Fragrant Hills | Recreational Escape from Beijing City

Fragrant Hills or Xiangshan Park is a public park and former imperial garden at the foot of the Western Hills in the Haidian District, about an hour Northwest by public transportation from downtown Beijing. It covers 160 ha and consists of a natural pine-cypress forest, hills with maple trees, smoke trees and persimmon trees, as well as landscaped areas with traditional architecture and cultural relics. The name derives from the park’s highest peak, Xianglu Feng (Incense Burner Peak), and it is a popular recreational spot for locals and visitors to enjoy panoramic views and hiking.

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I had spent two full days at home sitting next to the phone, waiting for the company to call and assign me a flight. But when you are on standby, things sometimes do not work out the way as you like them to. So when I finally received an information, that my scheduled day off would have to be turned into another day by the phone, at first I was not delighted at all.

But in the end, this time I shall be blessed with a two-days rotation to Beijing on my beloved A380.  And as it had already been about eight months since I have last visited China´s capital, it was the perfect opportunity to explore another highlight that the city has to offer: Fragrant Hills.

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Easy to reach by public transportation, Fragrant Hills is a popular location for locals and visitors to experience its natural surroundings, panoramic views in combination with the Cultural backgrounds of Imperial and  landscape architecture.

It is also highly recognized as one of the major tourist attractions in Beijing. When autumn arrives, the natural scenery in the park turns spectacular, with fiery red smoke tree leaves covering the mountain side. Every year, thousands of tourists ride the cable cars through the park in order see the hills in autumn colors. The grand opening of the annual Red Leaf Festival of Beijing takes place there.

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Even though I was way too early for Fall colors, April is also a nice time to visit as the temperatures are quite mild already (watch out for the fierce winds once you start climbing up the hills!) with the cherry trees in full blossom.

If you are fit and have no trouble climbing up steep stairs, there are two main routes through the park. One route goes through the north area, with Spectacles Lake (Yanjing Lake) and the bridge, Study of Reading Heart (Jianxin Zhai) and Bright Temple (Zhao Miao). Study of Reading Heart was built in the Ming dynasty (1368 to 1644) and is a landscaped park inside Fragrant Hills Park. Bright Temple is a large Tibetan style lamasery complex built in 1780 as the residence for the sixth Panchen Lama during his visits to the Qianlong Emperor. Buildings in the complex have partially been burned down. Among the surviving treasures are a majestic glazed-tiled archway in front of the complex, a terrace and a glazed-tiled pagoda. Bells hung on the eaves of the pagoda chime in breeze.

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The second route leads through the south area of the park. Main attractions along the route include Tranquility Green Lake (Jingcui Lake), Shuangqing Villa, Fragrant Temple, and Incense Burner Peak. This route is more difficult because it leads across the highest peak, Incense Burner Peak.

Another point of interest in the park is the Shuangqing Villa, once the residence of Mao Zedong and also an early site for the headquarters of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China.

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For those coming here to simply enjoy the views, a cable car leads all the way up to Incent Hill. The little village at the foot of the park provides kiosks, restaurants and souvenir shops.

If you can, try to visit during the week avoiding weekends. Then the numbers of people are much lesser. It is also a good idea to come here early in the morning hours (the park opens at 6:30 am, the cable car starts operation at 9:30). Most Chinese visit with their families and arrive around noon. So I found my timing from 8:30 until noon to prove perfectly for me.

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I was eager myself to reach the top of Incent Hill by foot, but as I felt a bit weak due to a little cold and the fact that I had forgotten to pack a windbreaker, I had to reverse in order not to risk to get even more sick. But no worries, there is plenty of beautiful hidden spots to explore and discover all around the park, too.

And due to the ever-changing air quality issues that Beijing has, being on top of the mountain does not necessarily guarantee you with a clear vista at all. But above that, I found the visit to be a wonderful chance to escape the hustle and bustle of the city for a bit. And if you wanted to, you could also combine Fragrant Hills with a detour to the Botanical Garden or Summer Palace.

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Getting to Fragrant Hills is also quite easy. Simply take metro Line 10 to Bagou Station and follow the signs to connect to Xijao Line (Western Suburban Line). The latter is rather a tram than a metro and you will have to buy a dedicated ticket, but it is not to be missed.

From the Fragrant Hills station, simply walk towards the mountains and you will arrive at either one of the main entrances from where you can conveniently begin exploring. Admittance to the park and the main temple is 15 Yuan. As always, I have enclosed a few snapshots from my time in the park. I hope, this information was a bit helpful and I wish you a wonderful time! Happy travels.

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