The adjacent sprawling Forbidden City was been a centre of power for centuries, serving as the home to more than a dozen emperors. It’s a massive sight and one that leaves many visitors wishing they’d allocated more time to exploring the myriad buildings, rooms and courtyards in the palace complex. If the Forbidden City whets the appetite for lovers of history, a visit to the Summer Palace, northwest of the city centre is in order, with its expansive park, waterways and impressive imperial architecture.
Also impressive on a more modest scale are the remaining hutongs, the historic laneways of Beijing lined with siheyuan, traditional courtyard residences. When the People’s Republic of China was declared in 1949, many of these small neighbourhoods began to disappear and continued to be demolished until recently. However today, with the city reaching a maturity that involves finally appreciating the history of its everyday life, many of the remaining hutongs are now at last protected.
Qianmen, south of Tiananmen Square, lies adjacent to some of the city’s hutongs. A commercial centre that’s hundreds of years old, it was refurbished – somewhat controversially – before the 2008 Summer Olympics. It’s now home to flashy shops, including many international brands, just another indicator of how fast Beijing is moving forward.