One of the best preserved imperial gardens in the world can be found to the northwest of Beijing, just 15 km outside of the city center. Yiheyuan which means The Garden of Restful Peace is also more popularly known as The Summer Palace and was initially built in 1750 by Emperor Qianglong. Filled with arched bridges, temples, pavilions, promenades and beautiful breezeways; the ever-changing views and scenery were designed to achieve harmony with nature and to soothe and calm anyone who takes in the surrounding sights. While not all the buildings are open to the public they still add much aesthetic value to the surrounding landscape. Many are undergoing restoration or are simply there just to enhance the park with their design, decoration and strong history as they nestle into the surroundings. Here are 16 things to see and do at the Summer Palace.
1.Explore the traditional shops that line the Suzhou Markey Street area. Former Emperors and their concubines, used to enjoy pretending to shop here.
2.Wander around and take in the architecture of different buildings and courtyards.
3.Take in the surrounding views from one of the many vantage points around the Summer Palace.
4.Take a 10 minute boat-ride on Kunming Lake. This is available for most of the year but during Winter, the Lake freezes over and ice skating becomes a popular replacement activity.
5.Sit and watch a traditional Chinese performance inside the restored theater. The three-story theater is one of the biggest and best-preserved wooden stages in all of China. The stage was regarded as the Cradle of Beijing Opera and many famous Beijing Opera actors of the Qing Dynasty would come here to perform for the Empress Dowager.
6.Admire the many copper ornaments and statues.
7.Explore the Palace building in the Court area near the East Palace Gate. Dowager Empress Cixi and Emperor Guangxu would stay here and conduct government business.
Further Reading: A Brief History of the Summer Palace
8.Walk the Long Corridor lined with shady trees beside the lake. As you stroll along, admire the magnificently painted ceilings and changing scenes. There are over 10 000 different landscape and animal scenes painted on the ceiling and corridors.
9.Find a spot and just take in the overall beautiful sites of bridges, boats, willows and lotus flowers around you.
10.Take in the sites of Longevity Hill as it rises beside the lake.
11.Climb the hill to the Buddhist Temple. From here, you can overlook the entire Palace grounds.
12.Wander along the waterside path that runs along 75 % of the palace grounds.
13.Find the Marble Boat. This is one of the most famous attractions in the Summer Palace. The structure is neither a boat nor really made of marble but has been designed to look it has. It is actually made of stone that has been painted to look like marble and is permanently ‘docked’ on the lake next to the shore.
14.After finding the Marble Boat, continue walking to an area of tranquil gardens nearby.
15.Find the Suzhou Market Street which recreates a traditional riverside shop area. Many of these can only be reached by boat.
16.Wander through the Garden of Virtue and Harmony. This is an entertainment complex that was originally built as a theater for the Empress Dowager.