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The Summer Palace was, unexpectedly, one of the highlights of our visit to China. Compared to other world-renowned sites in and around Beijing, this one is less talked about, although thousands of tourists swarm it every day. I certainly had heard of it and seen some photos, but it exceeded all expectations.
This could easily be one of my favourate places, if not for so many people.
First of all, the practical details. You should keep in mind that the palace grounds cover a huge area around the lake and you should allocate quite a lot of time to the visit. We spent over 5 hours here and that wasn’t nearly enough.
You can get here by metro either to the North gate or to the East.
- Xiyuan Station exit C2 is 10 mins away from the East gate of the Palace.
- The Beigongmen station exit D is 3 minutes away from the North gate, walk to your left after getting out of the station. You can enter from one and exit from another.
We entered from the north side and walked all the way to the East gate to get to the Xiyuan station, nearby which there were a number of food and coffee places.
You can buy the ticket at the entrance easily. If you want to visit most places around the grounds, I suggest buying the so called through ticket for 60 yuans (high season price in Autumn 2019), rather than buy them one by one at the entrance of each site.
The route – I will give you the information from North gate to the East. You can do the same in the reverse order.
I couldn’t find a great map for the palace grounds; this gives some idea.
The palace was built in the 18th century for the dowager empress Chongqing. From the history I read about her, she sounds like a powerful woman, who loved art and culture. Anyway, you can read the history of the place anywhere, I will go on with giving you more practical information 😊
Before you visit the Summer Palace, do have some route set, but also wonder around and look into small places. Look for the beautiful corridors (there are a number of them, not just Long Corridor), the rooftops for dragons, the tiles, the carvings. Simply enjoy the beauty of the place.
When you are coming from the North gate, the first thing you will see upon entering is the so-called Suzhou street. This market area is located on both sides of the canals. You can marvel at the place from the bridge or go down and walk around seeing the shops.
Crossing the bridge, you will end up at the foot of the hill. The Longevity hill lying in front of you is no easy climb, but it’s worth the effort. My mom made it and was very happy that she did.
First, you will see the Four Great regions, which houses 3 statues. It has quite high steps to climb. After you make it, the way towards the Sea of Wisdom Temple is the most complicated, with uneven and steep stone steps, but there are a couple of easier ways, from where even elderly people manage to climb.
The Sea of Wisdom temple is located on top of the hill houses a buddha statue. It’s an architectural marvel with beautiful carvings and colors.
Here, you will not only find a beautiful tower, but also amazing views towards the lake and over the Hall of Clouds.
To go down, I suggest to take stairs, which are located in front of the tower towards the lakeside, as you will have great views, while walking. Alternatively, you can go back to the entrance of the tower and take easier stairs down, however, with less marvelous views.
Downstairs, you will end up at the Hall of Dispelling Clouds. This was being renovated at the time we were there. It is another beautiful place. What I like the most were its corridors, particularly, the staircase corridors, which were, unfortunately, closed for visitors.
Finally, you are at the lakeside. This is where we encountered swamps of people. Up on the hill, the number of people were far less and it was more quiet and nice. But here, you won’t manage to find a peaceful spot.
From here you have two options – to go along the Long Corridor to your left, which will lead you to the Main court area or to your right to the Marble Boat. From there the boats can bring you to the 17-arch bridge and the island and then you can get off at the east side or go to Suzhou street.
The Long corridor itself is considered a marvel. It is certainly beautiful, but similarly are all the other corridors we saw all around the summer palace.
So instead of trying to get nice picture here, which you won’t manage among the hordes of people, find other beautiful pavilions. They are in so many places, just wonder a bit away from the main tourist groups.
The main court area located closer to the East gate consists of several halls and gardens. Here, the most beautiful was the Dehe garden (of virtue and harmony), where you will find the largest concert stage in old China. This part was apparently built by the end of 19th century, when the Summer palace was rebuilt by Empress Cixi.
Don’t miss the Hall of Joyful Longevity nearby, where you will find the huge stone, which is associated with bad luck by many, as its original owner came to financial ruin.
The Hall of Benevolence and Longevity was the place, where the official business was conducted by the dowager empress Cixi. You will find interesting ornaments and statues here.
The Heralding spring pavilion has beautiful views over the Tower of Buddhist incense and the lake, so don’t miss a chance to walk around it.
The Wenchang gallery located near the East gate is not as interesting, as we expected, but it was very nice and peaceful in the evening hours.
Overall, this is an extremely beautiful place and if you have time, I do recommend to spend the whole day here. With more time, you will be able to wonder to the less crowded places and enjoy your time there.
If you end your visit at the East Gate, it is about 10-minute walk to the Xiyuan metro station. Nearby the station you will find the starry street shopping area with a number of cafes and restaurants. I do recommend the Green Tea restaurant. It has beautiful atmosphere and good food and isn’t too expensive. We came here in the evening at about 7pm and had to wait for our table for about half an hour, but we were used to this in Beijing and it was worth the wait. You will also get a menu meanwhile, so that when you get inside, you already know what to order.