Beihai is an extremely popular park among Beijingers and tourists alike. It is very large (68.2 hectares), and almost two-thirds of it is a lake. The park sits in the centre of Beijing, and it used to be the royal garden of the Kin, Yuan, Ming and Qing Emperors. It was first built in 1166 and was completed in 1179. Its layout was designed on the idea of an ancient fairy tale about Three Immortal Mountains at sea, which are called the Jade Isle, the Round City and the Rhinoceros Hill Platform. The park is rife with greenery and assorted pavilions, corridors and gardens abound.
Besides the lake, the main things to see in Beihai are the Round City, which contains a jade vase from the time of Kublai Khan; the Temple of Eternal Peace; the Nine Dragon Screen, which is really a 5-metre-high, 27-metre-long wall covered with glazed tiles carved into nine intertwining dragons; and the White Dagoba on Jade Isle in the centre of the lake.
The Jade Isle, the center of the park, features luxuriant trees and a host of temple halls. Atop the isle is the 35.9-meter-high White Dagoba, on which one can have a bird's-eye view of Beijing.
Opposite the Jade Isle across the lake are many beautiful structures of different styles, such as the Five-Dragon Pavilion, the hall of Celestial Kings and the Nine-Dragon Screen.
In addition, the park also has unique and quiet small gardens including the Haopu Creek, the Huafangzhai Hall and the Quiet-Heart Pavilion, which are important imperial gardens in North China.
In summer, Beihai is an ideal place to go to escape from the blazing summer heat. You can paddle around in a bizarre assortment of boats. There are odd, duck-shaped paddle boats, and two types of motor boats: three-seater regular and one-person UFOs (you have to see it to understand). In the winter, the lake freezes over and Beihai turns into a huge skating rink.
Within Beihai is also the famous Fangshan Restaurant, the best-known of the Imperial Court style restaurants where you can eat Qing Dynasty type food, for a pretty penny.
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