With unparalleled age-old beauty, the Summer Palace is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site as well as China’s largest royal park. The sprawling gardens, the man-made Kunming lake and all the buildings there in are considered the magnum opus of oriental landscaping.
As one of the most frequented tourist spots, this Palace sees tourists all year round. And though all seasons have their own splendor, if you want to go boating, you best avoid winter, when the lake freezes over. Autumn is a most wonderful time with comfortable mild temperature and clear weather. In any case, a lot of walking is involved so remember to strap on your best walking shoes and allot at least half a day for taking in the charms here. And don’t forget to take plenty of water and snacks of your choosing! There isn’t much choice inside the Palace grounds.
Yiheyuan, as it is locally called, is located in the northwest, 15kms from central Beijing. The north and west gates of the Palace are most accessible by subway lines 4 and 10, whereas, public buses will take you to all four gates. The East Palace Gate is the main gate, though North and South Gates (aka New Palace Gate) are also chief entrances. You’ll have to plan which one to tread as the routes will be different for each one. Park timing are from 06:30 to 20:00 and the basic entrance fee is RMB30 for peak season and RMB 20 otherwise. Other attractions in the Palace have tickets as well that may be bought at the entrance, separately or as a combo with the entry fee, or while you’re inside (recommended for flexibility if you don’t want to spend all day there!).
The Summer Palace broadly consists of three areas: Kunming Lake, Court Area and Longevity Hill and the Long Corridor. The lake covers three-fourth of the whole compound and a boat ride (RMB10) grants you views of the 17-Arch Bridge, Suzhou Market Street, Nanhu Island, Marble Boat and the Bronze Ox, etc. as well as a breathtaking natural landscape of ancient trees and flora moving to the tune of nature.
The court area is where the ruling monarch would run the country from. Specifically, The Hall of Benevolence and Longevity was the area where official business was conducted. There were living quarters and even a Grand Theater built for entertainment.
Walking down the opulent Long Corridor, a covered walkway, the longest in the world, you can witness some amazing views of Kunming lake, Longevity hill and the neighboring arches, bridges and buildings. There are some pretty great Buddhist buildings along the hill such as Tower of Buddhist Incense (where you get neat views of the Palace grounds and Beijing itself on a clear day) and The Sea of Wisdom. Though the climb uphill is not for the faint of heart!
And if all the history has your head buzzing, just sit down, relax and enjoy the locals indulge in Taiichi and water calligraphy!