Beijing’s Summer Palace is one of the most beautiful places in the city. Beijing is full of UNESCO sites, including this one. Out of all of them, Summer Palace is the most underrated. Don’t be put off by its location a little farther away from Beijing’s center!
What is the Summer Palace?
The pre-Qing Dynasty rulers built the precursor to the Summer Palace in the 1100s to anchor the new capital of Beijing. Eventually, Kunming Lake was built completely artificially as a water source for the city, and the park became a part of the imperial palace. It served as a private getaway for Chinese elite until 1926, when it became city property and open to the public.
The Summer Palace is a place for Chinese locals to take a stroll and enjoy nature and for first-time visitors to take in stunning architecture and design. On first glance the park looks small, but it takes at least a half day to see it!
Getting to the Summer Palace
The Palace is easily accessible by public transportation. Several buses stop at its various entrances. The best way to go is to take the subway on line 4 to the penultimate stop, BeiGongMen (北宫门). From there, you can see rows of restaurants and signs towards the main entrance of the Summer Palace.
You can also drive. The parking lot is large, but you’ll have the best luck finding a parking spot at the East Entrance. If you drive an electric car, you can charge your car while you’re in the park with one of these!
Parking costs￥30, but prices are subject to change!
The Entrance v. Through Ticket
To get in the park, buy a ticket! The tickets just to get into the park are ￥20 (￥10 for Chinese students and the elderly – 70+). You may choose the through pass if you have more time to explore for ￥50 (￥25 for students/elderly). Choose the through pass to get access to the sections of the Palace that contain extra historical artifacts and views. These take at least 3 hours to see if you walk quickly. If you want to take your time, walking one circle around the park takes about 2-2.5 hours alone.
What you’ll see right as you go in is Kunming Lake! It’s really large and takes up most of the Palace. In the winter, it may completely freeze over. In the summer/warmer months, you may be able to take a boat ride across it! This is preferable over having to walk.
At sunset, you can get gorgeous views of the lake!
If you go during summer time, you might be able to take a boat from one of the piers around the lake.
Nature in the Summer Palace
If you get away from Kunming Lake, you’ll find some smaller paths to walk along. These places provide a different view of the Palace than the main areas.
Along these smaller paths, you can also see interesting plants!
Architecture and Culture
In addition to beautiful natural views, the architecture of the buildings, walkways, and boats are simply stunning!
The path through the Summer Palace is lined with lions. They imperial guardians, and can be found anywhere royals used to spend time.
The Wenchang Gallery holds some stunning pieces of art from ancient China. It requires an extra fee for admission, which is included if you buy the through entrance ticket.
Another sight that is well-known in the Summer Palace is the Stone Boat! While you can’t go on it, you can see how majestic it is from the side.
You will also see many smaller pagodas on the bridge between Kunming Lake and the smaller West Lake, like this one!
Don’t Forget to Look Down!
As with any other architecture fit for an emperor, the Summer Palace is the whole package. That includes the floor! If you don’t look down, you’ll miss quite a few pieces of artwork.
The day I was there, a group of older Chinese men had paintbrushes with water. They were writing (almost drawing!) these gorgeous ancient Chinese characters.
If you don’t happen to see them, you can see other patterns on the ground.
Don’t miss the Summer Palace! It’s definitely worth a visit. Be prepared to spend several hours here. If you are short on time, definitely prepare to leave from a different entrance than you came from because walking a full circle takes at least 2-3 hours.
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Have you been to the Summer Palace? What did you like most about it?