When Alice first arrived in Oz, she was amazed at the vibrant colors which enveloped her. Beihai Park can have a similar effect on people (particularly Beijingers), where the enveloping foliage of trees is so lush that it’s difficult to connect them with the dry grey streets beyond.
Beihai is an ideal spot to while away a lazy morning or afternoon. The park itself recommends taking a full four hours to explore it, and it wouldn’t be hard to spend longer.
The central focus is the white Tibetan stupa, one of Beijing’s points of reference. To get there from the front gate, you first have to pass through the halls of Yong An Temple, and ascend a long staircase hemmed in by tall bamboos.
An additional 3 yuan ticket will get you close to the stupa itself. Hidden inside are some monk’s ashes and scriptures. Which is nice enough, but there’s not much to do here. Luckily up there at this high point of the park, you also gain access to the best views of Beihai.
The surrounding park area spreads out below, covering 69 hectares. The large size usually (but not always) provides enough room to space out the crowds. People stroll along the perimeter of the lake taking in the singers and dancers.
Just walking in Beihai is pleasant enough for the day, but there definitely are some sights worth visiting up towards the northern and eastern areas. One highlight is the Nine Dragon Wall which was made in the 15th century. Using glazed tiles of surprising depth, each side portrays nine cavorting dragons, which technically makes a total of 18 dragons.
Just to the south of Nine Dragon Wall, the Five Dragon Pavilions from the Ming Dynasty connect with each other via zigzagging bridges. They look out over the rental boats buzzing around the lake, and are often filled with competing musical performances.
Beihai is home to several notable temples, and Xiao Xi Tian is particularly unique. One of China’s largest square style pavilions, the Qing Dynasty structure houses an enormous clay sculpture of Putao Mountain, perched upon by over a hundred Buddhists.
Although adjacent Jingshan Park may occupy the center of the city, Beihai Park suffers no pangs of jealousy. Beihai has a couple hundred years more history on Jingshan. That’s a couple hundred more years to chill out and relax. Beihai has the space to breathe, and the wisdom to do so slowly.
Location: 1 Wenjin Street, just northwest of the Forbidden City.
Admission: 20 yuan, including temples; 10 yuan, just for park entrance.
Opening hours: 6:00 – 22:00 in peak season; 6:30 – 20:00 in winter.