Tourists in Beijing usually visit the Temple of Heaven, the Lama Temple and the Temple of Confucius. They all are great and included on all tourist itineraries, and typically are full of local and foreign tourists. I like discovering new places of interest in the city I live in, so I can share with you some ideas on what to visit beyond the usual temples in Beijing.
This temple is located on Cuiwei Mountain, two kilometers northeast of Moshikou, Beijing, and 26 kilometers from the Beijing city center. It is situated on three terraces, and was first built in 1439, during the Ming dynasty.
It was built with money fundraised by Li Tong, a eunuch and favorite official of the Ming Emperor. The stele of the temple was inscribed by Emperor Zhu Qizhen, making the Fahai temple one of the most important temples in Beijing.
Today, only a few side rooms, the main hall and a few murals have survived. The most important part of the temple is the frescoes, which have a total area of 236.7 sqm. They have survived very well because of the original paint that was used by the best Ming dynasty artists that were working in the temple. The artists were recruited from all over China, and supervised by renowned court painters. These frescoes can be compared to the best examples of the Western Renaissance. They have survived for more than 500 years and are very impressive.
You can visit the murals only in organized groups led by a guide. Groups are allowed to enter once every hour.
When I visited the Temple, there was only a Chinese group, which I joined. The guide was excellent; she briefed me in English, then she led the group in Chinese, while I looked around on my own. The murals are in complete darkness, and visitors are asked to use torches to look at them. The murals of Fahai Temple are very much intact. They include 77 figures that depict a splendid gathering of Bodhisattvas. Every detail is visible, and the brushwork is impressive.
Location: 法海寺 No.28, Moshi Kou Dajie, Shijingshan District, Beijing
To get there:
The best way to reach the temple is by metro Line 1 to Pingguoyuan Station, then hire a cab for a 10-minute ride to the temple. I would advise you to pay the driver to wait for you until you finish, as the area is quite remote. You also can take buses 336, 621 or 537 from the station to the temple.
Bus Route: Bus No.31 1, 336, 337, 396, 746, 747, 959, 965, 972, 977; Underground railway to the station of Pingguoyuan, transfer to Bus 336 or 396 to Shougang Xiaoqu, then take Bus.311 to Moshikou Dongkou.
In summer you can visit the temple from 9.00 a.m. to 5.00 p.m. and until 4.30 p.m. in winter.
The price of admission is 20 RMB. If you want to visit the murals, it will cost you an extra 100 RMB.
White Cloud (Baiyun Taoist) Temple
This temple belongs to one of the three “ancestral courts” of the Quanzhen Sect of Taoism. It was built in 739 and underwent three significant renovations in 1706, 1714 and 1886. The current architecture of the temple is from the Ming and Qing dynasties.
The temple is one of the biggest in China and is also home to the Taoist Association. Taoists believe that understanding the Tao (the “way” or the “way of life”) comes from the direct observation of nature. It stems from the works of the Chinese philosopher, Lao Tsu.
There is a triple-arched entrance to the Temple, symbolizing the Taoist three worlds: Desire, Substance and Emptiness. It is spread throughout a vast area of 6,000 square meters, with many buildings that could be grouped into three sections: the Middle section, the East section and the West section. These buildings house the Tao gods. In the back area there is a beautiful garden.
While wandering around the temple area, you will meet Taoist monks, and you might have a chance to see people practicing tai chi, or hear Taoist chanting.
Again, it isn’t a typical tourist location; it is serene, calm and invites meditation. At the temple entrance, people rub the polished stone carving for happiness. Near the entrance, there is a single-span stone bridge, and visitors try to hit a bell that hangs under it with coins. If you hit it (it is not easy, by the way), it brings good luck.
The temple has signposting in English.
On the 19th day of the Lunar calendar the White Cloud Temple celebrates a festival.
The temple is not far from the impressive Capital Museum.
Address: 9 Baiyunguan Road, Xicheng District 西城区白云观街9号
Entrance Fee: CNY 10
Opening Hours: 08:30 – 16:30 (May to Sep.); 08:30 – 16:00 (Oct. to Apr.)
To get there:
1.Take Bus No. 26, 45, 319, 650, 695 or 717 and get off at the Bai Yun Guan (White Cloud Temple) stop.
2.Take Bus No. 19, 42, 49, 661, 732 or 823 and get off at the Tianningsi Bridge North stop.
By Metro: Line 1 to Muxidi station, take the exit Southeast C1.
Chinese Style Niujie Mosque
In the Muslim quarter of Beijing there is a well-hidden timber mosque. As you enter it, you are unlikely to identify it as a mosque, because the outside has features of Chinese Han architecture, and the inside is a mixture of Islamic calligraphy and Chinese design. It covers an area of around 10,000 square meters.
The Niujie Mosque, the oldest in Beijing, was first built in 996, during the Liao dynasty. It was destroyed by the armies of Genghis Khan in 1215, and was rebuilt in 1443 during the Ming Dynasty. It has undergone three significant reconstructions since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China: 1955, 1979 and 1996.
The center of the mosque is a worship hall. If you are not a Muslim, you cannot enter it, but you can still poke your head into the central prayer area to see the interior. The main prayer area is limited to men only; women have a separate prayer hall on the northeastern wing.
The Chinese government uses this mosque to meet senior officials from Muslim countries.
The mosque area is very peaceful, and with few people. It gets busier around 1.30 p.m. when Muslim worshipers come for prayer.
I have spent a couple of peaceful hours there to admire its architecture and simply to have a rest from the city noise.
Niujie Mosque: 18 Niujie (6353-2564). Open 8.30 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily. Exhibitions close at 4 p.m. Entry costs 5 RMB for Chinese nationals and 10 RMB for foreigners. 西城区牛街18号
To get there:
Bus: Take bus 10, 48, 88, 213 or 717 and get off at Niu Jie Li Bai Si (Niujie Mosque) Station.
Take bus 5, 6, 109, 381 or 613 and get off at Niujie Lukou Xi Station.
Take bus 57, 201 or 687 and get off at Niujie Lukou Dong Station.
Metro: Take Subway Line 2 to Changchun Jie Station. Leave from Exit C1 and walk about 1.5 km south to the mosque; or leave from Exit A and take bus 10 for only 4 stops to the Niujie Mosque.
St. Joseph Church
This church is known as Wangfujing Church or Dongtang/East Church. It is the most conspicuous cathedral in Beijing. St. Joseph’s Church is an early Romanesque Revival Church, one out of four Roman Catholic churches in Beijing.
The construction of the church was finished in 1655 by Jesuit missionaries. It was rebuilt in 1904, featuring pilasters and three bell towers. It has a mixture of European and Chinese architecture. The exterior of the building is constructed of grey brick with an impressive wooden interior. Surrounding the church is a large square and a park of 1.2 hectares.
The church faces west. The main hall is supported by 18 round brick columns with a square base. There are many oil paintings on both sides of the hall depicting the crucifixion of Jesus and other holy scenes.
I like this church because of its calming atmosphere and the nice surrounding area. It is close to the Wangfujing food street.
Mass is held in English on Sundays at 4 p.m.
Entrance is free.
: 74, Wangfujing Street, Dongcheng District, 东城区
To get there:
Take bus 103, 102, 104, 803, 814 or 808 and get off at Donganmen Shichang, then head north for about 300 meters. By metro, take Line 1 to Wangfujing station.