A mere 40-minute drive from Dongzhimen, a trip to the Beijing Botanical Gardens is perhaps the quickest and easiest way to escape the city and immerse yourself in nature; hell, most cab drivers will take you out there. Pay the meagre 10RMB entrance fee and meander through these beautiful gardens; a rambling, exquisitely cultivated space made up of 12 unique areas specialising in different plants, of which there are over 6,000.
Walk straight ahead to the Peony Garden and amble among the 200-plus examples of this traditional Chinese flower. Favoured by emperors and courtesans since the Tang Dynasty (618 AD-907 AD), the flower is an ancient symbol in China and is known, unofficially, as the PRC’s national flower. Due reverence is paid here with a beautiful arrangement of species. Keep going to the equally beautiful rose garden – a large square with parkbenches reminiscent of a garden in an English stately home – or turn left towards the greenhouses.
These rusty, grubby-windowed hotboxes might not look much on the outside, but they hide a world of tropical, rare species of plant inside. The greenhouses are a maze of over a dozen interconnected rooms, meaning you can walk between different areas without going outside – the perfect way to get stuck into nature on a rainy day. For colder and wetter days there is also the Tropical Conservatory, boasting 9,800 square metres of indoor space to the west of the gardens. Every plant in the garden is labelled in English and Chinese (although, frustratingly, many labels only give the Latin names rather than their common household names in English) and the various areas also have large information boards in both languages. Some provide useful information, some are less useful – we could have died happy without knowing that peonies are used to treat gynaecological diseases, for example.
That aside, the botanical gardens make for a fun family day out – the signs make the trip educational if you want, but can just as easily be ignored. This place, after all, is mostly all about strolling along the winding paths and breathing in the fresh air and fragrant flowers. LW
Get there Take Line 1 to Pinguoyuan (苹果园) and then bus 318 (5am-10.20pm) to Beijing Botanical Garden (北京植物园). It takes about one hour and 30 minutes from Pingguoyuan to Beijing Botanical Gardens.
Okay, so we cheated a bit. Chaoyang Park isn’t outside the city, not by a long stretch. But as the biggest slice of nature within the Fifth Ring Road – replete with lakes, grassy knolls, and even a couple of small forests – it’s the best place to get into nature without going out of your way.
But if taking in the natural beauty is a bit too sedate for your liking, the park also has an outdoor laser tag course. Named after, and based on, first-person shooter video game Counter Strike, the action has made the jump from the virtual world to reality near the east gate of the park. The game is essentially laser tag, but outdoors – no sticky floors, black lights or sweaty teenagers to be found here. In fact, the course is an outlandishly fun way to get some exercise and run around a beautiful forest unleashing your inner child. By blasting people with laser guns.
Before the battle begins, each player is kitted out with a camouflage vest and hat, and attached laser sensors. A plastic gun, equipped with videogame-esque shooting and reloading sound effects, completes the look.
Players divide themselves into two camps and navigate the park’s tree-laden terrain to outwit and outmatch each other. Abandoned cars, sandbags, tyres and wooden boards are scattered throughout the battlefield, providing shelter from oncoming laser rays. Running through the course, ducking behind trees, and leaping to the safety of your team’s camp really is as fun as it sounds. This is an activity best shared with friends (groups over 16 people need to book in advance) but those who go it alone will find it hard not to develop camaraderie with their brothers and sisters in plastic arms. Cole Delbyck
Joyee Ray War Chaoyang Park East Gate, Chaoyang district (8586 1947; www.joyeecs.com). Open 9am-11pm. 50RMB for one hour. 朝阳区朝阳公园 公园东门