Beijing has more than enough sights to keep the average visitor busy. However, after traveling all this way, it would be a shame not to grasp the opportunity to get out of the city. Of course, the Great Wall of China is high on the list for any visitor, but beyond the bustle of Beijing there are also ancient temples nestled on green hillsides and the vast necropolis of the Ming emperors. To the southwest is the 300-year-old stone Marco Polo Bridge and neighboring Wanping, a rare surviving example of a walled city. Both are an easy suburban bus ride from Beijing. Alternatively, most hotels organize tours to these sights.

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1. Great Wall

When in China, a visit to the Great Wall is a must. The closest section to Beijing is at Badaling, and you can get there and back in half a day. However, if you suspect that your appreciation of this matchless monument would be improved by the absence of coach-loads of fellow tourists, then you might want to consider traveling that little bit farther to the sites at Mutianyu, Huanghua Cheng, and Simatai. This area tends to be fiercely hot in the summer, and bitterly cold in the winter. Go prepared with sunscreen and lots of water on warmer days, and with warm clothing layers on colder ones.

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A stretch of the Great Wall of China surrounded by green hills

2. Chun Hui Yuan Hot Springs Resort

prac_info 20 miles (33 km) N of Beijing • 6945 4433 • Bus 942 from Dong Zhi Men to Yu Zhuang, from the stop, turn left and walk just over 1 mile (2 km) to the resort, or take a taxi from Beijing • www.chunhuiyuan.cn

After a day of hiking or rock climbing, unwind at the Chun Hui Yuan Hot Springs Resort. Sink into a hot tub, swim in the pool, try a sauna, or book a spa treatment. Everything here is geared toward total rejuvenation.

3. Shidu

prac_info 62 miles (100 km) SW of Beijing • 6134 9009 • Bus 917 from Tianqiao station

With its stunning natural scenery, Shidu offers a fabulous escape from the commotion of urban Beijing. In the olden days, travelers had to cross the Juma River ten times to journey through Shidu and nearby Zhangfang village. The name Shidu means “Ten Crossings.” Pleasant walking trails wind along the riverbank between impressive gorges and limestone formations. Also located here are four vertigo-inducing glass bridges.

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Boating at the gorge in Shidu

4. Cuandixia

prac_info Near Zhaitang town, 56 miles (90 km) W of Beijing • 6981 9333 • Subway: Pingguo Yuan (1 hr), then taxi, or bus 892 (3 daily, last bus back at 3:35pm) • Adm

On a steep mountainside, Cuandixia is a picturesque hamlet of courtyard houses (siheyuan), most dating from the Ming and Qing dynasties. A ticket allows access to the entire village, which can be explored in a few hours. The population consists of about 29 families. Those wanting an experience of rural hospitality can arrange accommodations with a local family.

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The mountainside village of Cuandixia

5. Marco Polo Bridge

prac_info 10 miles (16 km) SW of Beijing • 8389 2521 • Subway: Dawayao, then taxi or bus 339 • Open 7am–8pm daily (Nov–Apr: to 6pm)

Straddling the Yongding River near the reconstructed Wanping fortress, this marble bridge, also known as Lugou Bridge, was first built during the Jin dynasty in 1189 but was destroyed by a flood. The current structure dates to 1698, and acquires its name from Marco Polo’s description of it in his treatise The Travels. The balustrades along the length of the bridge are decorated with over 400 stone lions, each one different from the rest. On July 7, 1937, the Japanese Imperial Army and Nationalist Chinese soldiers exchanged fire here, leading to war and the Japanese occupation of Beijing.

6. Stupa Forest Temple (Talin Si)

prac_info 28 miles (45 km) W of Beijing • 6086 2505 • Subway: Pingguo Yuan (1 hr), then bus 931 • Open 8am–5pm daily • Adm

Near the parking lot for the Tanzhe Temple is this even more fascinating temple, notable for its collection of brick stupas hidden among the foliage. Every stupa was built in memory of a renowned monk. The towering edifices were built in a variety of designs, and the earliest dates from the Jin dynasty (1115–1234).

7. Ming Tombs

The Ming Tombs are the resting place for 13 of the 16 Ming emperors. These are Confucian shrines and follow a standard layout of a main gate leading to a series of courtyards and a main hall, with a “soul tower” and burial mound beyond. The tombs are not as colorful and elaborate as Buddhist and Daoist structures, and only three are open to the public, but the necropolis is a worthwhile stop-off as part of an excursion to the Great Wall.

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Imposing statuary at the Ming Tombs

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Bronze statue at the Ming Tombs

8. Peking Man Site (Zhoukoudian)

prac_info 30 miles (48 km) SW of Beijing • 6930 1278 • Bus 917 or 836 from Beijing’s Tianqiao station to Fangshan, then taxi or bus 38 • Open 8:30am–4:30pm daily • Adm

In the 1920s, archeologists removed from a cave at Zhoukoudian some 40-odd fossilized bones and primitive implements, which they identified as the prehistoric remains of Peking Man. It was thought that this exciting discovery provided the much sought-after link between Neanderthals and modern humans. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the area is geared toward specialists, although the small museum has an interesting collection of tools and bone fragments. Peking Man himself is not here – his remains mysteriously disappeared during World War II.

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Diorama at the Peking Man Site

9. Tanzhe Temple

prac_info 28 miles (45 km) W of Beijing • 6086 2505 • Subway: Pingguo Yuan (1 hr), then bus 931 • Open 8am–5pm daily • Adm

This enormous temple dates back to the 3rd century AD, when it was known as Jiafu Si. It was later renamed for the adjacent mountain, Tanzhe Shan. It has a splendid mountainside setting, and its halls rise up the steep incline. The temple is especially famous for its odd-shaped, ancient trees. Eateries here may be overpriced, so bring your own lunch.

10. Longqing Gorge

prac_info 25 miles (40 km) NW of Beijing • Express bus 919 (5:45am–7pm) from Deshengmen station; get off at Yanqing Dongguan, then take bus Y15 or a taxi to Longqingxia • Open 7:30am–4:30pm daily (during Ice Lantern Festival, Jan & Feb: 9am–10pm daily) • Adm

About 25 miles (40 km) away from the bustle of Beijing, this area boasts lush landscapes. Adventure seekers can go bungee-jumping and zip-lining. Those wanting a more relaxing break can visit the Diamond Temple or go up to the top of the dam using the 846-ft- (258-m-) long Dragon Escalator.

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Colorful model of Longqing Gorge

MARCO POLO

Whether Venetian trader and explorer Marco Polo (1254–1324) ever visited China is much disputed. The book he dictated to a ghost writer, who embroidered it substantially, describes aspects of Far Eastern life in much detail, including paper money, the Grand Canal, the structure of a Mongol army, tigers, and the bridge that now bears his name. The Travels of Marco Polo, however, may be based on earlier journeys by his father and uncles, and stories from Arab Silk Road merchants.

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