At the northwest corner of Beijing lies both a historic and scenic gem: Yuanmingyuan Park. As another summer home to the emperors of the Qing dynasty, Yuanmingyuan spans across 350 acres of intricately designed landscapes, gazebos, and palaces, much of which were destroyed in the late 19th century by foreign invaders. The unfortunate story of the park contributes to its old-time charm: the restoration and reopening of the remains enable visitors to, quite literally, walk through history and see the rise and ruin of a dynasty first-hand.
Besides the great historic value, Yuanmingyuan is also a prime weekend destination for families to simply relax, unwind, and spend some quality time together. Among the numerous spacious, green parks in and around the city, Yuanmingyuan stands out for its unique combination of architecture and natural landscape. The endless woods and numerous lakes fully immerse families in nature while structures like the “Lily Labyrinth,” a maze constructed of 4-foot brick walls decorated with elaborate carvings, provide opportunities for some friendly family rivalry – see who can get to the middle gazebo first.
For a more slow-paced afternoon, take a boat out on the lake for rates as low as RMB 60 per hour, offering foot-propelled boats for a little more physical activity or electric boats modeled after the ones that used to float on the lake hundreds of years ago. The months of July and August are when the water is at its best as the park is currently holding its annual Lotus Festival and lotuses are in full bloom.
However, crowds don’t only swarm to Yuanmingyuan and the area for the flowers. The once isolated park now neighbors the Summer Palace, Tsinghua University, and Peking University, which together surround the area of Wudaokou. It’s commonly known for the buzzing nightlife with plenty of bars and university students, but it’s also a great spot for families. About three bus stops away lies an array of restaurants including popular expat family favorites like Kro’s Nest, Grandma’s Kitchen, and Eatalia. Local places such as Bridge Café offer a delicious omelet breakfast, coffee included, for only RMB 32, which parent can enjoy on the rooftop garden. Nearby, popular Taiwanese bakery With Wheat has Western-style breads with an Asian twist, like whole wheat bread with sweet black sesame filling, or multigrain bread stuffed with cheese and pineapple.
Korean food is another popular option for restaurant goers. In the heart of Wudaokou lies Koreatown, a place where locals and foreigners alike can find authentic Korean dishes like bibimbap and naengmyeon – traditional Korean noodles – as well as a selection of imported snacks like seaweed and chocolate pastries. For some good ol’ American candy, (I recommend Tootsie Rolls), head to D-Mart, the local go-to market for imported food and drinks.
As a side note, one inconvenience in the park and the Wudaokou area is that public restrooms are less easy to find. Restrooms in the park do not have Western toilets or soap, so bring some hand sanitizer and tissues. Most of the restaurants will have well-maintained toilets.
Whether you’re looking for some family fun or a more mature exploration of our historic city, Yuanmingyuan Park and Wudaokou may be a bit of a trek but they are certainly worth the trip.
10-12 HuaqingJiayuan, Chengfu Lu, Haidian District
1, Bldg 12, Huaqingjiayuan, Chengfu Lu, Haidian District (West of Wudaokou subway station)
1, Wudaokou Xijie, Haidian District
1/F, Wudaokou GuojiMeishiYuan, 29 Chengfulu, Haidian District
28 QinghuaXilu, Haidian District
Photo: Marko Kudjerski