"I wanted to do something far from my intellectual and physical home, so I went to live in Beijing for eight months and took Mandarin Chinese." — Mira Sorvino
We had the opportunity to visit China a couple of summers ago, and my most favorite city was Beijing. I felt as though I was stepping into a city of two worlds. I often stopped to admire how the old world co-existed with the new world of China — the two worlds colliding in architecture, streets, food and overall culture. The quintessential shops with bright Chinese lanterns bobbing in front offered all of the typical tourist fare, yet it all is authentically made in China. The old world has been preserved through the cobblestone roads and buildings lined by beautiful gardens rioting in springtime hues, and the new world high-rise buildings with unique, eye-catching architecture are now towering over these quaint storefronts.
The streets of Beijing are scrubbed to the smooth, bare pavement and crowded with modern cars, which are built all over the world. We had the opportunity to visit Tian'anmen Square, a vast 109-acre pavement that lies in front of The Forbidden City, the ancestral home of the ruling family. It's called The Forbidden City because peasants, or common people as our guide referred to them, were forbidden to enter. However, it was a national holiday the day we visited, and there were plenty of us 'peasants' there that day. The complex is laid out with gates leading to vast courtyards with workshops and residences lining the sides. The architecture is traditional Chinese with the upturned roof corners sporting small decorative images. A massive image of Mao Zedong hangs over the gate overlooking the square. He still is honored as the founding father of the People's Republic of China. The Forbidden City is the largest and best preserved ancient architectural complex in the entire world, and Tian'anmen Square is the world's largest famous city square.
Beijing holds many magnificent sights that set both national and world records, including the Great Wall of China — the longest man-made structure in the world. Spanning 13,170.7 miles, the Great Wall of China is four times the distance of traveling coast to coast in the United States, making it a must-see stop along your China travels.
FUN CITY FACTS ABOUT BEIJING
1. BEIJING IS THE CULTURAL CENTER OF CHINA.
Beijing has abundant historic sites, plenty of large museums and many traditional Chinese architectural structures to be explored. Because of the city's long history and deep cultural roots, it is no surprise that Beijing is the most popular destination in China. Learn more.
2. BEIJING WASN'T ALWAYS CALLED BEIJING.
In fact, the city has such a rich and deep history, with different people throughout the centuries all vying for control of what was once known as the City of Ji. It has also been known as Nanjing, Zhongdu, Dadu, Yanjing and Beiping. Beijing literally translates as Northern Capital. Learn more.
3. CHINA'S OFFICIAL LANGUAGE IS MOSTLY BASED ON THE BEIJING DIALECT.
The official point of view is that both proper pronunciation in standard Chinese and Mandarin Chinese is based on the Beijing dialect and accent. If you want to learn the Chinese language, there are few better places to learn than Beijing. Learn more.
4. BEIJING IS THE BICYCLE CAPITAL OF THE WORLD.
Many people consider Amsterdam the bicycle capital of the world; however, Beijing is truly the capital with a huge amount of real estate dedicated to bicycle paths and parking. In fact, at rush hour, traveling by bike is much faster than by car. Learn more.
6. BEIJING IS HOME TO THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA.
Although it is technically located 80 km from the city's center, Beijing is home to the Great Wall of China. The Great Wall of China is the world's largest and longest wall, and overall an awe-inspiring feat of ancient defensive architecture. Learn more.
8. CHINA'S NATIONAL STADIUM, OR THE BIRD'S NEST, IS LOCATED IN BEIJING.
Originally constructed for the Summer Olympics in 2008, the Bird's Nest is the world's largest steel structure and the most complex stadium ever built. It was designed by Ai Weiwei. Learn more.
9. BEIJING CAPITAL INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT IS THE SECOND BUSIEST AIRPORT IN THE WORLD.
The Beijing Capital International Airport is essentially a city on its own, servicing over 100 million travelers annually. It also has its own fire department, power generation and law enforcement. Learn more.
10. BEIJING HAS SEVEN UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES.
Beijing is home to seven UNESCO World Heritage sites — The Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Summer Palace, Ming Tombs, Zhoukoudian, as well as parts of the Great Wall and the Grand Canal.
Jaq Jaq Bird's Cities of Wonder Erasable Book Collection allows children to trace and illustrate their travels, in-person or imaginary, all while learning to love the world around them. Each book includes an educational, interactive map guide featuring landmarks, facts and more about the city.