Escape the bustle of Beijing by heading 28km north to this Fragrant Hills Park.
First built in 1186, this 395 acre stretch of forestry, hills, and lakes has been enjoyed by Beijing's higher ups for centuries. However, you certainly don't need to be an emperor to appreciate the beauty found here. Explore the dozens of ancient sights that dot the park, such as Biyun Temple or the Vajrasana Pagoda, and make sure to take the cable car to the top of Xianglu for stunning views. Prime visiting time is in autumn, with the presence of the red leaves, but this park remains gorgeous year-round.
A good route is to follow the signs to Mao’s residence (Shuangqing Villa) for an hour-long stroll through the gardens. Be sure not to miss Jingcui Lake on your left. With lily pads resting on the glistening water and wilting willow trees all around, Jincui looks like a classic Chinese watercolour, so picture perfect it almost feels clichéd.
Shuanqing Villa is equally as beautiful. Mao stayed here in the summer of 1949, overseeing the last few months of the revolution. He directed ‘the crossing of the Yangtze River’ campaign from here – a battle that was one of the final few key victories for the Communists. As military bases go, it’s not a bad place to overthrow the decadent bourgeois class. You can also enter the modest villa to peer at his office and austere sleeping quarters.
Get there Take bus 360 (runs 5.30am-10pm) from Beijing Zoo (137 Xizhimenwai Dajie, Xicheng district, 6839 0274; 西城区西直门外大街137号) and get off at Fragrant Hills (Xiangshan; 香山) after 25 stops. It takes about an hour. The bus station is easy to find after you get out of the subway station (Beijing Zoo) on Line 4.