The Old Summer Palace

The Old Summer Palace, a once grand imperial garden of the Qing Dynasty, lost its former glory after being set ablaze by the Anglo-French allied forces. Today, it resembles a vast public park, predominantly adorned with an array of flowers, plants, and trees.

While many of its famous sights are now but ruins, the historical significance of the site continues to draw tourists from afar. Locals also frequent the park for leisurely strolls and recreation on weekends.

The Old Summer Palace is divided into three sections: the Garden of Perfect Brightness, the Garden of Eternal Spring, and the Garden of Perennial Spring. Covering all three in a single day is quite a challenge.

The Old Summer Palace

Visitors on a tight schedule are advised to focus on the Horse Head Statue exhibition at the Hall of Buddhist Wisdom in the Garden of Perennial Spring and the ruins of the European-style buildings in the Garden of Eternal Spring.

The bronze Horse Head Statue, which was returned to China in 2020, is the first of the significant cultural relics lost abroad to make its way back to the Old Summer Palace. The Great Waterworks is the landmark construction among the ruins of the European-style buildings and the largest fountain in the area.

Even as just remnants, one can still envision the splendor of the Old Summer Palace at its zenith by observing the stone niches and water basins. The Labyrinth of the Yellow Flowers, modeled after European mazes, is another famous site where the emperor once hosted lantern festivals on Mid-Autumn nights.

The Old Summer Palace

Court ladies would scurry through the maze with lanterns in hand, and the first to reach the central pavilion would be rewarded, creating a breathtaking scene within the gardens.

The best time to visit is during the summer or autumn seasons. In summer, you can admire the lotus flowers in full bloom at the Lotus Pond, while in autumn, you can stroll down the Ginkgo Avenue, blanketed with golden leaves, offering a truly beautiful spectacle.

Transportation: Take Subway Line 4 or the Daxing Line to the Old Summer Palace Station, exit from Gate B, and it’s about a 5-minute walk to the south gate of the Old Summer Palace.

Admission: A through ticket costs 25 yuan per person. Entrance to the main gate and the panoramic sand table model exhibition hall is 10 yuan per person, and access to the ruins of the European-style buildings is 15 yuan per person.

Avoiding Pitfalls

The Old Summer Palace

Ticket Purchase Guide:

  1. Tickets to the Yuanmingyuan Ruins Park can be bought through the WeChat official account “Yuanmingyuan Ruins Park”.
  2. Tickets can be purchased up to two weeks in advance, with new tickets released daily at midnight.
  3. Generally, advance purchase is not necessary; tickets are readily available at the park. However, for major holidays, it’s advisable to buy tickets 37 days in advance.

Yuanmingyuan Attractions:
The famous Western-Style Mansion ruins are not located in the Yuanmingyuan area but in the northernmost part of the Changchunyuan area. Visitors aiming for the Western-Style Mansion should enter directly through the East Gate to avoid the longer route from the South Gate.

The Old Summer Palace

Yuanmingyuan Park is divided into three sections: Yuanmingyuan, Changchunyuan, and Qichunyuan. Changchunyuan and Qichunyuan feature boat rides, the Western-Style Mansion, and the Horse Head Sculpture exhibition and are well worth a visit.

In contrast, Yuanmingyuan mostly consists of landscaped parkland with less ornamental and entertainment value; those short on time might opt to skip it.

During peak seasons like holidays, it’s recommended to purchase a through ticket. If traveling during the off-season, call ahead to check the availability of attractions before deciding whether to buy a through ticket or a single ticket.

Be aware that the distances to attractions indicated on signposts are not accurate and tend to overestimate the actual distance. Instead of walking, consider taking a boat, sightseeing vehicle, or renting a bicycle.

Park Expenses:
In-park prices are quite high, with beverages costing between 18 to 25 yuan. It’s recommended that visitors bring their own food and water.

Itinerary Plan

The best time to visit the Old Summer Palace is during the summer and autumn seasons, when you can see the ponds full of lotus flowers or the golden ginkgo-lined avenues.

You also have the opportunity to take a boat directly to the Western Mansions ruins and enjoy the superb views. Moreover, the summer and autumn closing times are later compared to the winter and spring, with the garden closing at 7 PM, allowing for a longer visiting window.

The Old Summer Palace is vast with numerous attractions, so it can be challenging to see all the sights in one day. We advise visitors to decide in advance which spots they want to see and to plan their route accordingly.

Recommended Half-Day Itinerary (3-4 hours):
Enter through the East Gate of the Old Summer Palace – Western Mansions Ruins Area – Take a boat from the dock across the Fuhai Lake – South Gate of the Old Summer Palace

Recommended Full-Day Itinerary (6-7 hours):
Zhengjue Temple – Horse Head Sculpture Exhibition – Jianbi Pavilion – Tianxin Water Area – Hanqiugu Pavilion – Three-Arch Bridge – Immortal Bearing Dew Platform – Junction of the Three Gardens (take the West Circuit bus around the Old Summer Palace for one loop) – Junction of the Three Gardens (take a boat) – Western Mansions Ruins – Panoramic Model Exhibition Hall – East Gate of the Old Summer Palace

Detailed Guide

  1. If you’re entering the scenic area through Qichunyuan, don’t rush to the South Gate of Yuanmingyuan right after getting off the subway. Instead, enter through the nearby Zhengjue Temple.
  2. Outside the South Gate, you can rent a Beidou Smart Interpreter for 29 yuan per device. However, free guided tours are available on the official WeChat account “Yuanmingyuan Ruins Park.”
  3. Before starting your tour, consider purchasing a “collectible stamp passport” at Zhengjue Temple near the South Gate. There are 10 collection points within the area, including Zhengjue Temple, Jianbi Pavilion, Fuchun Hall shops, Yushui Workshop shops, Sankong Bridge shops, Sankong Bridge cultural and creative store, Liuxiangzhu shops, Mingchunmen shops, the ruins of the Western-style buildings’ Huanghua Formation shops, and the Wenyuange Research Base next to the Lotus Base. Collect all 54 stamps and receive a hidden seal at the Qingshi Bookstore near the South Gate.
  4. The gathering point for various forms of transportation within the park is at the intersection of the three gardens, where you can choose from bicycles, boats, and electric cars. During undercover visits, the rental rate for bicycles is 60 yuan per hour for a two-person bike and 80 yuan per hour for a four-person bike, with an additional 450 yuan deposit required. Bicycles must be returned before 5 p.m. each day. The electric car route goes from the Western-style buildings’ ruins to the intersection of the three gardens and ends at the Changchunyuan Palace Gate, with tickets priced at 15 yuan per person and commentary provided on board.
  5. Boat ticket sales hours are from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. in March, April, September, and October, and from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. from May to August. From the South Gate Wharf to the Western-style buildings’ ruins wharf, the fare is 25 yuan per person, which is an option for visitors there. From Haiyue Opening Wharf to the Panoramic Model Wharf, the ticket is 20 yuan per person, suitable for those wishing to view the lotuses.
  6. Luggage storage lockers are available outside the park entrance, with prices varying based on the size of the locker, ranging from 5 to 12 yuan every two hours.
  7. Most parking lots for Yuanmingyuan scenic area are concentrated near the Qichunyuan Gate, with three lots available, and two at Changchunyuan. Self-driving visitors may consider entering through Qichunyuan.

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