The Beihai Park, Also called as the Northern Sea Park, is one of the oldest, biggest and most well-preserved ancient royal gardens in the country that is located at the center of Beijing. It has Zhongnanhai or Central and Southern Seas to its south and the Jingshan Park and the Forbidden City to its east. With more than 1,000 years of history, the Beihai Park is indeed an ideal tourist spot in Beijing not only because of its perfect combination of northern garden grandiosity and southern garden refinement but also because of its classic integration of stunning royal palaces and serene religious constructions.
History of Beihai Park
Many locals believed that the Beihai Park was constructed based on a traditional Chinese legend. It is said that to the east of Bohai Bay, three magical mountains are located. These mountains are named ‘Penglai’, ‘Yingzhou’ and ‘Fangzhang’. According to the legend, the Gods residing in those mountains possess a kind of herbal medicine which could make humans gain immortality.
Because of this, many emperors of China who failed to find the said mountains then ordered to construct a large pool that is piled up with 3 earth hills in their palaces. Some of the emperors who imitated the magical mountains with the hopes of having an eternal life are Emperor Qin Shihuang of the Qin Dynasty and Emperor Wudi of the Western Han Dynasty.
Beihai Park was then built during the Liao Dynasty (916-1125) while many other dynasties including Jin, Yuan, Ming, as well as Qing Dynasties, repaired and reconstructed the park. Its current scale and pattern were established when Emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty had a large-scale rebuilding of the garden. It was initially opened to the public in 1925 and since then, hundreds of thousands of tourists would visit the park every year.
The park covers a total area of around 70 hectares and more than half of it is covered by the lake. Located at the middle of the lake which is also the core axis of the entire park is where the Jade Flower Islet is located. Everyone can easily find it because it is topped by the stunning White Dagoba which is also the islet’s landmark. Beside Jade Flower Islet, the other major scenic areas of the park are the Eastern Shore Area, Northern Shore Area, Botanical Garden, and the Circular City that is located near the north gate.
Built in 1651, the White Dagoba was constructed on the previous site of the Palace in the Moon where the Marco Polo was received by Kublai Khan. The first emperor of the Qing Dynasty, Emperor Shunzhi, then agreed to a suggestion of a famous Tibetan Lama to construct a Tibetan dagoba. The White Dagoba depicts the emperor’s belief in Buddhism and his aspiration for the unification among the different Chinese ethnic groups. It was devastated by an earthquake and was renovated twice.
Today, it rests on an enormous stone base and stands with a height of 37 meters. It is capped by 2 bronze canopies that are shaped like umbrellas where 14 bronze bells hang. The dagoba holds 2 pieces of Sarira, the monk’s mantle and alms bowl, as well as the Buddhist Scriptures. Being the highest point of the park, the White Dagoba functions as a vantage point that offers a stunning view of the entire scenic spot.
Located in front of the dagoba is the Yong’an Temple and there are also a number of other tourist spots that are near the White Dagoba such as the Shanyin Hall, Zhengjue Hall, the Bell and Drum Towers, and the Stone Tablets of ‘Qiongdao Chunyin’. These buildings are all dispersed on the Qionghua Islet’s slope.
Hao Pu Creek Garden
From the Qionghua Islet, you can go to the Eastern Shore Scenic Area by crossing the Zhishan Bridge. In here are other independent gardens like the Painted Boat, as well as the Hao Pu Creek Garden.
Built in 1757, the Hao Pu Creek or Haopujian Garden is one of the most beautiful gardens-within-gardens of the surviving royal gardens of China. The garden got its name from the two rivers of Anhui Province namely ‘Hao’ and ‘Pu’. Emperor Qianlong ordered the construction of the garden to create a place for happiness and relaxation where he can be as free as the fish in the river. That’s why the garden was styled to depict tranquility and happiness. It features a special mountain-water structure to present an impression of a deep valley that is secluded from the rest of the society.
Quiet Heart Studio
Moving westward from the Eastern Shore Area is the Northern Shore Area where you can find the Quiet Heart or Jingxin Studio, the Northern Shore Area’s well-known independent garden. It was originally built during the Ming Dynasty but was enlarged during the Qing Dynasty. Inside the garden are several stunning palaces, pavilions, halls, corridors, towers, artificial hills, and other beautiful and artistically arranged patterns. Many of the royal members during the Qing Dynasty would go here to study or even just rest.
Northwest of the Northern Shore area is the popular Nine-Dragon Screen which is the only screen that has 9 enormous dragons on each side among the most well-known three Nine-Dragon Screens in the country. The other two screens are located in the Forbidden City and in Datong, Shanxi Province. The Nin-Dragon Screen here in the Beihai Park was constructed in 1756 with a length of 27 meters, a height of 6.65 meters, and thickness of 1.42 meters. It is consists of 424 seven-color glazed tiles that are embossed from the screen. With the nine enormous coiling dragons on both sides of the screen and the other big and small dragons decorated at the two ends and the eaves, the total number of dragons here is a surprising 635.
Situated to the southwest of the Nine-Dragon Screen is the Five-Dragon pavilions which are composed of five linked pavilions with pointed eaves and spires. If you will look at them from a distance, the pavilions will appear like an enormous dragon. It was initially built in 1602 and renovated numerous times during the Qing Dynasty. The different intricate engravings and paintings on the pavilions’ girders and pillars make such a beautiful relaxing place for ancient China’s royal members.
Around the pavilions are other scenic spots that you can enjoy visiting such as the Chengguan Hall, the Heavenly King Hall, and the Temple of Little Western Skies.
At the southwestern corner of the park lies the Circular City which stands 4.6 meters high and has a circumference of 277 meters. The City has many tourist offerings such as halls, pavilions, and towers but the most significant construction here that is worth visiting is the Chengguang Hall. It holds the most precious white jade statue of Buddha which was introduced from Burma during the end of the Qing Dynasty. Right in front of the hall lies a grand urn that is made from variegated dark jade. The urn was previously used as a vessel of Kublai Khan’s wine storage. It stands at a 1.5-meter height and weighs 3.5 tons.
Inside the Circular City is the Fangshan Restaurant where you can enjoy sumptuous imperial flavored dishes that originated from 1925.
How to get there
- You can take Subway line 6 to go to the Beihai Bei Station and get off from Exit B.
- On the other hand, the buses that can take you to the Beihai Station are bus 5, 101, 103, 109, 124, 128 and tour bus 1 or 2. To go to the Beihai Beimen (North Gate of Beihai Park) Station, you can ride bus 3, 13, 42, 107, 111, 118, 612, 701 or tour bus 3.
- Entrance fee to the Beihai Park from April to October is CNY 10 and from November to March is CNY 5.
- Entrance to Qionghua Islet is CNY 10.
- A ticket to enter the Circular City costs CNY 1.
- A Thorough Ticket which you can use to enter the Beihai Park, the Qionghua Islet, and the Circular City costs CNY 20 from April to October and CNY 15 from November to March.
- The park is open from 6:30 am to 9 pm from April to October. During these months, the ticket office closes at 8:30 pm.
- On the other hand, the park is open for visitors from 6:30 am to 8:00 pm from the month of November to the month of March. During the said months, the ticket office closes at 7:30 pm.