A 35-minute drive northwest from modern Beijing leads to the bucolic Summer Palace, used during the Qing dynasty as an imperial sanctuary from the punishing heat of the Forbidden City. Fast-forward four centuries, and the 290-hectare garden estate dotted with palaces around the placid Kunming Lake draws visitors seeking similar respite. Invariably, tourists flock to the marble replica known as Empress Cixi’s Boat. Spend just enough time to snap a selfie in front of this unique vessel. Then, turn your focus upward and on the magnificent, locally crafted kites bobbing overhead. We especially like early weekday mornings. Get there early enough and you’ll see old-timers in their Mao-collared suits playing mah-jongg by the Palace’s east gate.
From Yiheyuan Road, turn into Suzhou Street and cross over the moat; this brings you to the winding paths and gentle hills of the Summer Palace. Head to the south of the park for exceptionally beautiful views looking out over Kunming Lake.
SUMMER PALACE: 19 Xinjiangongmen Lu, Haidian; 86-(0)10-6288-1144