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Beijing classic overview
Tiananmen square statue

Tiananmen Square

Located right at the center of Beijing, Tiananmen Square is the largest public plaza in the world. Covering an area of 440,000 square meters, it has been used throughout its history for gatherings, parades and protests, and has hosted some now-infamous political incidents.

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Walk across the world’s largest public square, the site of turbulent times in recent Chinese history.

Situated in the heart Beijing, Tian’anmen Square is the largest public plaza in the world. It  covers an area of 440,000 square meters and measures 880 meters by 500 meters. The square is located between two ancient gates, the Tian'anmen (Gate of Heavenly Peace) to the north, and the Qianmen (Front Gate) to the south, and backs onto the Forbidden City. The vast square has been used throughout its history for gatherings, parades and protests, and has hosted some now-infamous political incidents. One notable event was Chairman Mao’s announcement of the birth of the People’s Republic of China on October 1st 1949. This was followed by annual military parades on the anniversary every year until 1959.

Tian’anmen square saw celebrations for the 35th and the 50th anniversaries of the People's Republic of China in 1984 and 1999 respectively. In 1976, a million people gathered there to pay their last respects to Chairman Mao, and in 1989 army tanks and soldiers forced pro-democracy demonstrators out of the square with tragic consequences.

The plaza is surrounded by a selection of monuments and museums including the Museum of Chinese History, the Museum of the Chinese Revolution, the Great Hall of the People, Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum, and the Monument to the People's Heroes.

Thanks to its size, its historical and political importance, and the breathtaking views on a clear day, Tian’anmen Square is one of the most popular attractions in Beijing, and a must-see on any itinerary.

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Forbidden city

Forbidden City

Walk in the footsteps of the emperors at this giant palace in the heart of Beijing. Covering 720,000 square meters and consisting of 980 buildings, the Forbidden City is the biggest palace complex in the world, and dates from 1420.

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Walk in the footsteps of the emperors at this incredible palace complex in the heart of Beijing.

The Forbidden City lies at the heart of China’s capital, and is a symbol of the many emperors who ruled the country in dynastic times. The palace complex is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site thanks to its cultural importance, and it forms the largest collection of ancient wooden structures anywhere in the world. Covering 720,000 square meters and consisting of 980 buildings, the Forbidden City is the biggest palace complex in the world, and is surrounded by a moat six feet deep. Throughout history, the emperor was considered to be a direct descendent of the gods so his residence was out of bounds for common people, hence “Forbidden”.

As many as a million laborers are thought to have worked on the complex. Construction took nearly 15 years, starting in 1406 during the Ming Dynasty, and finishing in 1420. The buildings are crafted in traditional architectural style, including upturned eaves to discourage evil spirits from settling. The dominant color in the Forbidden City is yellow - a symbol of the royal family. The roofs were built with yellow glazed tiles, and many decorations and ornaments around the palace are painted yellow. Even the bricks on the ground are yellow. However, the royal library (Wenyuange) has a black roof, as that color was thought to embody the fire extinguishing properties of water.

The Forbidden City is divided into two main parts. The southern section (Outer Court) was where the emperor ruled over his household and the nation outside it. The Outer Court is made up of three main ceremonial and state halls: The throne room, or Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihedian) which is the most important structure in the complex, the Hall of Central Harmony (Zhonghedian) and the Hall of Preserving Harmony (Baohedian).

The northern section of the complex (Inner Court) was the residence of the royal family. The Inner Court also contains three main buildings: the Palace of Heavenly Peace (Qianqinggong), the Palace of Union and Peace (Jiaotaidian) and the Palace of Terrestrial Tranquility (Kunninggong). There are six palaces to the east and six to the west of the main three, which are where the emperor kept his wives and concubines, and conducted daily business. Six eastern palaces and six western palaces surround these main buildings, and are probably where the emperor handled his daily affairs and lived along with his wives and concubines. These twelve palaces are now used as exhibition halls to display imperial treasures. The main exit gate of the Forbidden City is the Gate of Divine Might, behind the Imperial Garden.

The Forbidden City is one of the most recognizable symbols of China. Throughout its long history it has housed emperors, featured in films (‘The Last Emperor’) and music videos (‘From Yesterday’) and been a museum of imperial history as well as a cradle of Chinese culture.

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Coal Hill

Explore the artificial hill behind the Forbidden City with its forests and paths. Each of the five peaks that make up Coal Hill has a pavilion on top, and the hill itself was made from excavated land during the building of the Imperial Palace.

Hutong

Hutong

Get a rare glimpse of how Beijing looked in ancient times with a trip to the alleys and courtyard homes of the hutong. Before modernization, the capital’s residential districts were made up of alleys and courtyards known as hutong that fanned out from the Forbidden City. These neighborhoods are so integral to the fabric of the city that they are thought to embody Beijing’s culture.

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Get a rare glimpse of how Beijing looked in ancient times with a trip to the alleys and courtyard homes of the hutong.

Before Beijing became the modern metropolis it is today, most of its residential districts were made up of networks of alleys and courtyards known as hutong that fanned out from the Forbidden City. These neighborhoods are so integral to the fabric of the city that they are thought to embody Beijing’s culture.

The word “hutong” is thought to come from Mongolian, and means “water well”. The hutong itself is the lane that connects the courtyard residences. These are known as “siheyuan”, and are open spaces surrounded by four buildings. In imperial times, a single siheyuan would house one extended family. Hutong lanes were built to connect the courtyard homes, and narrower alleys connected the lanes. The lanes ran east to west, and the courtyards usually faced south to catch the sun.

Hutong neighborhoods developed in the Western Zhou Dynasty (1122 – 256 BC) and housed much of Beijing’s population until the development boom of the late 20th century. As the need for space grew, most of the hutong were destroyed. Throughout the Republic of China era (1911 – 1948), many traditional neighborhoods had fallen into poverty, and were razed to make room for new residential and commercial buildings.

Nowadays, the best-preserved hutong neighborhoods are located around the Drum Tower and Bell Tower. They are open to visitors, and popular for pedicab tours.

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Street food market

Wangfujing street food

Taste some of the city’s more exotic culinary offerings at this atmospheric night market. Beijing might be best known for roast duck, but head down to Wangfujing Street at night for a taste of the more adventurous side of the capital’s cuisine – including scorpions, seahorses, and insects!

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Taste some of Beijing’s more exotic culinary offerings at this atmospheric night market.

Beijing might be best known for roast duck, but head down to the night market on Wangfujing Street for a taste of the more adventurous side of the capital’s cuisine. Located where Wangfujing Street meets Jinyu hutong (alley), the market sells everything from candied fruit to exotic sea creatures on sticks.

During the day, Wangfujing Street is a bustling commercial boulevard lined with shops and department stores. When night falls, the stall-holders come out and the aroma of barbecues starts to waft in the air. Most of the “xiao chi” (small food) is served on kebab skewers, from regular lamb and beef to scorpion, starfish, and even insects. Try it if you dare!

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