s second largest city after Shanghai with 17 million inhabitants. It is also the third most important economic centre after Shanghai and Hong Kong. During its long history, Beijing has had several names: Ji, Yanjing, Youzhou, Zhongdu, Dadu, Jinshi, Gemun Hecen and Beiping.
Beijing has a continental climate with strong climate variation from one season to another: winter is particularly cold, and summer is fairly hot. Being remoted from the sea in the east and protected from the winds coming from the west, Beijing is not exposed to heavy rains.
The story of Beijing began in 1115 when the Jin dynasty made Beijing their capital named Zhongdu, later renamed Dadu. In 1215, Genghis Khan and its army burn the city. In 1264, the grandson of Genghis Khan rebuilt the city and renamed it Khanbalik. During the 14th century, the Ming dynasty took over the city and gave it the name of Beiping. In the 15th century, Yongle, the third emperor of the dynasty, built two major monuments in Beijing: the Forbidden City and the Temple Of Heaven. In 1938 the city became part of the Japanese empire until the end of the World War II.
Each year, 12 million people come to visit the capital, with foreign tourists accounting for one-quarter of the total. Being a 3000 years old city and the heart of Chinese power for centuries, Beijing is packed with monuments to discover. To make the most of the city, you should plan to stay at least four days and visit the following places:
The Forbidden City
The Chinese imperial palace was built in the 15th century and was home to the emperors until the last dynasty in power: the Qing. It is the oldest and most preserved palace in China. It covers 700,000 square meters and has more than 8700 rooms. More than a million workers took part in the construction of the palace. The Forbidden City is surrounded by water and walls and includes many gardens and parks.
It is the world’s largest city square. It includes the Tian’anmen, the most famous gate of the capital with a huge portrait of Mao Zedong stuck in the middle. There are plenty of statues and monuments around the Tian’anmen Square, including the mausoleum of Mao.
The Summer Palace
This gigantic palace consists of several different buildings and gardens, including a lake and a hill. It used to be the summer residence of the emperors until the end of the Qing dynasty. The palace was destroyed twice and rebuilt. In 1998, UNESCO included the Summer Palace as a World Heritage Site for its beauty and symbol of the Chinese culture.
The Temple of Heaven
This temple was built under the Emperor Yongle at the same time as the Forbidden City. This is where Ming and Qing emperors used to celebrate rituals and sacrifices to pay tribute to Heaven for good harvest.
Note: From downtown Beijing, you can reach the Great Wall in about two hours by car.
Thinking about visiting Beijing? Check these websites before planning your trip in China’s capital: