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Beijing Summer Palace — Best Imperial Garden

The Summer Palace , in northwest Beijing, is said to be the best preserved imperial garden in the world, and the largest of its kind still in existence in China. It is only a short drive (15 km) from central Beijing, but seems like another world.

Most people find they need to spend at least half a day there, as there’s so much to see and enjoy.

  • Chinese: 颐和园 Yíhé Yuán /ee-her ywen/ ‘Nourishing Peace Garden’
  • Area: 2.9 square kilometers (1.1 sq mi)
  • Age: 268 years
The Summer PalaceThe Summer Palace
  • Popular activities: boating on Kunming Lake, walking the Long Corridor, watching a traditional Chinese performance in the ancient theater
  • Suited to: anyone
  • Time needed: half a day

A Summer Retreat for Imperial Families

The Summer Palace’s landscaped gardens, temples, and pavilions were designed to achieve harmony with nature, to soothe, and to please the eye. So the Chinese name ‘Nourishing Peace Garden’ is apt.

During the hot Beijing summers, the imperial family preferred the beautiful gardens and airy pavilions of the Summer Palace to the walled-in Forbidden City. Dowager Empress Cixi took up permanent residence there for a time, giving rise to some wonderful tales of extravagance and excess.

What Makes the Summer Palace Outstanding

the Summer PalaceA palace in the Summer Palace

The Summer Palace was listed as World Heritage in 1998. UNESCO reported that the Summer Palace is "a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design”.

It harmonizes plants and paths, water and land, architecture and horticulture, epitomizing the philosophy and practice of Chinese garden design, which played a key role in the development of this cultural form throughout the East. It is a potent symbol of one of the world’s major civilizations.

The History of the Summer Palace

  • In 1750, Emperor Qianglong, fourth emperor of the Qing Dynasty, commissioned the first Summer Palace, named Qingyi Yuan or ‘the Garden of Clear Ripples’.
  • In 1860, it was destroyed by the Anglo-French Allied Forces and rebuild in 1886.
  • In 1888, the Summer Palace was given its present-day Chinese name, Yihe Yuan, and served as a summer resort for the Empress Dowager Cixi.
  • In 1900, it was destroyed by the Allied Forces of the Eight Powers.
  • In 1912, it was rebuilt as one of the final acts of the Qing Dynasty (1644–1912).
  • In 1924, it was opened to the public as a tourist attraction.
  • In 1998, UNESCO included the Summer Palace on its World Heritage List.

The Highlights You Should Not Miss

The Summer Palace

The Summer Palace complex falls naturally into several sections, each with its own distinct character, some meant for administration, some living, and others relaxation.

The highlights of the park include Kunming Lake, The Long Corridor, Longevity Hill, The Marble Boat, and the Garden of Virtue and Harmony.

You can take a 10-minute boat-ride to see an island temple, sit and watch a traditional Chinese performance in the restored theater (one of the three great traditional theaters in China), wander round enjoying the different buildings and courtyards, or explore the recreated traditional shops by the river.

The Court Area

The Court area of the Summer PalaceThe Court area of the Summer Palace

In the Court area, near the East Palace Gate, are the palace buildings where Dowager Empress Cixi and Emperor Guangxu used to stay and conduct government business. It includes a number of halls, courtyards, and displays.

The Garden of Virtue and Harmony (Dehe Yuan) is an entertainment complex, built as a theater for the Empress Dowager. The three-story theater stage is the biggest and best-preserved wooden stage in China. Its delicate design and magnificent structure is of great cultural and artistic value.

Famous Beijing Opera actors of the Qing Dynasty would come to perform for the Empress Dowager and the stage was regarded as the "Cradle of Beijing Opera".

A large number of precious articles used by emperors and empresses, as well as some of the gifts presented to the Qing court by foreign states, are on display there.

Kunming Lake

The Summer PalaceThe famous 17-hold bridge in the Summer Palace

Kunming Lake, in the center of the park, takes up about 75% of the park. It is the key landscape feature of the Summer Palace, together with Longevity Hill.

The famous 17-hole bridge spans between Nanhu (‘South Lake’) Island and the east bank. The bridge is 150 meters (490 ft) long, and like a long rainbow frame above the blue water.

The Long Corridor

The paths beside the lake lead you under shady trees, or along the roofed colonnade known as the Long Corridor, with its magnificently painted ceilings. Bridges, boats, willows, lotus flowers, and other attractive landscaping make this a pleasant place to soak up the atmosphere and in the views.

Longevity Hill

Longevity Hill rises beside the lake, dotted with superb halls and temples, and wonderfully decorated gates. The energetic can climb the hill to the Buddhist Temple overlooking the entire area.

Marble Boat

Marble Boat in the Summer PalaceMarble Boat in the Summer Palace

Marble Boat, at the northern edge of the lake, is a decorative building that imitates a real boat. Erected in 1755, it is the only Western-style structure in the park, inlaid with colorful glass windows and wheels, and paved with colored bricks.

Suzhou Market Street

Suzhou Market Street recreates a selection of traditional riverside shops, many of which can only be reached by boat. The story goes that former Emperors, or their concubines, used to enjoy 'pretend-shopping', as normally everything was bought for them.

Tips for Visiting the Summer Palace

  • Summer is the best time to visit the Summer Palace. In winter the lake is frozen and the cruise is not available.
  • The entrance fee doesn’t include areas like Longevity Hill and the opera recital area, which require a further payment to enter.
  • Boating on Kunming Lake is highly recommended. It takes about 10 minutes, and gives a tranquil and relaxed break away from the crowds of tourists. The boating fee is not included in the entrance fee.
  • A visit involves plenty of walking, so wear comfortable shoes and protection from the weather (sun or rain).

Touring the Summer Palace with Us

Touring the Summer Palace with us.Touring the Summer Palace with us.

The Summer Palace is a classic Chinese garden, rich in history and culture. English signage and introductions in the garden are limited. Traveling with a professional guide is advisable. We are more than happy to offer a guide service and can tailor-make a tour especially for you.

Here is one of our most popular tour plans including the Summer Palace: