Every autumn, hordes of eager tourists descend upon Fragrant Hills (Xiangshan) Park to take in the blushing maple, smoke, and sweet gum trees. Take heart: there’s plenty to see in the park’s 395 acres besides Incense Burner Peak (Xianglu Feng), named for two rocky outcroppings that (very) vaguely resemble incense burners. Lace up your hiking shoes and head to the northwest of Beijing to explore the various temples, pavilions, and lakes. For a more rewarding experience, drop in on a weekday to avoid the swarms of visitors.
Kick start your day by heading to the Fragrant Hills branch of Sculpting in Time Cafe (1). This airy coffeehouse offers soups, sandwiches, pastas,
salads, breakfast, and coffee. The blonde wood accents, billowing white drapes, and roaming cats come straight out of a vacation postcard. Take your cup of joe to the second floor patio for an expansive view of the mountains.
Enter through the East Gate (2) of Fragrant Hills Park. There, a path branches out into two major routes: north and south. The southern path, which snakes through the park, is more challenging as it ends in a two-hour hike to the peak, Xianglu Feng. Along the way, visitors can see Shuangqing Villa (Mao Zedong’s former residence) and the ruins of Fragrant Hills Temple.
The northern path leads to the Chairlift Station (3) and is better suited to families with strollers or small children. There’s a Chinese restaurant called Songling Canting on the way up; otherwise, the park’s numerous food stalls sell the usual fangbian mian and soft drinks. Zhao Miao, or Bright Temple, the park’s Tibetan-style lamasery, is currently closed for repairs.
Be forewarned: the RMB 50 price tag is good for one way up the chairlift only. Once you ascend the 557m to Xianglu Feng, you’ll either have to fork out another 50 kuai or walk down. That said, the views from the chairlift are breathtaking. On a clear day, you can see all across Fragrant Hills’ western slope and beyond to Beijing’s skyline.
Just past the North Gate of Fragrant Hills Park is the Temple of Azure Clouds (4), one of Beijing’s most beautiful Buddhist sites. The RMB 10 admission is charged separately, but well worth the money. The site features several halls and six courtyards rising in height with the mountain. At 35m tall, the Vajra Throne Tower is the highest point of the temple and offers a view of the entire compound.
If you’re feeling ambitious, the Beijing Botanical Garden (5) is only a RMB 10 cab ride away. The grounds cover a whopping 564,000 square meters and feature over 6,000 plant species. The various outdoor gardens provide a perfect setting for a picnic, some reading by the lake, or even an afternoon snooze. Chinese literature fans can tour Cao Xueqin’s Memorial in the eastern part of the park, where the author worked on the manuscript for the classic Dream of the Red Chamber. The memorial houses several exhibition
rooms detailing the author’s background, influences, and research for his novel.
From the South Gate, walk north to the Tropical Conservatory (6). Located in the center of the Botanical Garden, the 9,800sqm Conservatory is an important site for plant conservation and research. The second floor houses the sweltering and awe-inspiring cacti display. For a break, head to the tiny café on the ground floor. They sell drinks and snacks for slightly marked up prices.
Continue north to the Wofo Si (7), or Reclining Buddha Temple. One of the oldest in Beijing, the temple was built during the Tang dynasty over 1,300 years ago. A long road lined with old cypress trees leads up to the second archway and opens onto five rows of halls. Most impressive is the centerpiece of the temple: a massive reclining statue of the Buddha that was cast in bronze during the Yuan Dynasty and weighs in at 54 tons. Wee ones will enjoy the carp and turtle pond, where dozens of painted turtles can be seen clambering over each other to vie for the best sunbathing spot.
At the end of the day, cabs can be found just outside the Botanical Garden’s South Gate. There’s also a bus station just across the street to the east. Catch Bus 331 or 696 to Beigongmen Station subway stop on Line 4. The ride takes about 45 minutes with traffic – just enough time to doze off for a well-deserved nap.
Sculpting in Time Cafe 雕刻时光咖啡馆
50 Maimai Jie, Haidian District (8259 8296, firstname.lastname@example.org) www.sitcoffee.com 海淀区香山买卖街50号
Fragrant Hills Park (East Gate) 香山公园（东门）
Daily 6am-6.30pm (Sep1-Nov 15) RMB 10, RMB 5 (students with ID). 40 Maimai Jie, Haidian District (6259 1155) 海淀区买卖街40号
Chair Lift Station 索道
Daily 9.30am-4.30pm. RMB 50 (weekdays), RMB 60 (weekends and holidays), RMB 20 (children under 1.2m).
Temple of Azure Clouds 碧云寺
Daily 8am-5pm. RMB 10
Beijing Botanical Garden 北京植物园
Daily 6am-8pm (summer); daily 7.30am-5pm (winter). RMB 5, RMB 2.5 (students with ID), RMB 45 (includes admission for outdoor gardens, Conservatory, and Wofo Si). Xiangshan Lu, Haidian District (6259 1283, email@example.com) 海淀区香山路
Tropical Conservatory 大温室
Daily 8am-4.30pm (summer); daily 8.30am-4pm (winter). RMB 50, RMB 40 (students with ID).
Wofo Si 卧佛寺
Daily 8am-4pm (summer); daily 8.30am-4pm (winter) RMB 5.