During my most recent visit to Beijing, it was a very chilly -3c. There was ice everywhere and some snow that was still laying on the ground. A typical Beijing winter, you might say! One morning I left my hostel in the Wangfujing area of the city and headed off in a taxi to the Summer Palace.
Situated around 20 minutes drive outside downtown Beijing, between the 4th and 5th ring roads, the Summer Palace is a complex of palaces, gardens, and lakes. Dominated by Kunming Lake and Longevity Hill, the Summer Palace was built in 1750 as a retreat for the Emperors of the Qing Dynasty – and at 742 acres it is a very large retreat and clearly fit for royalty!
Although it was very, very cold, it provided a great opportunity to see one of Beijing’s prime tourist attractions in a way that is not normally presented in the brochures or on the websites. In particular I loved the boats parked at the side of Kunming Lake, as with the lake frozen it would be impossible for us to use them at this time of year! The ice and cold weather did not stop people taking photos and videos, for the Summer Palace is a very photogenic place, much like the Taj Mahal in Agra. I paid around 60CNY for admission to the Summer Palace, and this guaranteed me access to all of the extra areas (which are not included in the standard ticket price of 30CNY), such as the Tower of the Buddhist Incense and Wenchang Hall.
I walked around many interesting temples and pavilions in the Summer Palace complex, and enjoyed watching the locals sit around and play cards. I wonder what card game they were playing? Aside from boating in Kunming Lake, the main highlight for most people when they come here is to visit the temple at the top of the hill, officially named the Tower of the Buddhist Incense, which is the object in the famous photos you usually see associated with the Summer Palace (see Featured Image). To access this area at the top of the hill, you must first negotiate interesting temples in themselves, such as the Hall of Dispelling Clouds and the Tower of Moral Glory.
The climb up Longevity Hill (via the Gate of the Dispelling Clouds) for me was a painstaking process, with some of the steepest steps I have encountered in the Far East. I was very out of breath at about half way up, although it is by no means a difficult climb. Just be warned that the first part of the climb is up narrow steps with not many railings or support, so if you suffer from vertigo like me, it may be quite difficult. The rest of the climb, however, is a safe affair, utilising concrete staircases. The climb back downwards is a much easier – and greener – affair, stopping by smaller temples and pavilions such as The Four Great Regions, and the Hall of Utmost Blessing.
I stayed in the grounds of the Summer Palace for around 3 hours before the cold got to me and I decided to head back to my hostel. However, for an alternative opinion on the fascinating Summer Palace in Beijing, and photos of a visit during the colours of summer, check out this blog here from Tanja Bungardt.
Thanks for reading, and remember to check out my video experience of my visit to the Summer Palace below: