Top 5 UNESCO World Heritage Attractions To Visit On Your Private Beijing Tour

As the capital city of China, Beijing is one of the world’s most important historical and cultural metropolises. Possessing a history that spans three millennia, has served as the capital of five dynasties for nearly a thousand years. Because of its importance, you will find numerous cultural sites that have been enlisted by UNESCO. Here are the top 5 UNESCO World Heritage attractions to visit on your private Beijing tour.

The Great Wall of China

Considered a marvel of human ingenuity and ancient engineering, the Great Wall of China was inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. The Badaling section of the Great Wall is the most renowned and best-preserved section of this attraction. It lies in 100km away at the northwest of Beijing.

The Great Wall is considered a cultural icon of China. It represents a long history, which has shaped the country. Construction commenced around 771 BCE as fortifications to protect the region from marauding hordes. By 212 BC, the wall stretched from Gansu to Manchuria. Over the centuries, various dynasties added to the construction of the wall – It was the Ming, Han, Northern Qi, and Sui dynasties who rebuilt and expanded it.

Later dynasties like the Yuan, Qing, Tang, and Song focused more on diplomacy and campaigning. While the wall’s function was to protect, it didn’t always get the job done.

In fact, there were a few raids throughout history during which the wall failed. One of these occasions was in 1644 when the Ming dynasty was replaced by Manchu Qing who marched right on through.

Today, the part of the wall that is mostly seen and visited can be largely attributed to the Ming dynasty. Opting for brick and stone, they helped to extend the life of the wall over the years.

Temple of Heaven

Situated in southern Beijing, the Temple of Heaven is one of China’s most famous attractions. Inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998, generally regarded as a Taoist temple, its primary purpose (Chinese Heaven Worship) came long before Taoism and made this a true example of Ancient Chinese religious practices.

Built between 1406 and 1420, the Temple of Heaven is one of the largest construction projects put together by the Yongle Emperor; the same emperor responsible for the construction of the Forbidden City. At the time, the Temple of heaven was reasonably far from the emperor’s main home, yet this didn’t stop them from making the move to the Temple of Heaven for ceremonies and events. Once there, emperors would stay at the palace of fasting for several days before starting a ceremony.

When the Jiajing Emperor came to power in the 16th century, the Temple of Heaven was expanded upon. The Temple of the Earth, the Temple of the Sun, and the Temple of the Moon were added. During the 18th century, the temple was renovated, in the last construction project, which took place during the imperial reign.

In 1918, the temple was finally turned into a park and the public was allowed to enter. The Temple of Heaven was repaired and refurbished over the years to look increasingly more attractive. Today, millions visit the temple each year to witness a combination of China’s imperial history and its phenomenal architecture.

The Summer Palace

Deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998, the Summer Palace is a sprawling complex located 15 km from central Beijing. Complete with a hilltop lake and phenomenal views, it is an incredible example of Chinese garden design. Over the centuries, the complex has been an important influence on Chinese garden culture and art. Visitors can explore many attractions at the site, including the palace itself, beautiful gardens, temples, and pavilions. Possessing such a rich history, the Summer Palace is a must-see attraction when visiting China’s capital.

The site of the Summer Palace has been in use since the mid 12th century AD during the Jing Dynasty. In 1153, the ruler, Wanyan Liang moved the imperial court to Yanjing (present-day Beijing). He ordered the construction of a palace northwest of the capital, as a place of refuge and relaxation. Over the centuries, successive dynasties made additions to the site’s gardens, lakes, and structures.

Comprised of Longevity Hill and Kunming Lake, the Summer Palace complex covers 2.9 square kilometers. Covering 2.2 square km, it took 100,000 laborers to hand-dig Kunming Lake. Longevity Hill is divided into the Front Hill and the Back Hill, with impressive structures situated throughout the area. Three islands are within the artificial Kunming Lake: South Lake Island (Nánhú Dǎo), Round Fort Island (Tuánchéng Dǎo), Algae-view Hall Island (Zǎojiàntáng Dǎo).

The Forbidden City

As part of the imperial palaces of the Ming and Qing dynasties, the Forbidden City was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. The palace complex contains numerous buildings with nearly 10,000 rooms, complete with many landscaped gardens. It is considered a prime example of Chinese culture during the Ming and Qing dynasties. The Forbidden City was deemed thus because quite literally, it was forbidden for any individual not of royal blood to enter the gates.

Construction on the complex occurred from 1406 to 1420. More than a million workers were involved in its development and construction, making it one of Ancient China’s largest construction projects (along with the Great Wall).

The Forbidden City is divided into two sections: the Outer Court and the Inner Court. To enter the Palace itself, one must start at the Meridian Gate. The Meridian Gate is the largest Gate in the Forbidden City and truly incredible. For centuries, it was a guardian of sorts of the Forbidden City and a true masterpiece of Chinese architecture.

(Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Changling Ming Tomb

In 2003, the Ming Tombs were inscribed as a World Heritage Site. UNESCO cited that it was the largest and most-preserved imperial burial ground, containing the largest number of emperors buried within the site. The most famous of the mausoleums in the expansive 120 square km (46.3 sq mi) site is the Changling Ming Tomb, which was constructed in 1409 CE.

Dating from the early 15th century, the attraction is also known as the “Thirteen Tombs of Ming Dynasty” or just 13 Mausoleums. The imperial cemetery spans an astounding 120 square kilometers (46.3 sq mi). Each mausoleum is built as an independent unit, but the layout of all thirteen of them is similar. However, the structures are of different sizes and intricacy. The distance between each tomb is significant, ranging between half a kilometer and 8 km (5 mi).

The site for this spectacular cluster of mausoleums was selected by the 3rd Ming emperor – the Yongle Emperor. The area on the slope facing south at the base of Tianshou Mountain (formerly known as Huangtu) was ideally based on feng shui principles. Adhering to these principles, evil winds and unwanted spirits from the North had to be deflected. These constraints made the arc-shaped valley portion enclosed by the Jandu mountains ideal. The environment is pristine and tranquil.

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Sarah Bauder

Sarah has been extensive experience as a scribe, from travel writer to screenwriter, to a writer short stories. When she’s not doing one of those three things, she enjoys traveling, cooking, adventuring, reading, and anything involved being in (or under) water.
Sarah Bauder