China

Beijing’s Summer Palace and Old Summer Palace

This entry is part 3 of 3 in the series Beijing Travels

After taking in the glory of the Forbidden City, I was curious as to how China’s royalty used to live in the Summer Palace during the hot summers and spend their leisure time at the Old Summer Palace.

I scheduled an entire day to explore both sites which are near each other (just one to two metro stations apart, depending on the entrance used), and purchased tickets for both in advance via Klook, paying S$14.25 for a full-price ticket to the Summer Palace and S$7.50 for an afternoon pass to the Old Summer Palace.

Morning: The Enchanting Summer Palace

The Summer Palace was a tranquil escape for Chinese royalty during scorching summer days. Built in 1750, destroyed in 1860 and then restored in 1886, it boasts the longest garden corridor in China and has been transformed into a public park, welcoming visitors to wander through and enjoy its expansive grounds.

I took the metro to Beigongmen 北宫们 station, took Exit D and walked to the north gate. There are multiple routes you can take to explore the Summer Palace, and I took a shorter route (below) to explore the main attractions in about two to three hours. You can walk around the whole lake if you have the whole day to spend there. I climbed multiple staircases to walk past Pine Hall, the Four Great Regions before descending past the Tower of Buddhist Incense to the Long Corridor. An alternative route would be to descend towards the southwest to explore the west side of Kunming Lake.

Summer Palace
Summer Palace Short Walking Itinerary (two to three hours)

One of my favourite sections was walking along the Long Corridor, the longest garden corridor in China, while admiring the beauty of Kunming Lake, the pavilions and ponds along the way. Usually, you could take a boat ride, but as winter was approaching and ice sheets had formed in the lake, the boat rides had been suspended.

Summer Palace
Ducks waddle and swim freely around the Summer Palace. A section of the Long Corridor is on the left of the picture

After passing through various Halls, I walked through the Wenchang Gate Tower towards the stunning Seventeen-Arch Bridge and South Lake island, pausing occasionally to take pictures of the Tower of Buddhist Incense across the lake.

Summer Palace
Wenchang Gate Tower, first built in 1750
Summer Palace
Seventeen-Arch bridge and South Lake Island

There was a stall selling takeaway snacks and drinks near the Bronze Ox, and I enjoyed watching the park scenery where ducks swam around nascent ice sheets looking for food.

To get to the Old Summer Palace:

  • By walking: Exit via the New Palace Gate or East Palace Gate, and walk towards the Old Summer Palace 藻园 gate which lies a couple of kilometers to the North East
  • By metro: take a train from Beigongmen 北宫们 station to Yuanmingyuan 圆明园 station

Afternoon: The Old Summer Palace

Old Summer Palace
Old Summer Palace Walking Itinerary (three to five hours)

The Old Summer Palace, once the largest of its kind in the Qing era, fell victim to destruction when British troops set it ablaze in 1860.

Old Summer Palace
Dashuifa ruins
Old Summer Palace
Huanghuazhen gazebo and the maze are popular spots with domestic tourists to walk through

The attraction covers 350 hectares, the majority of which are landscaped parks, water canals, and a large central pond with an island. Boats ply the pond which is home to a variety of koi, ducks, swans and other animals.

Old Summer Palace
Fuhai Lake is a charming lake where you can watch koi, ducks and swans, and take a boat across the lake
Old Summer Palace
A fountain ripples the otherwise still water at a lake at the West-side of the Old Summer Palace, with the Wanfanganhe swastika platform in the background

Tourists flock towards the palace ruins at the Palace Buildings Scenic Area 西洋楼景区 to take photos of the crumbling walls and scattered stones which were sad reminders of the former glory of the European-style buildings. Watch the video below to see the virtual reconstructions of some of these lost buildings.

As the park is huge, wear comfortable shoes and bring food and water as cafes are rare in the quieter parts. You can also take a tram for a fee of 15 yuan around the park. Walk along the serene canals and admire the peacefulness of the Old Summer Palace that had seen better days, and survived the trauma of its destruction.

Information:

1. Summer Palace

From April 1 to October 31: 6.30am-6pm
From November 1 to March 31: 7am-5pm

2. Old Summer Palace

From May to August: 7am-7pm
April, September and October: 7am-6pm
From January to March and from November to December: 7am-5.30pm

Check out my other Beijing itineraries!

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