China Travel Guide
Beijing Parks & Zoos
Bei Hai Park
Bei Hai Park
- 1 Wenjin Jie, Xicheng
- 1 C4
- Tian’an Men Xi
- 010 6403 3225
- 6am–8pm daily
An imperial garden for more than 1,000 years, Bei Hai Park was opened to the public in 1925. Filled with artificial hills, pavilions, and temples, it is associated with Kublai Khan, who redesigned it during the Mongol Yuan dynasty. The Tuancheng (Round City), near the south entrance, has a huge, decorated jade urn belonging to him. The park is named after its extensive lake, Bei Hai, whose southern end is bordered by the inaccessible Zhong Nan Hai, Communist Party Headquarters. In the middle of Bei Hai, Jade Island was supposedly made from the earth excavated while creating the lake. It is topped by the 118-ft (36-m) high White Dagoba, a Tibetan-style stupa built to honor the visit of the fifth Dalai Lama in 1651. Beneath the huge dagoba, Yongan Si comprises a series of ascending halls. The lake’s northern shore has several sights, including the massive Nine Dragon Screen, an 89-ft (27-m) long spirit wall made of colorful glazed tiles. Depicting nine intertwining dragons, it was designed to obstruct evil spirits. The Xiaoxitian Temple lies to the west.
Jing Shan Park
in the background
Situated on Beijing’s north-south axis, Jing Shan Park has its origins in the Yuan dynasty (1279–1368). Its hill was created from earth that was excavated while building the palace moat during the reign of the Ming Yongle emperor. In the early years of the Ming dynasty it was known as Wansui Shan (Long Life Hill), but was renamed Jing Shan (View or Prospect Hill) in the Qing era. Foreign residents also referred to it as Coal Hill (Mei Shan), supposedly because coal was stored at the foot of the hill although other theories exist.
- 137 Xizhi Men Wai Dajie, Haidian
- Xizhi Men, then taxi
- 010 6831 4411
- 7:30am–5pm (to 6pm spring and summer)
West of the Beijing Exhibition Hall, Beijing Zoo is a relic of a bygone era, with outdated concrete and glass cages. The Panda Hall is one of its better enclosures, and the bears are at their liveliest in the mornings. The real reason for visiting is the huge Aquarium, with coral reefs, an Amazon rainforest, and an impressive shark pool. There is also an array of aquatic mammals, including whales and dolphins.
Di Tan Park
characters, temple festival, Di Tan Park
An ideal place to stroll amidst trees, Di Tan Park was named after the Temple of Earth (Di Tan), which was the venue for imperial sacrifices. The park’s altar (Fangze Tan) dates to the Ming dynasty and its square shape represents the earth. Under the Ming, five main altars were established at the city’s cardinal points – Tian Tan (Temple of Heaven) in the south, Di Tan in the north, Ri Tan (Temple of the Sun) in the east, Yue Tan (Temple of the Moon) in the west, and Sheji Tan (Temple of Land and Grain) in the center. Mirroring ancient ceremonies, a lively temple fair (miaohui) is held during the Chinese New Year (see Festivals), to welcome the spring planting season and appease the gods.
Xiang Shan Park
- Wofosi Lu, Xiang Shan, Haidian district
- 333 from Summer Palace, 360 from Zoo
- 9am–4pm daily
This wooded parkland area, also known as Fragrant Hills Park, is at its scenic best in the fall, when the maples turn a flaming red. Its main attractions are the fine views from Incense Burner Peak, accessible by a chairlift, and the splendid Biyun Temple, or Azure Cloud Temple, close to the main gate. The temple is guarded by the menacing deities Heng and Ha in the Mountain Gate Hall. A series of halls leads to the Sun Yat-sen Memorial Hall, where his coffin was stored in 1925, before being taken to Nanjing. At the temple’s rear is the distinctive 112-ft (34-m) high Diamond Throne Pagoda. About a mile (2 km) east of Xiang Shan Park are the Beijing Botanical Gardens, with pleasant walks and some 3,000 plant species. The gardens’ Sleeping Buddha Temple is renowned for its magnificent bronze statue of a reclining Buddha. China’s last emperor, Pu Yi, ended his days here as a gardener.