What Makes It Special
Located in the western suburbs of Beijing and only 1 kilometer from the Old Summer Palace (Yuanmingyuan), the 716-acre Summer Palace is the largest and best-preserved royal garden in China.
History of the Summer Palace
In 1750, the Qing Emperor Qianlong (1711-1799) started to build the Clear Ripples Garden (Qingyi Yuan, 清漪园), which was later named the Summer Palace, to celebrate his mother’s birthday.
In 1764, construction was completed.
In 1860, the buildings were burnt down by Anglo-French Allied Forces.
In 1888, the Empress Dowager Cixi (1835-1908), ruler of the late Qing dynasty, recreated Clear Ripples Garden as a place to which she could retreat, and renamed it Yiheyuan, the Summer Palace of today.
In 1900, the Summer Palace was looted and destroyed by Eight-Nation Allied Forces.
In 1924, it was opened to the public as a tourist park.
In 1998, it was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage.
Explore the Highlights
The Summer Palace, once a summer retreat for royalty, is now renowned as a Museum of Imperial Gardens. Nowadays it is still a retreat for crowd-weary tourists, who can relax here or stroll around ancient pavilions, mansions, temples, bridges and the huge lake, stopping occasionally at a shop or teahouse.
Let’s explore the following highlights to see what the emperors saw and do what the emperors did in past centuries.
1. Court Area Near the East Gate
Court Area Near the East Gate
The garden falls naturally into several sections, each with its own distinct character. The palace buildings where Empress Dowager Cixi and Emperor Guangxu used to stay, conducting the business of government, are in the court area, near the East Palace Gate. They include a number of halls, courtyards and displays.
2. Long Corridors for Viewing the Lake
From the court area paths run beside the huge lake (which takes up about 75% of the whole park), under the shady trees, or along the roofed breezeway with magnificently painted ceilings, known as the “Long Corridor”.
The corridor is 728 meters long, the longest such corridor among all Chinese gardens. There are more than 14,000 drawings on the crossbeams of the corridor. Bridges, islands, boats, willows, lotus and attractive landscaping, all make it a pleasant place for soaking up the atmosphere and taking in the views.
3. Touching History Through the Imperial Decorations
The arched bridges, pretty promenades, decorated corridors and breezeways lead visitors through ever-changing views and scenery.
Walking through the garden, you’ll marvel at the wonderful Marble Boat (石舫, built by Cixi with funds intended for the navy), and at the old theater (Great Stage, 大戏楼, one of the three great traditional theaters in China). On the lake there is an island accessed via small wooden boats, and in the distance there are hills, with a temple on a hillside framed by dark trees.
4. Shopping by River
“Suzhou Market Street” replicates the shopping street in Suzhou of ancient times, recreating 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” here.
5. Boating on Kunming Lake
Kunming Lake occupies 75% of the whole palace grounds and there is a West Causeway (Xidi, 西堤) on the lake, which is modeled on the Su Causeway of West Lake in Hangzhou. In the 1990s, scientific research showed that the lake dates back over 3,500 years.
You can take a 10-minute boat-ride to visit an island temple, watch a traditional Chinese performance in a restored theatre, enjoy the different buildings and courtyards, or just admire the views from one of many vantage points on the lake.
6. Overlooking the Palace from Longevity Hill
Along the lake path the land rises to Longevity Hill (长寿山), dotted with superb halls and temples, and wonderfully decorated gates. The energetic can climb the hill to the Buddhist temple which overlooks the whole area.
The waterside path continues across bridges, past boathouses and the amazing marble boat, to an area of tranquil gardens, hillocks and winding paths.
Plan a Trip to the Summer Palace
Four main entrances:
Choose whichever you prefer: East Gate, North Gate, West Gate, or New Gate. There are facilities for accessing the Palace at each entrance.
Route 1: East Gate → Hall of Benevolence and Longevity (仁寿殿) → Wenchang Gallery (文昌院) → Hall of Jade Ripples (玉澜堂) →Hall of Happiness and Longevity (乐寿堂) → Long Corridor (长廊)→ Hall of Dispelling Clouds (排云殿) → Tower of Buddhist Incense (佛香阁) → Marble Boat (石舫) → Suzhou Market Street (苏州街) → North Gate
Route 2: North Gate→ Suzhou Market Street → Tower of Buddhist Incense → Hall of Happiness and Longevity → Long Corridor → Marble Boat → Boating to South Lake Island (Nanhu Dao, 南湖岛) →Seventeen-Arch Bridge (十七孔桥) → Bronze Ox (铜牛) → East Causeway of Kunming Lake → Wenchang Gallery → Hall of Jade Ripples → Hall of Happiness and Longevity → East Gate
Places to Eat:
In the park, small restaurants and refreshments are available, many of which can be found on Suzhou Market Street.
Please note that though the park provides an audio tour service which costs 20 RMB, you may still want a tour guide who can lead you the right way! You can simply book a 4-Day Classical Beijing Tour with us. Or tell us your special requests and we can tailor-make a delightful tour for you.