During the Ming Dynasty, the emperors embarked on an ambitious plan to build palaces, homes and summer retreats in and around Beijing. While some have been devastated by wars since then, others have been protected or restored and are now open to visitors.

The Forbidden City: Gu Gong

The Forbidden City, now operating as the Palace Museum, houses artwork and artifacts from the Ming and Qing dynasties. It served as the home of the royal family and seat of imperial power for hundreds of years. The site is huge, with nearly 1000 different rooms, and to see everything would take visitors multiple visits.

Most tourists head down the center of the complex first, where they can view the large throne rooms, major halls and gates before branching out to explore the more secluded right and left sides. The clock museum, located on the east side of the complex, is worth the extra admission charge.

The Summer Palace: Yi He Yuan

Built in 1750 as a summer retreat for the imperial family, the Summer Palace is located in northwestern Beijing. One of the most impressive sites in the city, the palace and park is centered around Kunming Lake. Hilly footpaths lead visitors around the lake and into the northern section of the park, where they can find hidden gardens, temples and pavilions with magnificent views of natural scenery.

The Marble Boat and Long Corridor are must-see places in the complex, but are often overcrowded, especially in summer. The full admission ticket grants access to all of the areas of the park, but a basic entrance ticket is also available for those who only want to wander the grounds without entering any of the museums or other attractions.

The Old Summer Palace: Yuan Ming Yuan

Once, Yuan Ming Yuan was considered the grandest of the Chinese palaces. However, since its destruction in 1860 by allied forces during the Opium Wars and the subsequent destruction in 1900 of what remained, the Old Summer Palace has not been rebuilt. Ruins are visible throughout the park, with the most impressive located at the northern end, where magnificent architecture combining Eastern and Western styles was once located.

Prince Gong’s Mansion

Prince Gong’s mansion has housed many royal family members over the centuries, including the sons and brothers of emperors. It is a prime example of a wealthy royal home, but is often overlooked by foreign tourists. Located near Houhai, a lake in central Beijing, the mansion is well-preserved and features architecture, gardens and a traditional tea room.

Visiting these traditional palaces, parks, homes and mansions in Beijing gives a glimpse into the lives of the imperial family of China. From hints of daily activities to the ornate extravagance of official government functions, each site tells a different story that travelers will find fascinating to learn.