Last week while in Beijing, I had a very long and enjoyable day at Beijing’s really cool Summer Palace. Long because the Summer Palace is BIG and takes time to see it properly. Enjoyable because the Summer Palace is just awesome and I had the company of a really nice American couple D and D (their initials).
I met D and D the previous night while wandering the streets east of the Forbidden City with my friend and travel buddy K looking for the elusive Beijing hutongs. D and D took pity on us, gave us directions from their lonely planet guide and agreed to keep me company in the Summer Palace the following day.
For detailed information on the Summer palace, read this article Summer Palace in Beijing
Preparation – If you just want a quick visit so you can take a few photos, see a few buildings and cross the Summer Palace of your list of places to visit, 1-2 hours is enough. If you want to fully appreciate and savour the Summer Palace, you will need at least 5-6 hours so set aside a whole day. There is not much in the way of food or drink there so pack lunch.
How we did the Summer Palace
We met at 10am at the Qianmen subway station, took a subway to the 375 bus stop then caught the 375 bus to the Summer Palace using directions from the Lonely Planet. Took us around an hour to get there. A better way to get to the Summer Palace is to take the subway to Beigongmen station on subway line 4. The northern entrance of the Summer Palace is right next to the subway exit.
The Summer Palace is large park and imperial garden with an area of 2.2 kilometers, has a man made lake, a large temple complex and a large palace complex. Covering such a large area with so many building takes a lot of effort so I suggest you should use a map and plan your day carefully.
We started at the North Palace gate and worked our way south to Longevity Hill then continued south down to the lake front with a few detours on the way. This covered all the major temple buildings such as the Sea of Wisdom Temple and the Tower of Buddhist Incense.
Next we headed west to check out some interesting buildings like the Tower of Hill Lake Scenery. We then back tracked and headed east to explore the palace complex. The palace complex has many stories to tell, most of them about Empress Cixi who was one nasty piece of work. She embezzled funds from the navy and who knows where else to pimp the Summer Palace to her liking and when her nephew who she installed as the Guangxu Emperor got out of line, she placed him in house arrest. You can see his home/prison in the palace complex.
One of the most interesting buildings in the palace complex is the Grand Stage where Cixi and Beijing’s A list watched performances.
Lucky for us, a performance started just after we arrived in the courtyard housing the stage. The actual performance was pretty ordinary but a very enjoyable experience. I would have enjoyed watching the Wiggles perform simply because this was where the Chinese Imperial family sat and watched live performances.
By the time we finished with the palace complex it was mid afternoon and we were feeling pretty hungry so decided to do the 17 Arch Bridge, South Lake Isle, quickly circle around the park then head off and grab some dinner.
Being so big, we took almost two hours to circle the park and make it back to the North entrance. A great walk even when you are foot sore and starving. So you can see that needing a day to see the Summer Palace properly is no exaggeration.
A special thanks to D and D for being great company!