Beijing's Best Day Trips: Scenic Parks
Head to the Beijing borderlands for some of the finest natural parks. It's a common complaint that
Beijing is somewhat lacking in the natural life department, being more
of a concrete jungle than anywhere near an actual one. Give yourself a
whole day, however, and you can reach some pretty scenic spots around
the city that are sure to scratch that plant-based itch.
Xishan Park- Avoid the tourist crowds at this lesser known national park
is both the biggest national forest park in the city and the closest to
town. Built over a sprawling mountainside vista, the park boasts
kilometres of well-maintained trails. There's not much to do here beyond
wandering through the woodland paths, but with fewer historical
artefacts than its more famous neighbour, the Fragrant Hills, it also
offers peaceful solitude – once you're up the mountain, you'll hardly
see another soul. Walk all the way up to 'The Rock of Ghost Laugh', the
highest point on the mountain, for one hell of a view.
1. How to get there, take the 360 bus from Beijing Zoo subway station(Line 4) to Nanhetan-the park is a five minute walk away.
2. Travel time: 1 hour
Fenghuangling Nature Park-A natural park offering a ranger of hikes
in the nearby Western Hills, Fenghuangling, or Phoenix Hill Nature
Park, offers an escape from the city without the long trek. Three routes
cover the ridge and offer their own unique hike. The Middle Route is
short – a round trip takes about an hour – and offers a mixture of
lookout points, cultural structures and rock and cave formations. The
North Route is longer and has even more pagodas, towers and caves. If
you want more nature than culture, choose the South Route; it winds out
towards the reservoir.
You’re coming here to
hike, or, as you’ll witness at some of the temples, to pray. The
presence of the monks keeps things subdued, too. That said, on the road
up to the paths you will find plenty of vendors selling food and
colourful toys. On the main road up to the
ticket office, just past the bus stop, is a pick-your-own fruit orchard.
Depending on the time of year (fruit picking is available from May to
October) you’ll find apricots, peaches, plums, pears and apples on the
1. How to get there: Take Line4 to Beigongmen station and then the 346 bus to Fenghuangling
2. Travel time: 90 minutes
3. Entrance fee: 25RMB(Apr-Oct); 15RMB (Nov-Mar)
Songshan Nature Reserve- Total seclusion on the outskirts of Beijing
has two hiking trails. The more popular eastern route follows a
fast-moving stream up to a rocky water fall. Along the way there are
places to picnic, rest in the shade and dip your feet into the frigid
You’ve probably never been somewhere
this secluded around Beijing (that wasn’t empty for a reason). For some
reason or another, tour buses don’t make the trip out here which means
it’s just small groups who drive up in private cars.
main, and only, draw here is the gorgeous reserve. There’s a handful of
the obligatory scenic markers, like the ‘Duck Rock’ and ‘Three Stairs
Stream’, but otherwise this is where you come if you want to avoid the
usual touristy developments. Pack a picnic lunch (there are no
restaurants or vendors in the area) and unfold your blanket next to the
stream or at one of the tiny tables set off from the path.
1. How to get there: Songshan is best reached by private car; the public transport doesn't really cut the mustard here
2. Travel time: 2 hours
3. Ticket: 50RMB
Purple Bamboo Park to the Summer Palace-An idyllic float to one of Beijing's most famous palaces
Purple Bamboo Park (zizhuyuan)
is one of Beijing’s largest and most spectacular inner-city parks. It’s
made up of small islands and bridges dotted around three lakes, and
filled with beautiful (duh) bamboo. From here you can take a boat trip
(40RMB; 70RMB return) on the Changhe River up to the Summer Palace.
never going to find total solitude in a Beijing park, or in one of the
city’s biggest tourist attractions, but there are surprisingly tranquil
spots in both. The north part of Purple Bamboo Park is your best bet for
some peace. There's also plenty going on, with a small amusement area
near the south gate (around 20RMB a ride) and local park life –
pensioners playing hacky sack (jianzi), basically. As for the Summer Palace… What, a Unesco World Heritage site isn’t enough?
boat trip to the Summer Palace is a must-try. You may have to sit on
rickety seats, most likely squeezed uncomfortably close to an ayi
with garlic breath, but it’s definitely a unique experience. The view
on the 30-minute ride isn’t always postcard-perfect, taking in a few
factories and random suburbs, but, as you draw closer to the Summer
Palace, the view improves massively. You also go under some historic
bridges as you follow the path Empress Dowager Cixi would have taken to
her warm-weather pad.
The Summer Palace can get
rammed in the summer (obvs), especially around the famous Longevity
Hill. If you’ve been to the palace before, skip the big-name tourist
draws and head to the Garden of Harmonious Pleasures (xiequ yuan),
in the Summer Palace’s northeast corner. A mini-lake with ornate
footbridges decorate this quiet spot, which is aptly described as ‘a
park within a park’.
1. How to get there: Take line 4 to National Library subway station and walk to the park
2. Travel time: 30 minutes from Dongzhimen
3. Summer Palace entrance fee is 30RMB
Badachu Park-A peaceful temple site within the Beijing borders
in the Western Hills, the slopes of Badachu Park host an array of
Buddhist temples, nunneries and shrines. Centred around the Temple of
Divine Light and its ‘Buddha Tooth’ relic, the park offers a real sense
If you think the handful of
monks at the Lama Temple make it a spiritual hub, think again. At
Badachu, monks, nuns and Buddhists far outnumber tourists; the quiet
shrines are active places of worship where locals come to pray for
guidance, health and luck in the lottery. They may also come for the
exhilarating toboggan slide (60RMB) from the top of the hill back down
to the entrance of the park.
courtyard of the Temple of the Fragrant World is a shady haven thick
with incense. Sit beneath the trees and have a refreshing slice of
watermelon (which you can buy from a nearby vendor) before continuing
your pilgrimage uphill.
1. How to get there: Take the subwat to Pinguoyuan station(line 1); lwave via the north exit and take bus 972 to the entrance of the park.
2. Travel time: 2 hours
Fragrant Hills-Popular and pucturesque park on the western edge of Beijing
Originally cultivated in 1186, Fragrant Hills Park has
been a dynastic hang-out spot for centuries. Upon entering the park
(15RMB), the etymology of the name is obvious: the delicate aroma of the
cypress trees lingers in the air. Enter through the north gate and
amble towards the unique Biyun Temple (10RMB). First built in 1331, it’s
a beautiful house of worship in its own right, made even more
outstanding by its harmonious marriage with nature: thick shrubbery
shrouds the buildings, wild ivy climbs the walls, cedar trees tower
above the halls of worship; mountains perfectly frame the whole scene. A
good route is to follow the signs to Mao’s former residence (Shuangqing
Villa) for an hour-long stroll through the gardens. Be sure not to miss
Jingcui Lake on your left. With lily pads resting on the glistening
water and wilting willow trees all around, Jincui looks like a classic
Chinese watercolour, so picture perfect it almost feels clichéd.
Villa is equally as beautiful. Mao stayed here in the summer of 1949,
overseeing the last few months of the revolution. He directed ‘the
crossing of the Yangtze River’ campaign from here – a battle that was
one of the final few key victories for the Communists. As military bases
go, it’s not a bad place to overthrow the decadent bourgeois class. You
can also enter the modest villa to peer at his office and austere
1. How to get there: Take bus 360 from Beijing Zoo(Line 4) and get off at Fragrant Hills(Xiangshan) after 25 stops.
2. Travel time: 1 hour
3. Ticket: 15RMB
Beijing Botanical Gardens-Release your inner botanist amongist the cultivated flora and fauna
A mere 40-minute drive from Dongzhimen, a trip to the Beijing Botanical Gardens is
perhaps the quickest and easiest way to escape the city and immerse
yourself in nature; hell, most cab drivers will take you out there. Pay
the meagre 10RMB entrance fee and meander through these beautiful
gardens; a rambling, exquisitely cultivated space made up of 12 unique
areas specialising in different plants, of which there are over 6,000.
straight ahead to the Peony Garden and amble among the 200-plus
examples of this traditional Chinese flower. Favoured by emperors and
courtesans since the Tang Dynasty (618 AD-907 AD), the flower is an
ancient symbol in China and is known, unofficially, as the PRC’s
national flower. Keep going to the equally beautiful rose garden – a
large square with park benches reminiscent of a garden in an English
stately home – or turn left towards the greenhouses.
rusty, grubby-windowed hotboxes might not look much on the outside, but
they hide a world of tropical, rare species of plant inside. The
greenhouses are a maze of over a dozen interconnected rooms, meaning you
can walk between different areas without going outside – the perfect
way to get stuck into nature on a rainy day. Every plant in the garden
is labelled in English and Chinese.
1. How to get there: Take Line1 to Pinguoyuan and then bus 318 to Beijing Botanical Garden. It takes about 1.5 hours from Pinguoyuan to Beijing Botanical Gardens.
2. Travel time: About one hour and 30 minutes from Pingguoyuan
3. Ticket: 10RMB