When most people hear the words “breathe” and “Beijing” in the same sentence, they assume it’s about the city’s infamous smog. What surprises many travelers to China’s capital, however, is how incredibly beautiful outdoor landmarks in the city can be — well beyond the obvious sights like the Great Wall of China. Whether you bliss out in urban nature or zone out at local spiritual sites, Beijing’s beauty is sure to leave you breathless in the best way possible.
Indeed, one surprising benefit of Beijing’s often hazy air is that it tends to produce more brilliant sunrises and sunsets. If you’re looking for the ultimate Beijing sunrise, check this handy table before you go to bed, and head to Jingshan Park the next morning.
Either take the Beijing Metro (the park is about a 10-minute walk south of Beihai North station on Line 6) or get a taxi to Jing shan gong yuan no later than 30 minutes before the time listed in the table.
Hiking to the top of the park, which features a massive temple and a picturesque pagoda, not only gives you a fantastic perspective on the sun as it rises behind Beijing’s sprawling central business district, but also a bird’s eye view of the Forbidden City, made all the more gorgeous by the colors of the morning sky.
Another unexpected find in Beijing, given the state of China’s relations with Tibet, is the presence in the city of anything paying homage to Tibetan culture. Lama Temple, a multi-building monument to Tibetan Buddhism, provides a great counterexample to this assumption.
Be sure to visit the Pavilion of 10,000 Happinesses, home to a 75-foot Buddha statue carved from a single piece of sandalwood, and the giant, ancient bell that sits inside the main gate .
Known as Yong he gong in Chinese, Lama Temple is most easily accessible via the stop of the same name on Beijing’s Metro Line 5.
Although its history dates back nearly a millennium to the time of the Jin Dynasty, the Summer Palace northwest of Beijing is most famous as the warm-weather residence of the Empress Dowager Cixi during the late 19th century.
Once there, take a dragon boat out on Kunming Lake or marvel at architectural wonders like the Tower of Buddhist Incense, whose ornate pagoda invokes imperial China. Or simply spend your afternoon getting some much-needed exercise walking the grounds: The complex occupies nearly three square miles, which includes steep Longevity Hill.
The fastest way to reach the Summer Palace (Chinese: Yi he yuan) is via Line 4 of the Beijing Metro, at Beigongmen station. Perhaps surprisingly, the best time to visit the Summer Palace is during winter, when crowds are minimal, allowing the beauty of this Beijing icon to speak for itself.
Located just north of Beijing’s core, Hou Hai is popular among local Chinese but enjoys a sort of sleeper status among travelers. Take a paddle boat out on the lake to end a long day or enjoy a quiet evening stroll along the shore in the dead of winter when the surface is frozen over.
Even if you happen to visit Beijing during autumn, when the willows that line the lake blaze a brilliant yellow, or as the colorful flower beds of spring begin to bloom, another attraction of Houhai is the large number of traditional hutong water houses that line the streets around it.
Read the original story: How to Plan a Day of Breathtaking Beauty in Beijing by Robert Schrader, who is a regular contributor to Marriott Traveler