Beijing Travel Guide
Tiananmen Gate © Robert McConnell
The capital of the People's Republic of China, Beijing (formerly Peking), is a very modern and exceedingly busy city (over 19 million people call it home) with high-rise buildings, international hotels, and sprawling suburbs. The city is abuzz with cranes on the skyline as construction projects give rise to new skyscrapers and modernisation proceeds apace. However, Beijing also encompasses numerous attractions of cultural and historical interest, some of which, including the Great Wall of China, the former Imperial Palace (known as the Forbidden City), the Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace, and the remains of Peking Man at Zhoukoudian, are UNESCO-endorsed World Heritage Sites. Chinese history and culture fascinates Western visitors, and Beijing is a great place to start exploring it. The city abounds in palaces, temples, mansions, gardens, and tombs that epitomise classical Chinese architecture. It also has roughly 120 museums and more than 100 public gardens.
The first port of call for most visitors is the Forbidden City, which lies at the heart of Beijing with the rest of the city radiating out from it in a grid pattern. For five centuries this massive palace complex, with 9,999 rooms, functioned as the administrative centre of the country and home to a succession of emperors who lived in luxurious isolation, surrounded by courtiers and retainers. The Palace overlooks the infamous Tiananmen Square, the historical site of considerable political drama and dissent.
In preparing to host what they hoped to be 'the best games in Olympic history', Beijing undertook many major renovations in 2008. Public transport was improved, environmental issues addressed and a general clean up of the city was ordered. The Chinese saw the games highlight its economic rise and emergence as a world power. Some of the infrastructure, such as the iconic 'Birds Nest' stadium, is still in use for different purposes, and contributes to Beijing's unique landscape. Unfortunately, the Beijing environment is still considerably lacking, and the air quality has been particularly hazardous in recent years. Nevertheless, the historic city still has plenty to offer enthusiastic travellers of all ages.
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