One of Beijing’s must-see attractions, the Summer Palace is a lavish imperial playground whose grounds are large enough to have an almost rural feel. Once the private haunt of the notorious Empress Cixi, it functions today as a lovely public park, two-thirds of which is taken up by Kunming Lake. During the hottest months of the year, the imperial court would decamp to this perfect location, the site surrounded by hills, cooled by the lake and sheltered by judicious use of garden landscaping.

The palace buildings, many connected by a suitably majestic gallery, are built on and around Wanshou Shan (Longevity Hill), north of the lake and west of the main gate. Many of these edifices are intimately linked with Cixi – anecdotes about whom are the stock output of the numerous tour guides – but to enjoy the site, you need know very little of its history: like Beihai, the park, its lake and pavilions form a startling visual array, akin to a traditional Chinese landscape painting brought to life.

Travel offers; book through Rough Guides

China features

The latest articles, galleries, quizzes and videos.

26 awe-inspiring architectural wonders

26 awe-inspiring architectural wonders

From ancient temples to hyper-modern skyscrapers, these are just a few of the world's most incredible architectural wonders. Whether you're looking to wander l…

01 Feb 2017 • Rough Guides Editors camera_alt Gallery
China travel tips: 8 things you need to know before you go

China travel tips: 8 things you need to know before you go

Even 20 years ago China was not a conventional tourist destination. Despite the allure of its beautiful landscapes and history-filled cities, politics, poverty,…

13 Jan 2017 • Simon Frank insert_drive_file Article
The roof of the world: a first-timer's guide to Tibet

The roof of the world: a first-timer's guide to Tibet

The ‘roof of the world’ has exerted a magnetic pull over travellers and adventurers for centuries. This vast, high altitude desert has spawned myths and leg…

10 Nov 2016 • Stuart Butler insert_drive_file Article
View more featureschevron_right

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month

Join over 60,000 subscribers and get travel tips, competitions and more every month