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Big sights in Beijing

From Tiananmen Square to the Great Wall of China the vast Chinese capital is filled with record-breaking wonders.

By Jeannine Williamson

With a rich history dating back more than 3,000 years Beijing is one of the world’s oldest cities. Home to 20 million people – and Nine Million Bicycles according to the Katie Melua song – the capital of China is a captivating destination.

Despite its seemingly overwhelming size, an escorted tour will enable you to marvel at all the main highlights and travel in comfort from place to place. Tiananmen Square is the starting point for most visits, and the ideal spot to get an idea of the sheer scale of Beijing. Spread over 100 acres it’s the world’s largest public square and leads to another must-see sight, the UNESCO-listed Forbidden City.

So called because it was closed to the outside world for five centuries, China’s largest and best preserved group of ancient buildings were built in the 15th century. The 178-acre palace complex was something of a gilded cage, albeit a huge one, to two dynasties of emperors, the Ming and Qing, who rarely ventured beyond its high walls and lived in isolated splendour.

The magnificent Summer Palace is an oasis of calm just outside the city and you can take a dragon boat ride on the glass-like lake. From here visit the Ming Tombs, the final resting place of emperors, where the Sacred Way is lined with imposing animal statues. Everywhere you go your guide will encourage you to touch countless dragons, symbols and mythical creatures for luck.

At nightfall culture-rich excursions include going to see a dazzling and gravity-defying acrobatic show or performance of Peking opera, which is very colorful to watch but bears no resemblance to tuneful western operas so be prepared. An unmissable culinary experience is a Peking duck dinner where chefs carve each bird into an incredible 120 pieces that are all the same size. Eating with chopsticks is optional.

Another fixture, albeit a moveable one, on the Chinese dining scene is the Lazy Susan where a huge array of dishes are placed on a rotating glass table top to share between the table. You need to pace yourself as the food keeps coming until the end of the meal is signalled with the arrival of a plate of fruit.

Last, but certainly not least, Beijing is the gateway to the Great Wall of China. Once measuring an estimated 13,170 miles, it was built to repel invaders between the 14th and 17th centuries.

It now stretches 3,750 miles, and tours will take you to one of several points outside Beijing. The most popular, just an hour beyond the city, is in the Badaling Hills where there is an option to stroll along a steep or flatter section. The snaking wall follows a winding path as according to Chinese mythology demons and evil spirits can only travel in straight lines.

Only time will tell if a long life and good fortune will come your way from touching all those lucky objects. But after a visit to Beijing you are guaranteed to return with unforgettable memories and experiences that will last a lifetime. 

Published 03.02.22