The Summer Palace | Things to Do In & Around Beijing, China Travel

My first full day in Beijing called for doing something epic, so after debating whether or not we’d visit the Great Wall or the Summer Palace, we decided to opt for the latter. So we made the quick walk from the hotel to the subway station and navigated our way to the 1.1 square mile (2.9 sq km) site, prepared for a day of captivating views and a ton of walking.

After entering through the North Palace Gate, we paid the second admission to descend a flight of stairs and stroll along the Suzhou River, visiting the various shops and admiring the building facades.  

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At many of the shops, the owners were busy creating their wares and we stopped to watch one vendor create scrolls of Chinese Calligraphy and another paint short poems onto tiny stones. 

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The pleasant, leisurely walk allowed us the opportunity to prepare ourselves for the next segment of our adventure which would take us up several flights of stairs to the top of Longevity Hill. My friend and I joked that we were training for our trip to the Great Wall with all the climbing – it seemed like each time we arrived at the top of a set of stairs, we were greeted with the foot of another.

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The climb up Longevity Hill brought us to Sumeru Temple and the Hall of Buddhist tenets, but it was the view just past the temple and hall that took my breath away. My first glimpse of Kunming Lake and the 17 Arch Bridge took my breath away (or it could have been the stairs… ha!).

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We started our way down the backside (or front, I suppose) of the hill and headed off towards the right. I really wanted to see the Marble Boat, or the Qingyan Boat, so much so, that I even stopped and posed for a photo (I usually prefer to be behind the camera). This was when I was stopped by a group of women who wanted to take photos with me, so I thought “why not”, assuming they would take one photo with me as group. But it seemed they had other plans. They each posed with me individually before taking a couple group shots, and after a few dozen photos, I thanked my friend for taking the photos for them and she simply shrugged her shoulders, warning me that would likely become a regular thing. 

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My desire to see the marble boat fulfilled, we made our way back towards and then past Longevity Hill, heading towards the 17 Arch Bridge and South Lake Isle. On the way, we stopped to watch someone practice calligraphy with a bucket of water and a large brush as entertained by his enthusiastic young audience as his skill.

As we walked, we caught site of several beautiful pavilions and halls, as well as a bull sculpted from bronze.

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After exploring South Lake Island, we decided to take the very across the water and make our way back to the North Gate. After all of our walking, it was really nice to sit for a moment and really enjoy a different view of some of the sites we had visited that day.

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The Summer Palace was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998. It is said to be a “”a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design.” Dating back to the Jin Dynasty in 1153, the Summer Palace has been continually developed and expanded by various leaders to become the beautiful, historic site we know it as today.

Pro Tips:

  • Wear comfortable shoes. The Summer Palace is enormous. We walked nonstop almost the entire day and still only saw a small fraction. I also made the mistake of wearing Converse and my feet were killing me the few days after.
  • Drink lots of water. Again, you’re going to be walking quite a bit, and if you start at the main entrance, quite a bit of this walking includes staircases and hills.
  • Go on a day where the pollution isn’t too bad. The views are spectacular, so if you can avoid a smoggy day, I definitely recommend it. You’ll enjoy your visit that much more.

What about you? What are some of the places that you’ve really enjoyed visiting on your travels?

Have you ever been to Beijing or more specifically, the Summer Palace?

I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!



I'm a language lover, traveler and musician sharing my adventures and language learning tips over at Eurolinguiste. Join me on Facebook for daily language learning and travel tips!