The Summer Palace is an elaborate ancient Chinese palace consisting of beautiful parks, colorful temples, lake, and imperial housing.
The Summer Palace is among the top places to see & do in Beijing, along with the Forbidden City and the Temple Of Heaven, especially for visitors and tourists.
As one of the most important historical monuments in Beijing, I highly recommend setting aside a few hours to explore this cultural masterpiece but there are some things that you should know before heading out to the Summer Palace.
Here is our guide covering all you need to know to visit the Summer Palace in Beijing, China:
- Where Is The Summer Palace Located
- How Do You Get There
- Entrance Fee
- Opening Hours
- Tours Of The Summer Palace
- What To See On Your Own
- My Visit
- Other Tips
Where Is The Summer Palace Located
The Summer Palace is an imperial complex located about 10 miles North West from Beijing’s city center.
The Summer Palace is one of the most popular attractions for those who are visiting Beijing, China. It’s also one of the few attractions that is not located in the city center so getting there takes a bit more time and planning.
The Summer Palace is quite big so plan to set aside half a day to explore it, especially if you plan to go on your own. I was there for 6 hours and still, there was a lot that I didn’t get to see.
How Do You Get There
During my time in Beijing, I mostly got around by taking the underground metro.
The Summer Palace is about an hour metro ride from Beijing’s downtown and it took me 3 metro transfers to get there. Thankfully the metro stop is right by the Summer Palace north entrance gate so getting to the palace isn’t too difficult.
With the help of Apple Maps taking the metro in Beijing is quite easy. When looking up directions on Apple Maps, select Transit option and the app will tell you which metro to take, where the metro station is located, which stops or transfers to get off on and which exit to take. All of the metro stations in Beijing are clearly marked with signs in English so getting around on the subway is quite easy.
I was staying in the east part of Beijing so I had to take the Line 1 train to Line 2 train and then transfer to Line 4 train towards Anheqiao North. From the Line 4 train, I took the Beigongmen exit and followed signs for exit C Southeast. The Beigongmen exit is just a few minutes walk from the Summer Palace north gate where you can purchase entrance tickets into the palace.
Getting There: Metro Line 4, exit Beignongmen
The Summer Palace has two types of entrance tickets that you can get: a basic Entrance Ticket for 30 Yuan ($4 USD) or an all-inclusive Through Ticket for 60 Yuan ($8 USD).
The general entrance ticket for 30 Yuan will give you a pass to enter the Summer Palace and see most of the attractions within it BUT there are a few areas within Summer Palace that this pass does not include.
If you want to enter any of the smaller attractions like the Tower Of Buddhist Incense, Garden Of Virtue And Harmony, Suzhou Street and Wechang Gallery, you’ll need to purchase the Through Ticket for 60 Yuan. The Through Ticket includes admission into the Summer Palace and these special areas within it.
On my visit, I got the Through Ticket for 60 Yuan. With the cheaper Entrance Ticket you can still see and access A LOT within the Summer Palace but I didn’t want any restrictions on my visit so I just went with the Through Ticket.
Basic General Ticket: 30 Yuan
All-Inclusive Ticket: 60 Yuan
In the summer season, The Summer Palace gates open at 6:30 am BUT note that most of the attractions within this imperial palace don’t open until 8:30 am. I’ve gone to a few imperial temples and parks in Beijing like The Temple Of Heaven in hopes to shoot sunrise there just to find out that none of the buildings inside are accessible until later in the morning.
Early morning is still the best time to visit any of the major attractions in Beijing. I arrived at the Summer Palace at around 10 am and it was already starting to get a bit busy.
I highly suggest arriving at around 9 in the morning after the park attractions open. The crowds are much lower in the morning compared to the afternoon and the weather is much more pleasant.
In the afternoon the Summer Palace starts clearing out at around 3 pm although the gates are open until 6 pm.
In the slower winter season, the Summer Palace opens later, although the hours don’t vary too much through the year.
Summer Hours (April – October)
- Park Gates: 6:30 am to 6 pm
- Attractions: 8:30 am to 5 pm
Winter Hours (November – March)
- Park Gates: 7 am to 5 pm
- Attractions: 9 am to 4 pm
Tours Of The Summer Palace
Most of the places that I visited in Beijing I went to on my own. But truthfully the Summer Palace is the one place that I wish I had arranged a tour guide for.
One of the main reasons for this is because the Summer Palace is just so enormously big and I felt a bit lost in this imperial complex. The Summer Palace layout is not super straight forward and I spent a lot of time backtracking to things that I had already seen.
The second reason is that without a tour guide I felt like I didn’t really learn too much on my own. While there were a few plaques around the Summer Palace explaining a little bit about the history of the complex in English, the information provided overall was very limited.
I even rented one of the automated audio guides at the entrance in hopes to learn more about the Summer Palace but the information in the audio tour was short and difficult to hear. The audio tour cost 40 Yuan ($6 USD) + 50 Yuan ($7 USD) deposit that you get back once you return it.
While you can certainly visit the Summer Palace on your own, I would recommend going with a tour like this Get Your Guide one.
I took one of the GYG tours in Beijing and it was well organized, professional and informative.
What To See On Your Own
If you do decide to visit the Summer Palace on your own, there are a lot of different attractions and highlights to see at this imperial complex. The Summer Palace is quite big and feels more like a mini-city with over 3000 different buildings and structures.
Some of the highlights of the Summer Palace include the imperial garden, palaces, various temples, Kunming Lake, hallways, bridges, and other cultural monuments.
Unlike the layout at The Temple Of Heaven or The Forbidden City, The Summer Palace is not symmetrical so there are multiple routes that you can take.
Most people start at the North entrance and make their way south while stopping at these attractions:
- Suzhou Market
- Longevity Hill
- Garden Of Virtue And Harmony
- Hall Of Benevolence
- 17 Arch Bridge
- Long Corridor
- Marble Boat
When you’re ready to leave, you can backtrack to the North gate or exit at one of the gates on the east side of the palace.
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During my visit at the Summer Palace, I started at the north entrance, did a big loop of the palace and exited back at the north gate. The north gate is where the closest metro station is located so many people start and end up here.
Starting from the north entrance the first place that I saw was the Suzhou Market. You can see the Suzhou Market from a bridge that leads into the Summer Palace or head down to the lakefront and walk around the market itself. Note that you will need a Through Ticket to enter the Suzhou market.
The Suzhou market was built to resemble a commercial market from Suzhou City in China. The legend says that one of the emperor’s favorite mistresses was from Suzhou and the emperor built this market because she missed her home.
In ancient times, the Suzhou market was set up to be more like a play where the palace workers acted like shopkeepers from Suzhou whenever the emperor visited this market. Now the market is full of shops, tea houses, and restaurants that the Summer Palace visitors can enjoy.
After the Suzhou Market, the main road leads into the Longevity Hill. The Longevity Hill is one of the main areas of the Summer Palace where you can visit Buddhist temples, pavilions and roam around the park.
Coming from the north entrance you’ll first reach the back of the Longevity Hill. This part of the hill has a set of beautiful Tibetan style temples called The Four Great Regions that represent the four directions of the world. In the center of these buildings is the praying hall with giant Buddha statues where visitors can pray.
From here I had a little bit of a hard time figuring out my bearings. After the Four Great Regions, I started walking to the left and I totally missed the Tower Of Buddhist Incense, the centerpiece of the Longevity Hill.
The next section of the Summer Palace that I visited was the Garden Of Virtue And Harmony. This part of the Summer Palace was used as living quarters, to entertain guests, and meet with political and diplomatic officials.
Inside the Garden Of Virtue And Harmony is the Great Stage, the largest stage in ancient China that was used to watch Peking Opera during the imperial times.
There are a lot of buildings in this area that visitors can access with the standard Entrance Ticket, but if you want to go inside the Garden Of Virtue And Harmony you’ll need the Through Ticket. I highly suggest seeing this part of the complex since it has some of the most elaborate and colorful imperial structures that I saw in Beijing.
After leaving the Garden Of Virtue And Harmony I walked along the Kunming Lake to the South Lake Island that was used to pray for rain and offer incense. The South Lake Island itself wasn’t too impressive but the 17 Arch Bridge leading into the island was quite picturesque.
The Seventeen-Arch Bridge is decorated with white marble statues and has nine arches built in each direction underneath it, the lucky number in China.
From the small island, I backtracked north along the lake and walked through the Long Corridor that connects different temples on the front part of the Longevity Hill. The Long Corridor was built so the royal family can be protected from rain and snow while walking between different buildings.
This corridor is one of the longest corridors in China and the inside part of it is painted in colorful scenes with different seasons and animals. In ancient China, most of the buildings were made of wood so paint was used to prevent the wood from rotting. Over the years the paintings became more elaborate and detailed and turned into a craft of its own.
The last main stop on my visit was the Marble Boat. The Marble Boat is a boat-shaped structure made of stone block and wood pieces that were painted to look like marble. Although the Marble Boat is shaped like a boat, you can’t actually set sail on it. Instead, it was used as a meeting space for the emperor to have tea and banquets.
After the Marble Boat, I strolled through the park towards the north exit where I took the metro back into the city center.
Before you head out to the Summer Palace, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- The Summer Palace imperial complex is enormously big so you’ll be doing A LOT of walking. Make sure to wear comfy clothing and shoes since many of the surfaces at the park are uneven.
- If you go in the summer, note that the weather can be really hot and sunny. I highly recommend bringing extra water, a hat, and sunscreen. There are a few stores within the Summer Palace where you can buy water but it’s always a good idea to bring some on your own.
- There aren’t many food choices within the Summer Palace so bring along snacks or lunch. I ended up eating a quick meal at one of the little markets inside the palace but the food wasn’t too great.
- During my visit, I was at the Summer Palace for 6 hours. I always bring along a portable charger in case my phone battery dies, especially when I’m gone all day long. You don’t want to get stuck this far away from the city center without being able to look up directions or a place to go eat after.
- Whenever I visit any of the major attractions in China I always bring along my passport. You never know if you’ll need to show it at the ticket booth so it’s a good idea to have it on you.
Interested in how I capture amazing photos on my trips? Here is my suggested camera gear that I use to create my photos:
- Main camera: Sony a7II Camera With 28-70 mm Standard Lens
- Polarizer Filter for the standard lens (helps eliminate reflection and enhance color especially on super bright days): Amazon Basics 55 mm
- Wide Lens (great for landscape and building shots): Sony 16-35 mm F4
- Polarizer Filter for the wide lens: Amazon Basics 72 mm
- Small Tripod (to stabilize photos and eliminate blur): JOBY Gorrilapod
- Memory Cards: SanDisk 32 GB
- Batteries: Wasabi Power battery charger and extra battery pack
- Camera Bag: Lowepro weather-resistant bag
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