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19 Xin Jian Gong Men Lu (Haidian)
(86) 010-6288-1144 | www.summerpalace-china.com
HOURS/TIMESApr. 1-Oct. 31: Daily: 6:30am-6:00pm; Nov. 1-Mar. 31: Daily: 8:30am-5:00pm
PRICEApr. 1-Oct. 31: RMB 60; Nov. 1-Mar. 31: RMB 50
POPULAR TIMESWeekends; summer; national holidays (weeks of Apr. 5, May 1, Oct. 1)
RESERVE IN ADVANCENo
WAIT TIME WITHOUT RESERVATIONNone
HIGHLIGHTSLong Corridor; Stone Boat
Looking for a retreat from Beijing’s baking summers and the pressures of palace life, in 1750 Qing Dynasty emperor Qianlong decided to construct a sumptuous complex of gardens and pavilions in the leafy northwestern suburbs of the city. Less formal (and often less crowded) than the imposing Forbidden City, the Summer Palace is a charming collection of temples, pavilions, bridges, and villas dotting the hillsides around scenic Kunming Lake. As a result of being ransacked and pillaged several times, including by European forces in the mid-19th century and by Mao’s Red Guards during the 1960s Cultural Revolution, many original features have been lost, but the opulent grandeur of the gardens and palaces is still palpable. Highlights include a long covered walkway snaking along the shoreline (look overhead for classical novels rendered through intricate pictures on the ceiling beams) and a magnificent “marble” party boat built by the profligate Empress Dowager.
GO HERE WITH
History or architecture buff; friends; family; kids
WHY WE LIKE IT
It’s truly a beautiful spot–no wonder Emperor Qianlong picked it. The scenery is gorgeous in all seasons, with the bright red and gold palaces and temples set against the stunning backdrop of the surrounding forests, which change from peach-blossom pink to lush green to vivid scarlet to a haunting silvery gray as the seasons change. We like losing ourselves in the winding trails connecting the hillside temples and then ambling down the lakeside Long Corridor.
WHAT WE WOULD CHANGE
Although it’s only a ten-minute walk from the subway, poor signposting along the way means that it often takes much longer to get here from the station–definitely have a map handy. Also, the “dragon boats” crossing the lake can be way too crowded. It may be worth walking around the shore instead.
GOOD TO KNOW
The Stone Boat (not actually made of stone by the way, but just as un-seaworthy as such a craft sounds like it would be) was built at extravagant cost by the Empress Dowager in 1902 by pillaging the budget for modernizing the navy–a decision that came to haunt China in later years. When the lake is frozen in the winter, many visitors use it as a shortcut to get across the grounds. We would definitely not recommend trying this–the ice has been known to crack unexpectedly. Do bring snacks with you, since trekking through the park is exhausting and (unless you like sweaty hot dogs on sticks) there are few refreshment options. The Chinese name for the park is Yi He Yuan. Tape recorded self-guided tours are available, and we found them useful.
Read more about Summer Palace in The Diary
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