Beijing is much more than the Forbidden City the Great Wall. It offers a lot of well-hidden spots to have a look at if you decide to turn off the beaten path, and if you have an extra day in Beijing.
You can visit
the Stone Carving Art Museum in Beijing – off the beaten Path in Beijing
The museum is known as the Five Pagoda Temple and is located about 200 metres behind the North Gates of the famous Beijing Zoo.
With its original name “Zhenjue Temple”, it was first constructed during the Yongle years (1403-1424) of the Ming dynasty and completed in 1473. At that time, an Indian monk came to China to present statues of the five Buddhas to Emperor Chengzu, and a draft of an Indian diamond throne pagoda. The Temple suffered two major fires in 1860 and in 1900, but its stone structure remained.
The idea to open a stone carving museum was inspired by the remains of the Vajrasana Pagoda of this temple.
museum, which was opened in 1987, is arranged along the four sides of the Temple, and hosts stone inscriptions, an epitaph section, records of calligraphy, tables of merit, and stone carvings.
In the museum there are several classrooms for educational activities, but all information is provided only in Chinese. There is a play area for children.
The Garden of the Museum
This museum has a vast garden filled with fantastic stone sculptures and columns from the Beijing region. It is very popular with Chinese art school students; you can see them sitting and drawing silently near an ancient stone sculpture. The museum is heaven for those who, like me, enjoy wandering without crowds – and remember, crowds are common in China!
It is peaceful, rich in history, and with few people. You can enjoy its calmness even during busy tourist seasons. There are some tables and chairs, which hinted that maybe tea and coffee was served in the garden, but unfortunately it was not open when I was there.
I recommend visiting this museum to learn about the ancient stone carving tradition in China, to better understand some of the bridge decorations in Beijing (like the Marco Polo Bridge), or simply to have a rest from the busy megapolis.
The address: No. 24 Wutasi Village, Haidian District 100081.
Open: 9:00-16:30 (closed on Mondays).
Admission fee: 20 RMB
Getting there: Bus No. 105, 107, 111 to Baishiqiao East; Bus No. 320, 332, 695, 808, 814. Subway line 4, line 9 to National Library of China.
Driving Routes: Drive via the Capital Stadium and turn north and then drive east along the north bank of the Changhe River to the Museum.
Tianning Temple Tower – off the Beaten Path in Beijing
Luckily, I found this pagoda by accident. While passing by, I noticed an impressive octagonal tower that I had not seen before. When trying to enter the courtyard I was stopped by a strict guard – I was late – it was 3.50 p.m. The place is open for visiting only until 4 p.m. I tried to convince him to let me in – in vain.
After several months, I returned as I was intrigued by this tall building, which is visible from afar.
Again, this is not a common tourist attraction, and few visitors are there, even though it is one of the tallest ancient buildings in Beijing. It was constructed around 1100-1200 during the Liao Dynasty.
This pagoda is 57.8 metres tall, has thirteen stories, is made of stone and brick, and was erected on a square platform. It has no staircase, just arched doors with heavenly Buddhist guardians.
The pearl-shaped steeple structure of the tower was repaired after the Tangshan earthquake in 1976.
The small temple has very few tourists, just Chinese going there to pray.
You won’t spend a lot of time here – half an hour is usually enough.
My tip: This tower is quite often visited in combination with the White Cloud temple.
Admission is free.
Opening hours: 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Outside of the Guangan Gate, Xicheng District, 3 Tianngsi Front Street.
To get there: Bus No. 19, 40, 390, 823, 937, metro N. 2.