Relaxing by the waters of Beihai Park
When warm weather arrives, it’s no wonder Beijing families and visitors flock to Beihai Park. Located south of Houhai and northwest of the Forbidden City, Beihai Park offers over 130 acres of peaceful scenery as an escape from Xicheng’s bustling streets. Whether you want to row a boat on the vast lake, explore caves near the water, or just walk along the tree-lined paths, Beihai has plenty that will appeal to families looking for a day trip.
Built in the tenth century as a summer retreat for the emperor and his kin, Beihai was once part of the Forbidden City. It was opened to the public in 1925 and is now a popular destination all year round. The lake covers more than half the park, and the pagodas and picturesque bridges provide for great photo opportunities. In the summer, the lake is filled with people on boats, basking in the sun. Parents and kids can race each other in rowboats or work their legs on pedal boats. More weary bodies can relax in motorized powerboats with awnings that offer shade from the sun, and for a few kuai you can take a large ferry constructed in a classical style that shuttles to and from Jade Flower Islet.
On Jade Flower Islet, you can climb to the White Dagoba, a dome built of white stone with engravings of the sun, moon, and flames decorating the walls. From the top, there are panoramic views of Beijing, over the Forbidden City and of the National Center of Performing Arts, and south across Zhonghai.
Descending the White Dagoba, you’ll also come across two stone caves, which cost an additional RMB 3 each to enter, but once you get past the Monkey King statue guarding the entrance, you can descend into the rocky depths and explore the mini-maze inside each cave. Dim enough to create a mysterious atmosphere but sufficiently illuminated for you to be able to see, the cave also has little statues of emperors and warriors scattered throughout.
If the steps of the White Dagoba, cave exploring, and running around the park proves too exhausting, take a seat in the many pagodas around the lake, or have an adventure getting lost on the trails leading away from the lake. Exploring the eastern bank will bring you to a courtyard hidden in the trees, built as a residence for Qing dynasty emperors. The elaborate traditional buildings with a carp pond in the center offer a sense of how royal gardens looked. Off to the side sits another small courtyard with man-made rock sculptures and peonies.
Just north is the Nine Dragon Wall, built in 1756 and supposedly one of just three walls of its kind in China. Made of glazed bricks, the wall depicts nine dragons on each side playing in the clouds. And the western bank yields even more surprises. On weekends, you might catch a group of men and women gathered in a traditional courtyard singing Chinese folk songs.
Beihai also offers plenty of other people-watching opportunities. Calligraphers paint poems on the ground using large brushes dipped in water. Old men gather around stone tables for long games of Chinese chess. If your kids are early risers, come to Beihai in the morning and see Beijingers practicing tai chi and martial arts, as well as ribbon and fan dancing.
On those days that Beijing seems to get you down, take a trip to Beihai and relax near the water, feel a gentle breeze on your face and enjoy what was once an imperial playground
Beihai Park 北海公园
1 Wenjin Jie, Xicheng District 西城区文津街1号
Daily 6am-10pm (9.30pm last ticket)