This former Jin Dynasty imperial garden is one of the most famous parks in Beijing, and has over 1000 years of history. Although the main attraction, the Temple of Eternal Peace, can get very crowded during peak season, you can escape the crowds by exploring the many other small sights around the lake.
Particularly recommended are the Nine Dragon Screen (九龙璧), Dacizhen Treasure Hall (大慈真如宝殿) and Temple of Western Heaven (小四天).
You can also rent small paddle boats to play on the lake, a great activity if you are travelling with small children.
Temple of Eternal Peace (永安寺)
Located on an island in the centre of the park, the Temple of Eternal Peace houses the iconic White Dagoba. First built in 1651 (and most recently rebuilt in 1976 after being damaged by an earthquake), this Lamaist pagoda contains ancient buddhist scriptures and artefacts and is one of the most popular sights in the park.
Circular City (圆成)
Mostly consisting of a beautiful garden, the circular city is easy to miss hidden to the south of the park. Check out the Chengguang Hall, formerly a place for Ming emperors to watch firework displays but later converted into a temple during the Qing dynasty. A spectacular white jade Buddha sits in the main hall, while another pavilion holds the giant jade wine vessel of Kublai Khan – the first Yuan dynasty emperor.
Nine Dragon Screen (九龙璧)
Built in 1756, this Nine Dragon Screen is one of only three remaining in China. At almost 30 metres long, it is covered in beautiful glazed tiles depicting the nine large dragons playing with pearls. Combined with the many smaller dragons dancing around both sides, there are over 600 dragons on the wall. They were said to ward away evil spirits to protect the emperor.
Five Dragon Pavilions (五龙亭)
This connected series of Ming dynasty pavilions lies on the north bank of the lake, with beautiful views. A favourite fishing and relaxing spot for the emperors, today it is popular with photo-snapping tourists. Wander along the zig-zigging pathways between the pavilions while admiring the lake scene.
Small Western Heaven (小四天)
Built in 1970 as a birthday gift from the Emperor Qianlong to his mother, the Small Western Heaven sits hidden in the Northwestern corner of the park. The central hall is surrounded by impressive Chinese style gates, with pretty stone bridges crossing the narrow moat.
Tickets: 20 RMB.
Opening hours: 6:30 – 20:00 (winter), 6:30 – 21:00 (summer).
Recommended visit: 2 hours.
Transport: take metro line 6 to Beihai North (北海北).
Top tip: the central island and temple can be very crowded, so escape into the smaller sights to the North West of the park for some peace and quiet.