City description

An ideal entry point into the country, Beijing is a condensation of China. Its dazzling development does not, however, call its historic and cultural basis into question. From the Summer Palace to the Temple of Heaven via the Forbidden City, the University and Tiananmen Square, the former Imperial City reveals both its power and its sensitivity.

China’s historical, political and cultural centre, which is now calling itself Beijing, is a land of symbols. It is bursting with temples with their breathtaking architecture. The Lama Temple, jewel of Buddhist culture, is considered Beijing’s most beautiful. The Taoist White Cloud Temple, the Temple of Confucius or the Temple of the Sleeping Buddha, located in the hollow of the Botanical Garden, reveal the importance of ritual practices in the “Middle Kingdom”. Because in the heart of the Chinese capital, many residential blocks survive, which you can discover on foot. In fact, Beijing lends itself to all different kinds of walks, wheever the fancy takes you on clear days. With 20 million inhabitants, it is a gigantic, sprawling city which should be approached district by district. There are eight main ones: if Xicheng seems idyllic with its network of interconnected lakes, Dongcheng is still the most fascinating. The Forbidden City is found there, as well as the famous Tiananmen Square and the imposing National Museum of China which takes you to the heart of history and the arts. Not forgetting the hutongs – its traditional districts with their narrow streets and little courtyards – and restaurants and bars, especially in Nanluogu Xiang and Wangfujing Dajie pedestrianised shopping streets.

There is no lack of opportunities to become acquainted with Chinese culture, its highly complex habits and customs. Thus the famous Peking Opera immerses the traveller in enigmatic tales drawn from folklore, with much music, acrobatic leaps, theatrical gestures, showy costumes and make-up. But if Beijing makes a fuss of its tradition, it remains an ultra-modern capital, launched into a frantic race for progress. The impressive Oriental Plaza high-rise or Intersolar, the solar industry’s international exhibition, show clearly that here the future has already become a reality.

In regards to shopping, Beijing cultivates luxury and excess and makes a display of its malls: Solana in Chaoyang District or The Place, with its cascading screens. These temples to consumerism take on a fairytale atmosphere, especially at Christmas time. But there again local culture offers other picturesque options, such as the Pearl Market with its pearls and its seafood stalls.

A sporting empire, China has had a passion for marathons for some years, and Beijing obviously has its own, the Great Wall Marathon, during which runners climb 5,164 steps of the Great Wall. Why not follow part of its route, which starts at Tiananmen Square in front of the Mausoleum of Mao? The China Tennis Open, martial arts, the Dragon Boat Festival and its boat race… Beijing develops its talents in many disciplines but also cultivates zen. All around the Forbidden City, gardens and lakes give Beijing the atmosphere of a radiant city. You can relax by the water right in the heart of this city with six ring roads. Dance, tai-chi or qi gong are practised in Beijing’s 15-odd parks. A bit further away, Fragrant Hills Park, Xiangshan Gongyuan, invites you for beautiful walks.

Culture shock, authenticity, spirituality, but also modernity, progress and excitement – all of these aspects of China are found in Beijing and each one is insistent.
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