Besides the Forbidden City, there is plenty more to see and do in Beijing. One of my favourite historic sites is the Temple of Heaven, a sprawling park with beautiful historic buildings and the aforementioned temple.
Around since the Ming Dynasty (1420), the Temple of Heaven is one of the most important sites of imperial China. Used as a site to make sacrifices to the heavens for a good harvest (hence the name), the complex is made up of three altars and a massive park, as well as a palace.
Walking The Temple of Heaven
If you start walking through the east gate (near Tiantan Dongmen subway station), you can take a nice circuit through all the major sites in about two hours as suggested by TimeOut. I walked this path with my dad while he came to visit in April. Let me tell you, he got super excited about two things: the free entry (he just turned 60) and the flower gardens. More on that later.
One of the things I find most fascinating about the Temple of Heaven is the geriatric gymnastics happening. Entry for those older than 60 is free and used by many Chinese elderly. Right at the eastern entrance, you will find a big section full of grannies dancing and grandpas playing hackysack. Truly a sight not to miss.
Walking through the (1) Long Corridor (more grandparents), you’ll soon come to the most well-known part: the (2) Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.
This is usually the part of the Temple of Heaven where you get mobbed by people. We were lucky in that it was a shitty, rainy day. One of my friends was surprised by how empty my pictures where. I guess no one likes the rain much in China either. But unless you want to take plenty of posed shots in front of the monuments, I actually recommend a less sunny day. Beijing in the sun gets unbearable, and around the big sites, there are few trees and even less shade available.
From the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests, head on to the (3) Chinese Rose Garden and (4) 100 Flower Garden. Apparently, May is the best time of year to really get your flowers on. But even without massive blooming the gardens where wonderful to walk through. (Also a great place to take pictures.)
As I mentioned, my dad went bananas over the gardens, mostly because of the different colours of cherry tree they had, but also because of the massively old trees everywhere. He did a gardener apprenticeship before he studied and still is big into gardening.
After the gardens, head to (5) the Pavilion of Longevity. IF you brought a picknick, this would be a perfect spot. Otherwise, again admire the architecture and the groups of Chinese families on their outing and get a crick in the neck from staring at the ceiling too much.
Then walk south to the (6) Fasting Palace. Make sure you arrive before lunch, as it closes sometime around 12ish. You need to get a separate, free ticket for the palace by flashing your passport or ID. The whole palace is surrounded by a moat and can only be accessed from its eastern side. This is where the emperors would go to fast before their sacrifices, abstaining from food, fun and politics.
Finally, wander to the last big site, the (8) Circular Mound Altar, where sacrifices were made. Be careful when walking up the steps, and marvel at the symmetry of the Temple of Heaven complex.
And once your feet start hurting and you are ready to leave, return to the eastern gate by walking across (10) Danbi Bridge towards the Hall of Prayer and the Long Corridor.
I recommend going early in the morning to avoid the queues and the heat (if going in summer). Also, like with any site in Beijing don’t forget your passport, you’ll need it for your tickets. And on the subject of tickets: don’t skimp and buy the one that includes all attractions. Each hall is surrounded by walls and entry is controlled. As food and beverage options are sparse around the Temple of Heaven, packing a picnic is also advisable. There is a lot of walking to be done and plenty of benches to sit and take a rest.
The Temple of Heaven is open from 8am till 5pm and tickets cost between 10 and 35 RMB depending on season and age.