Introduction to Beijing

China's capital city of Beijing has a long and illustrious history. From warlords to the seat of power for the Ming and Qing dynasty emperors and the political, educational and cultural centre of the socialist republic it is today, Beijing, meaning 'northern capital', may be second to Shanghai for population but makes up for these shortcomings with people power.

The Ming dynasty (1403 - 1644) established the 'golden era' of Beijing when many of the city's traditional edifices were constructed including the Forbidden City and Temple of Heaven. The last imperial line was the Qing dynasty, under which the extravagant royal retreats of the Old and New Summer Palaces were commissioned until they were overthrown in 1911. The establishment of the People's Republic in 1949 brought the Cultural Revolution and that iconic image of Chairman Mao to the capital.

Unlike the crowed inner-city streets of Shanghai, the capital has a sprawling feel with vast distances between locations. Beijing is also renowned for being quite flat making it ideal for cyclists, although more cars can be found on the rectangular concentric ring roads around the metropolis these days than pushies. Traditional architecture can be found in hutongs - ancient narrow alleys that form residential neighbourhoods peculiar to Beijing. Hutongs can be found throughout the four central districts of Xicheng, Dongcheng, Xuanwu and Chongwen that fall within the second ring road and the old walled city of Beijing.

While efforts have been made to preserve the historic architecture and antiquities of Beijing, make no mistake - this is a city powering towards the next decade. As host to the Olympics in 2008, brand-new structures such as the National Stadium or 'Bird's Nest' in Chaoyang District is now a major landmark as are the modern CCTV Building and World Trade Center III.

For more must-dos in Bejing, check out our things to do page and start planning your Bejing holiday.

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