As the muggy Beijing heat begins to lift this month, take advantage of the city’s rich cultural history by trying out the treasure trove of activities in and around Ditan Park. Smell the incense at Lama Temple, try your hand at flying a kite or cool down at the Ditan Ice Arena. The park itself is a gathering place for local residents, and an afternoon stroll around the grounds will reveal aspiring Peking Opera singers, tai chi groups and avid kite-fliers. As Ditan is conveniently located in the center of the city, there’s no reason why you can’t make this a regular autumnal day out.
Begin your adventure at the majestic Lama Temple (1). The entrance lies just south of Yonghegong subway station (line 2) and is easily identifable by the large red decorated arch overhead and tour bus-filled parking lot. After making your way through the entrance, purchase tickets on your left before heading into the shaded pathway that leads to the beginning of the temple complex.
Wind your way through the gates and buildings of the lamasery, taking in the full scope of the architecture and artistic detail. Don’t miss the opportunity to spin a prayer wheel clockwise to encourage positive karma; they’re on your left as you move through the second set of temple buildings. Although the lamasery once housed an imperial prince, the most impressive aspect is the Maitreya Buddha located in the Pavilion of Infinite Happiness, which stands 26 meters tall and was carved out of a single tree of rare sandalwood. A plaque by the entrance informs visitors that it is in fact a Guinness World Record holder for the largest statue carved out of one piece of wood.
For a quieter temple experience, try Confucius Temple (2). Head out the front gate of the lamasery, cross the street and make your way down Guozijian Jie, or Imperial College Street, located just northwest of Lama Temple. Walk five minutes down the lane and look for the entrance on your right. With light crowds and an abundance of shaded benches, it’s a great spot to have a picnic. The temple was the original site of the Beijing Capital Museum (not to be confused with Capital Museum near Fuxingmen) and as a result the buildings still house a selection of antique musical instruments and paintings that provide an interesting window into another time. A font of information about the temple and the history of Confucianism is available in the small museum just to the right of the front entrance.
If you need of a bite to eat, head north from the Confucius Temple up Yonghegong Dajie, then turn left down Wudaoying Hutong to Vineyard Café (3). They serve up excellent Western and kid-friendly fare and their weekday lunch specials are a steal: soda, pizza and salad for RMB 55. A relaxing escape from the bustle of the heavily trafficked surroundings, the café is a great place to sit back and relax.
Just across the alleyway is JMAX Handmade Jewelery Design Station (4). This shop boasts a great selection of handmade earrings, bracelets and necklaces. All of the jewelry is made from beads stored in a collection of overflowing jars located behind the counter. Take a few minutes to browse the wares or just to pet the friendly felines that reside on the windowsill.
Ditan Park (5) itself provides a wonderful mix of cultural and recreational activities. Enter via the south gate just north of Yonghegong Bridge. Once you’re through the gates, the main historical attraction of the park, the Altar of Earth, is slightly to your left. Although it may seem unimpressive compared to other Beijing sites, it is easy to imagine its once-magnificent function as a place for the emperor to make sacrifices to heaven.
After passing through the Altar of Earth, head to the northeast corner of the park to the Botanical Garden, where you’ll find an array of peaceful shaded pavilions. Whether you are in need of a picnic spot or just somewhere quiet to take a break, Ditan Park is a fine place to immerse yourself in greenery.For a more energizing park experience,head towards the north gate, where a carousel, roller coasters, and bumper cars await enthusiastic kiddies. If you want something a little more sporty, visit the Ditan Ice Arena (6) just east of the north gate. Open all year round, the arena is a great place to get your ice-skating fix.
After a long day out and about, hungry families will find that Jin Ding Xuan (7), just west of the Ditan Park South Gate, hits the spot with their extensive and kid-friendly dim sum menu. Fast service and easy accommodations for large groups make this a great family restaurant. Shiny menus with delectable pictures of all the dishes make ordering easy and trying new things even easier. It’s open all night, so you don’t have to worry if your daytrip lasted longer than you expected.
Lama Temple 雍和宫
RMB 25, RMB 12 (students); RMB 20 (audio tour). Daily 9am-4.30pm. 12 Yonghegong Dajie, Dongcheng District (6404 4499) 东城区雍和宫大街12号
Confucius Temple 孔庙
RMB 20, RMB 10 (students). Daily 8.30am-5pm (4.30pm last ticket). 13 Guozijian Jie (near the Lama Temple main gate), Dongcheng District (8401 1977)
Vineyard Café 葡萄院儿
Daily 11.30am-11.30pm. 31 Wudaoying Hutong, Dongcheng District (6402 7961) 东城区五道营胡同31号
JMAX Handmade Jewelry Design Station 饰绝手工饰品店
Daily 11am-10pm. 30 Wudaoying Hutong (just north of the Confucius temple), Dongcheng District (138 1194 8489)
Ditan Park 地坛公园
RMB 2, RMB 1 (students). Daily 6am-9.30pm. A2, Andingmenwai Dajie, Dongcheng District (6421 4657)
Ditan Ice Arena 地坛滑冰场
RMB 26/hour, RMB 16/hour (students), fees include skate rental. Tue-Fri 1.30-9pm, Sat-Sun 9am-9pm. 14A Hepingli Zhongjie, Dongcheng District (6429 1619) 东城区和平里中街甲14号
Jin Ding Xuan 金鼎轩酒楼
Daily 24hrs. 77 Hepingli Xijie, Dongcheng District (6429 6888)