Beijing is the natural starting point for our first-time visitors to the People's Republic. It is here that you will explore centuries of extraordinary history and observe modern life in a thriving 21st century China. In the sprawling 15th century Forbidden City, on the sacred steps of the Temple of Heaven and in the landscaped gardens of the Summer Palace, you can relive the might and power of the Dynastic years, when all-powerful emperors ruled over China. Better yet, we'll get there early to observe the elderly locals who rise early to take communal exercises in the park and gather to sing their red songs.

In the vast Tiananmen Square, the uncompromising communism of the Chairman Mao era is embodied in the brutal Soviet style buildings which line this immense public space. Venture into the ancient hutong alleyways to find pockets of life largely untouched by the explosive capitalism of recent years. The younger generation might be moving to the outskirts, but these streets are still home to many Mao-era Beijingers.

But Beijing is not all about the past; micro-breweries, contemporary hotels and the flourishing 798 Art District lend the city a young, creative and dynamic edge. Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism thrive and coexist harmoniously, celebrated and worshipped in magnificent temples.

Beijing is also the place to access the mythical Great Wall of China, both reconstructed and easily-accessed areas around an hour from the city, to our favourite wilder and atmospheric sections slightly further afield.

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