Beijing is a top destination for travelers to China, but the Chinese capital is huge and teems with millions of people. When the city’s hustle and bustle starts getting on your nerves, it’s time to hop a tour bus or grab a taxi and head out to the environs. Then, you can enjoy the serenity of ancient Buddhist temples in the Western Hills or a scenic hike on the Great Wall, one of man’s greatest engineering feats. You’ll return from these day trips from Beijing refreshed and ready to tackle more things to see.
Jietai is one of the oldest temples near Beijing. Constructed more than 1,400 years ago, it is an important Buddhist temple. Jietai also is known as the Ordination Altar Temple because it’s where monks and nuns achieved their highest status. Located about 22 miles outside of Beijing, Jietai is affiliated with the Lu Sect of Buddhism and is the largest ordination temple in China. There are a number of halls devoted to Buddhist deities. Check out the vegetation, including five ancient pine trees and the 1,000 lilac trees that offer a fragrant, splendiferous scene in the spring.
Simatai is perhaps the most exciting section of the Great Wall accessible to visitors. It is nothing short of awesome to see the Great Wall snaking over the tops of the mountains. Simatai is less crowded than other Wall sites. It hasn’t been fully restored yet, so it’s a good opportunity to see parts of the original wall. Simatai is 5.5 km (3.4 miles) long with 34 towers, though only 10 are officially open to the public. Steps are steep in the restored section, and you should be careful if you hike beyond this area as drop-offs are steep.
Tianjin makes a good day trip from Beijing since it’s only 105 km (66 miles) southeast of the capital. This fourth largest city in China is an important port city, with exciting modern architecture that blends with the British and French buildings of the 19th century. Ancient Culture Street is a good place to pick up souvenirs and take in the Queen of Heaven Palace dedicated to a sea goddess. When shopping makes you hungry, head to Nanshi Cuisine Street where you can choose from more than 100 shops and restaurants. Check out Tianjin Eye, reportedly the only mammoth Ferris wheel built over a bride.
Jinshanling, located about 130 km (80 miles) northeast of Beijing, is named for the mountains in which it lies. This 14th century section of the Great Wall is about 10 km (6.5 miles) long. It’s popular with hikers, especially those who want to hike between Jinshanling and Simatai. If you hike between the two, you’ll come across 67 watchtowers, three beacon towers and five passes. Be on the lookout for the General Tower, a large structure that had sleeping quarters on the top floor and storage facilities on the bottom floor.
Located in the Western Hills, Tanzhe Temple is the oldest temple near Beijing, dating back about 1,700 years. In centuries past, the Buddhist temple was a destination for pilgrims, including members of the imperial family. Several stately halls are devoted to Buddhist deities, with a touch of whimsy thrown in at the Pavilion of Floating Cups. Poets floated cups filled with wine on a winding, narrow stream of water; when the cup stopped, the nearest poet had to drink the wine and recite a poem. When the skies are clear, Tanzhe is a good place to see stunning views of Beijing below.
Juyongguan is one of three famous passes on the Great Wall. The others are Jiayuguan, where the Great Wall begins in western China, and Shanhaiguan, where the Wall ends at the Bohai Sea in eastern China. Considered impregnable from invaders, this stretch of the Wall features many buildings, such as towers and temples. It’s the site closest to Beijing, but many travelers and tour buses pass it by in favor of seeing the Great Wall at Badaling. The pass is circular and less than 5 km (3 miles) long so you can walk around it in a day.
The Ming Tombs are one of the most important imperial cemeteries in China. The remains of 13 Beijing-based Ming emperors are buried here. More emperors are buried here than any other place in China; the Ming Tombs also are the best preserved mausoleums in the country. Each emperor is buried in a separate mausoleum at the foot of a mountain; not all tombs are open to the public. As you enter the site, en route to Changling, the first tomb, be sure to stop on the Sacred Way, a road that is lined with massive stone sculptures of animals.
Mutianyu, about 65 km (40 miles) north of Beijing, is one of the best preserve sections of the Great Wall. It’s also one of the more scenic sites, though other sites are by no means shabby in the looks department. Vegetation along the Wall is a lush green, with flowers in the spring with fruit and gorgeous fall colors in autumn. Be prepared for snow and freezing temperatures in the winter – you are, after all, in the mountains. There’s a cable car to whisk you to the top, but if it’s not running, you’ll be walking up a 3,000-step steep hill.
Badaling is the best preserved and restored section on the Great Wall. As such and because it’s easily accessible from Beijing, it is the most popular section and can be heavily congested with tourists. You may be able to avoid the crowds if you turn left at the main entrance and then walk up the hill, steeper than the right, for about 10 minutes or so. This is the section of the Great Wall where the Chinese government takes visiting foreign dignitaries. Badaling is home to the fabulous Great Wall Museum, which traces the history of the Wall.