If you've survived "The Best of Beijing in 1 Day," you'll find that your second full-day tour takes in a different side of Beijing. Today we'll take you to the Lake district, our favorite city retreat, and a couple of impressive temples for good measure.
Start: Bei Hai Gongyuan.
1. Bei Hai Gongyuan (Bei Hai Park)
After all the grandeur you've just sampled, you'll find that this park, set around a lake carved out in the 12th century, provides a welcome change. On the south side of the park, Qiong Dao, an islet topped by a white dagoba built to commemorate the visit of the first Dalai Lama to the capital in 1651, is worth a quick look.
The north side of the park is more interesting, so catch a boat from the islet to the opposite side of the lake. Don't miss Daci Zhenru Bao Dian, one of the most impressive structures in Beijing.
Emerging from the north of the park, turn right and cross at the first set of lights to:
2. Qian Hai Hou Hai (The Lake District)
Qian Hai and Hou Hai's banks, now overflowing with alfresco bars, cafes, and the odd curio shop, were once exclusive areas for nobles and merchants. Prior to 1911, only people with connections to the imperial family were permitted to maintain houses and conduct business here. The present-day commercial fare on the main banks can be wearying, but the area's back alleys are still ripe for exploration. Walk northeast along Qian Hai Nanyan until you come to Yinding Qiao (Silver Ingot Bridge), the bridge that marks the boundary between Qian Hai and Hou Hai. From here you can watch the boats drifting along below, several of which come complete with zither players strumming out classics such as "Moon River" for foreign passengers. If you want your own Sino-Western serenade, you can rent boats with musicians from the small dock near the Lotus Lane entrance.
Cross Yinding Qiao, walk straight for 2 minutes, turn right on:
3. Tobacco Alley (Yandai Xiejie)
This little street is packed with cafes and small stores selling various trinkets, clothing from minority regions, and reproductions of Cultural Revolution memorabilia. Street vendors set up shop on the already narrow pathway and often sell fresh lollipops blown into animal shapes, or candied fruit kebabs.
Follow the alley until it ends at the main road. Walk 1/2 block directly north (left) to:
4. Drum Tower (Gulou)
The Drum and Bell towers lie on the northern part of the north-south axis that runs the length of central Beijing, through the center of the Forbidden City. You need to climb up only one tower's steep set of stairs, and your best bet is the Drum Tower. The upper chamber has replicas of traditional drums, which are showcased in performances several times per hour. Outside, a clear day provides a fantastic view of Hou Hai Lake to the west.
Take a Break -- Just across the street from the Drum Tower, on the right, is Excuse Café (68 Zhonglou Wan Hutong; tel. 010/6401-9867; daily 7:30am-10pm), serving terrific coffee and sandwiches.
Take a ¥10 cab east to:
5. Yonghe Gong (Lama Temple)
Though often referred to as the Lama Temple, Yonghe Gong actually translates as "The Palace of Peace and Harmony." But being one of Beijing's top tourist attractions, this temple is rarely peaceful. Try to ignore the crowds and roam around the many courtyards at a leisurely pace, exploring the temple's impressive offerings, such as a 6m (20-ft.) bronze statue of Tsongkapa (1357-1419), founder of the now dominant school of Tibetan Buddhism, housed in Falun Dian (Hall of the Wheel of Law). You'll find the temple's most prized possession in the last of the major halls, Wanfu Ge (Tower of Ten Thousand Happiness). There, standing 18m (59 ft.) tall, is the ominous Tibetan-style statue of Maitreya (the future Buddha), which was carved from a single piece of white sandalwood and was transported all the way from Tibet as a gift to Qianlong from the seventh Dalai Lama.
Exit Yonghe Gong, cross the street, and walk south for less than half a block. Turn right onto the street marked by a traditional Chinese arch. Walk for about 5 minutes to:
6. Confucius Temple (Kong Miao)
On a tree-shaded street lies China's second-largest Confucius Temple. Two stelae at the front instruct you in six different languages to park your horse. The Temple is the busiest before national university entrance examinations, when students and parents descend in droves to seek out the Great Sage's assistance. Students make a beeline for the main hall, Dacheng Dian. They throw their incense on the shrine rather than burn it because of fire regulations.
Take a Break -- Turn right when you exit Confucius Temple, and make a right down the next alley (Jianchang Hutong). At the end of the alley, make a right on Wudaoying Hutong and walk 183m (600 ft.) to Vineyard Café (tel. 010/6402-7961), on your left, which has excellent all-day dining, from healthy breakfasts and coffee to a good selection of Western pastas and pizzas, along with wines by the glass.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.