Summer Palace

The Summer Palace (Yiheyuan) is a "biggie." Once an imperial pleasure garden, it has temples, residences, pavilions, marble bridges and an enormous lake for boating. In the 19th century, the Summer Palace was a favorite spot of the extravagant Dowager Empress Cixi, who restored many buildings and added new ones. For centuries, the emperors with their entourages relocated to escape the heat in summer, and today the Summer Palace is a great place to go with kids. A whole day excursion in itself (bring a picnic), the Summer Palace can be crowded on weekends, so try to go on a weekday.

East Palace Gate - Arriving through the monumental East Palace Gate, this is the heart of the palace complex, with administrative, residential, and pleasure buildings, such as a three story theater. Don't miss the Happiness Longevity Hall (Leshoutang) where Dowager Empress Cixi made her home from May to November. Outside the hall are exquisite bronze statues of cranes and deer, inside is the empress' throne room.
Long Corridor - Make a beeline for this shady walkway (goes on for almost half a mile), gloriously painted on the underside of the roof. Supported by brightly painted emeral green and bright red columns, each beam has a different painting of flowers and historical figures. The Long Corridor ends at the lake, where you can check out the amazing Marble Boat, a solid marble palace built in the shape of a two-story paddle steamer!
Longevity Hill - If the kids need to expend some excess energy, climb up to the top of Longevity Hill. You'll pass by the majestic Precious Clouds Pavilion, and behind that , the Buddhist Temple of Sea of Wisdom. On a clear day, there's views of Beijing in the distance, but usually it's a bit hazy (so don't do this expecting a view). When you walk down the north side of the hill, there's a shady pine grove.
Kunming Lake - Rent a boat and join Chinese families on the lake. Most fun is an electric boat, where you can really explore the lake which is quite large. If you want to go under your own steam, rent a pedal boat. Boats are available for rent near the dock at the Marble Boat, and at the South Lake Island.
Take the ferry boat across the lake to the South Lake Island (you can pick it up at the end of the Long Corridor near the Marble Boat). Floating along in the ferry, you can pretend you're the Empress Dowager Cixi, sailing on the lake in a dragon boat while musicians play.
South Lake Island - Kids can stroll to the island across the Seventeen Arch Bridge, decorated with scads and scads of lion statues. In the center of the island is a charming pavilion, Dragon King's Temple.

From South Lake Island, walk north along Lake Kunming toward the East Palace Gate, passing by a bronze statue of an ox, rubbed smooth by many hands.

Tip: A fun way to arrive at the Summer Palace is by canal boat. Pick up the dragon boats in the lake behind the Bejing Exhibition Center, float along the canals, you'll arrive at the Summer Palace, near the Jade Belt Bridge (Camel's Back Bridge) on the western side of the lake. Summer only.
By the North Palace Gate is the Suzhou Market Street, a re-creation of the watery streets of Suzhou, the "Venice" of China. Originally the street was entertainment for the court, to pretend they were shopping like ordinary people. Today, there are all kinds of shops with handicrafts and souvenirs, tea shops, and people dressed in period clothing.
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