Be­yond Bei­jing

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Orig­i­nally a walled bas­tion for em­per­ors and of­fi­cials, the Chi­nese cap­i­tal re­mains a ma­jes­tic po­lit­i­cal and ar­chi­tec­tural marvel. You could spend weeks here and never tire of ex­plor­ing the sights—cen­turies-old palaces and tem­ples, grav­ity-de­fy­ing sky­scrapers, chaotic mar­kets, and cut­ting-edge gal­leries and mu­se­ums among them.

It’s a big city, home to some 21.5 mil­lion peo­ple and around 6.5 mil­lion cars. So, if you need a change of pace and space for quiet con­tem­pla­tion, it’s best to head to the hills. Around 30 kilo­me­ters north­west of Bei­jing is Fra­grant Hills, a Jin-dy­nasty im­pe­rial gar­den that cov­ers more than 160 hectares. It’s beau­ti­ful through­out the year, its tracks weav­ing through forests of cy­press and per­sim­mon, and around tran­quil lakes lined with pavil­ions, tem­ples, and or­nate gates. But the ideal time to visit is in au­tumn, when the park’s maples and smoke trees be­gin to change color, trans­form­ing the area in a blaze of fiery hues.

There are two main routes through the park. One takes you past Yan­jing Lake, the Mingera Jianxin Zhai tem­ple, and a Ti­betan-style lamasery com­plex built in the 1700s. The sec­ond will see you scram­ble to the top of In­cense Burner Peak via a bril- liantly green lake and a num­ber of tem­ples and shrines.

Around 50 kilo­me­ters far­ther north­west is Badal­ing. This is eas­ily the most vis­ited sec­tion of the Great Wall, and for good rea­son. Its prox­im­ity to the cap­i­tal aside—you’ll zip there along an ex­press­way—Badal­ing is a bril­liant stretch of well-pre­served and re­stored wall dat­ing to the Ming dy­nasty. Close to four kilo­me­ters and 19 watch­tow­ers are open to vis­i­tors, and thanks to wide paths and even, shal­low­pitched stairs with handrails, it’s a plea­sure to climb.

To the south­east of Bei­jing is Tian­jin, a for­mer treaty port with Euro­pean-style houses and tree-lined boule­vards con­trast­ing with the gleam­ing tow­ers of its busi­ness district. This is one of China’s largest cities, but thanks in part to its wa­ter­side lo­ca­tion, it has a more re­laxed vibe than the coun­try’s cap­i­tal. Coastal views aside, Tian­jin has an in­cred­i­ble col­lec­tion of well-pre­served colo­nial ar­chi­tec­ture, with more than 230 build­ings in­cor­po­rat­ing de­sign styles rang­ing from Re­nais­sance to gothic to ro­man­tic. And then there are the Qing- and Ming-style build­ings, many of which you can find along An­cient Cul­ture Street, a strip of re­stored shop­houses that are home to an­tiques stores, noo­dle stalls, art gal­leries, and mu­se­ums.

Other day trips worth the de­tour in­clude the Ming Tombs, a World Her­itage Site that unites a col­lec­tion of mau­soleums built by em­per­ors of the Ming dy­nasty. The tombs are around 50 kilo­me­ters north­west of Bei­jing, and could be fit­ted into a day trip also in­cor­po­rat­ing Fra­grant Hills or Badal­ing. And around 80 kilo­me­ters north of the cap­i­tal is

Longqing Gorge, known for its karst scenery that is some­what rem­i­nis­cent of the south­ern city of Guilin. Ex­plore caves and forested moun­tains on a re­lax­ing river cruise, or turn up the adrenalin with bungee jump­ing, rock climb­ing, and ab­seil­ing.

Au­tumn fo­liage around Fra­grant Hills. Be­low, from left: A statue at the Ming Tombs; the Badal­ing sec­tion of the Great Wall.

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