1. Visit Tiananmen Square
Located at the center of Beijing is the world’s largest public square, Tiananmen Square. Here the National Museum of China, Monument of the People’s Heroes, and the Great Hall of the People are located. Thousands of people visit the square each day.
- Zhengyangmen Gate or Qianmen is located south of Tiananmen square. The colorful building once guarding the city center is very noticeable among the surrounding tan and gray skyscrapers.
- The Tiananmen Square garden with perfectly trimmed pink, red, and green hedges peppering the grass near waves of purple, pink, and red flowers is across the square from the Monument of the People’s Heroes. This light gray memorial constructed of marble and granite stands 10 stories high.
- On the far side of the square, a line of red flags lead visitors to the Great Hall of the People, an important building in China where many diplomatic and state affairs are settled.
2. Enter the Gate of Heavenly Peace
- A large portrait of Mao Zedong is proudly displayed on the Tiananmen Tower, also known as the Gate of Heavenly Peace, the entrance to the Forbidden City. In front, a male and female lion stand guard before the 7 white marble bridges crossing the Golden River.
- At one time, only the emperor was permitted to cross the central and widest of the bridges.
3. Explore the Forbidden City
The Forbidden City is a maze of halls and gates creating an outer and inner court. There are 3 main buildings in the outer court: Hall of Supreme Harmony, Hall of Central Harmony, and Hall of Preserved Harmony. The Gate of Heavenly Purity separates the outer court from the royal family’s home, the inner court.
Each gate is entered through heavy, red doors with golden accents. The roofs of the red wooden buildings are decorated with intricate accents in bright blues, greens, reds and yellows. Statues of dragon turtles, cranes, and other animals decorate the entrance of the halls.
4. Relax in the Imperial Garden
Located in the inner court is the Imperial Garden, an area for the royal family to relax. The tranquil garden features beautiful rock formations and trees over 100 years old.
5. Tour the Drum and Bell Tower
Near Houhai Lake is the Drum and Bell Tower. In the Han Dynasty, the towers communicated the time to the city with morning bells and evening drums. The Drum tower is ornate, painted red with gold accents. Directly across the square is the slightly taller Bell Tower made from brick and stone.
6. Walk Along Houhai Lake
Houhai Lake, is the largest of the 3 lakes in Northern Beijing forming the historic area, Shichahai. Residential homes have been converted into small bars, restaurants, and shops on the streets surrounding Houhai Lake.
7. Travel by Rickshaw
Rickshaws are not impervious to traffic jams, although are much more efficient than a taxi. Our group of 9 rickshaws encountered several traffic jams of bicycles, motor bikes, and small trucks making deliveries on the narrow streets.
8. Experience Beijing’s Cricket Master
Mr. Liu lives in a traditional Beijing home. Through the doorway, is an open air garden with a web of clotheslines drying laundry among the turtles, birds, and parrots. To the right, a small roof provides some shelter above the open air kitchen. The enclosed portion of his home, protected from the elements, is small with only 1 bedroom, a living room, and a dining area.
Beijing’s Cricket Fighting Champion, Mr. Liu, has been featured in many magazines, including a 2011 issue of the NY Times. Mr. Liu knows only cricket, hello, and yes in English, but he compensates well with his theatrical gestures. The first step to choosing a good fighting cricket involves, a pusher, a toothpick sized piece of wood with fluffy hairs on end. A cricket that bares it’s teeth when nudged with the pusher is a good fighter.
- Red, wooden fighting stages were originally used (pictured left). A cricket is placed in each end of the stage. When the fighters are ready, tiny doors are slid open and each cricket is gently nudged into the stage with the pusher. Now, the stages are clear so there are no obstructed views from the onlookers.
- Mr. Liu’s current reigning champion, Tyson, (pictured right) is named after the famous US boxer. Winning crickets live out their life in royalty, eating and drinking only the best from porcelain dishes.
Cricket tournaments are very popular in Beijing. At times, possessions such as cars and homes are wagered. When a champion crickets passes away, it’s placed in a small wooden coffin.
9. Watch a Kung Fu Show at Red Theatre
Red Theatre offers a Legend of Kung Fu show. The majority of the performers are very young and their skills are extremely impressive. English subtitles scroll above the stage during the 6 scenes telling the story of a young boy evolving into a Kung Fu master.
10. Eat Like a Local
Our favorite place to eat in Beijing was a coat closet sized steamed bun restaurant around the corner from our hotel. G Adventures arranged several home visits for lunch throughout our tour providing us the opportunity to eat a home cooked Chinese meal.
*For more information on our tour check out: G Adventures China Express.