When the Hailingwang Emperor of the Jin Dynasty moved the capital back to Beijing, he needed a new palace to escape the sweltering summers. The site he chose was on Gold Mountain (now Longevity Hill), about 12km northwest of Beijing. The Qianlong Emperor of the Qing Dynasty renovated the palace and the gardens in the 18th century. Kunming Lake was expanded to resemble the famous West Lake in Hangzhou. During the Second Opium War in 1860, the palace was destroyed by British and French forces. Under the Empress Dowager Cixi, the palace was subsequently rebuilt in 1893, only to be destroyed once again during the Boxer Rebellion in 1900. The Summer Palace we see today was the product of another restoration in 1903 (also by Cixi). It was open to the public during the Republic of China and eventually turned into a park.
Be prepared to do a lot of walking, as the park covers more than 700 acres. Highlights include Empress Cixi’s marble boat. The original was destroyed in 1860, and the replacement was made using embezzled money that was supposed to go towards modernizing China’s navy. So it led to the downfall of the Qing Dynasty, but on the bright side it’s the most spectacular boat you’ll ever see. The Long Corridor is a half mile long, covered pathway along the banks of the lake. The entire structure is painted with vibrant scenes from Chinese history and mythology. In all there are more than 8,000 paintings along the corridor. You can also walk through the palace and visit the pagoda on top of Longevity Hill.
The Summer Palace is a popular destination for locals and international tourists alike, so be prepared to fight through the crowd around the lake. Further inland, you can find a modicum of peace in the expansive gardens. The Summer Palace was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998, and is well worth the price of admission. It is definitely one of Beijing’s treasures. Because of its size, prepare your route ahead of time. The subway stop is outside the north entrance.
Subway: Beigongmen (Line 4)
Hours: November 1-March 31 07:00-17:00/
April 1-October 31 )6:30-18:00
Admission: 20/30Y for grounds
50/60Y all inclusive