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Even as the city evolves into a mecca of modernity, there are reminders of Beijing’s past practically everywhere you look. A visit to Beijing wouldn’t be complete without seeing these beauties:
1. The Forbidden City. If you enter at the south side of the museum, you’ll leave the most beautiful part of the complex for last — the Imperial Garden, a gorgeous maze of pavilions, cypress trees and landscaped pathways.
2. The Summer Palace. Empress Dowager Cixi built the Summer Palace on the shores of a beautiful lake and resided there for almost 20 years while her son ruled from the Forbidden City. It’s easy to see why she chose to stay — the area, just north of downtown Beijing, is a tranquil retreat of hills, gardens and majestic temples.
3. The Temple of Heaven. Built in 1420, the Temple of Heaven is a sprawling complex of temples, gardens and pavilions. Today it’s frequented by the city’s many retirees who gather daily to play mahjong or exercise in the park. Visitors love to visit the Echo Wall and test its amazing acoustics, as well as marvel at the majesty of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, the epicenter of the complex.
4. The Lama Temple. The smell of incense is overwhelming at the Lama Temple, a Tibetan Buddhist structure on the north side of the city. Real monks watch over the Maitreya Buddha, an 80-foot-tall statue carved from one piece of sandalwood.
Beijing is a city where ancient buildings and customs coincide with modern development and new ideas. If you find yourself in this multi-faceted Chinese city, make sure to add the following stops to your itinerary:
The Great Wall of China is the most obvious attraction that you should see in Beijing. When I visited in 2009, I went to the Badaling section, which is popular for its proximity to the city as well as its accessibility via public transportation (keep in mind that the Great Wall spans more than 13,000 miles; there are numerous options for where to start your journey).
The Temple of Heaven, a series of religious buildings that date back to the early 1400s, is another perfect place to learn about Chinese history while strolling through beautiful buildings.
Sports fans should make the trip to the Beijing Olympic Park, home of the 2008 Beijing Olympics. A walking path through the National Stadium, often known as the "Bird's Nest," leads visitors through locations within the building that were the setting for important moments in the 2008 games.
Tian'anmen Square is the entry pont for several must-visit Beijing attractions: the Forbidden City, the National Museum of China and the Monument to People's Heroes, the largest monument in China's history.