Newcomers to Beijing are often surprised that the city has no less than six UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Sites, including the Forbidden City, Summer Palace and sections of the Great Wall. These and the three others are invariably on tourists’ “must see” lists, while local citizens visit them regularly, often to remind their children of China’s great cultural heritage.?
Less known is that the Chinese capital has much else to offer tourists and other visitors by way of almost countless fascinating historic and unusual sites. Visiting the more important of these can be achieved in a week or so because they are located throughout Beijing’s eight central districts.
Their having taken in the world-famous heritage sites, many tourists have been known to extend their visit by eight days, enabling them to spend one day in each of the districts. Such an itinerary also allows them to experience a closer view of everyday life in various parts of the city. ?
Historical site of Peking University → Drum and Bell Tower 北大红楼→钟鼓楼
Established in 1918, the original university near Beihai Park employed the then young Mao Zedong in its library from 1919-20. The successive Peking University, still the most famous in China, relocated to western Beijing in 1953.
The Drum and Bell Tower, erected during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), was used as a kind of public “clock” and information point to signal the time of day and keep citizens informed of important events. ?
Hutong (alley) Tours胡同游
- The Drum and Bell Tower → Ping’An Avenue → Huangchenggen Ruins Park → the historical site of Peking University
b. The Drum and Bell Tower → Nanluoguxiang → Houyuan’ensi Hutong → Heizhima Hutong
Note: The best-preserved hutongs of Beijing can be found in Nanluoguxiang, one of the city’s 25 historical- and cultural-protection areas. Nos.13 and 17 courtyards in Heizhima Hutong are open to visitors who wish to experience local people’s daily life and learn about the culture of siheyuan (courtyards enclosing adjoining, inward-facing houses, once occupied by various generations of a family).
Several new bars in this area are worth visiting for a break, and with luck visitors might bump into international film stars like Zhang Ziyi, who spends time at the nearby China Central Drama Academy.
c. Gulou Dajie → Doufuchi Hutong → Jingtu Hutong → Andingmen Dajie → Guozijian Jie
Centuries ago, during feudal times, the age-old Confucius Temple in Guozijian Jie housed a unique university.
d. Di’anmen Dong Dajie → Mao’er Hutong → Nanluoguxiang → Ju’er Hutong → Heizhima Hutong
At the end of 2004, Beijing’s new planetarium was opened to the public. Its features include advanced astronomical equipment and 3-D films, the latter an attraction that delights children. Open daily, 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. except Monday and Tuesday.
China Ancient Animal Museum中国古动物馆
The fossils of extinct birds, fish and more than 20 dinosaurs can be found here, along with fossils of Beijingers’ ancestors. Open daily, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Extremely popular among local young people and foreigners, Shichahai is an idyllic lake where boat trips include dinner and serenades on traditional Chinese instruments. Natural scenery abounds, and lakeside banks offer numerous restaurants serving a wide range of cuisines. Tourists can also visit the nearby Palace of Prince Gong, also once the residence of Soong Qingling, wife of modern China’s founder, Sun Yat-sen. a
Ox Street 牛街清真食品特色街
This area houses Beijing’s largest community of people of the Hui Minority Ethnic Group, and is also famous for its Niujie Mosque and large array of Muslim foods.
Ancient Pottery Museum 古陶文明博物馆
More than 3,000 cultural relics, including ancient pottery crafted during the New Stone Period (6000-2000BC), are exhibited here.
The Hall of Ceremonial Music 天坛神乐署
Among the five main buildings of the Temple of Heaven, the Hall of Ceremonial Music was in ancient times the rehearsal hall for musical performances staged during animal sacrifices to gods and goddesses. These days, some 30 musicians in ancient costumes play ancient musical instruments here for the benefit of visitors.
Beijing Urban Planning Museum 北京市规划展览馆
Visitors can easily find what Beijing looked like 50 years ago – and how it will probably look 20 years from now – by viewing layouts and models of buildings in the huge exhibition hall here. An extremely large city map helps the process. The map is so big that local people can actually stand on the exact spot where they live.
The Red Theatre红剧场
Authentic Chinese Kung Fu displays can be enjoyed here from 7:30 p.m. each day.
Gaobeidian Antique Furniture Street 高碑店古典文化特色村
This is the place to go if you are seeking genuine and superb reproduction ancient Chinese furniture. Tours are arranged by Chaoyang Tourism Bureau.
Zuo Te Pottery Art Centre佐特陶瓷艺术中心
Tourists can practice making pottery under the guidance of experts.
Beijing Red Sandalwood Museum紫檀博物馆
About 1,000 pieces of rosewood furniture are exhibited here, along with samples of the rare wood itself. It is said that one inch of red sandalwood is worth the same as one inch of gold. ?
Beijing Botanical Garden 北京植物园
Created in 1955, this highly colourful garden is rated as China’s most important and influential botanical display.
Beijing International Sculpture Park 北京国际雕塑公园
Unique sculptures in stone, copper and wood make up a magnificent collection at this popular venue. Don’t forget your camera!
Fahai Temple 法海寺
This 556-year-old temple houses China’s best-preserved frescos, produced by imperial artists during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The high level of craftsmanship bears comparison with counterparts in western China’s Dunhuang.
Beijing Grand View Garden of Flowers北京世界花卉大观园
This newly-built botanical garden features rare plants, flowers and fruits from all over the world. Various styles of garden are also showcased.