How do you visit the Temple of Heaven, a popular Beijing attraction, on a luxury cruise through China? Most cruise lines offer a land extension to China’s capital city that’s well worth the time, money, and effort.
When cruises visit China, they dock at Tianjin for a couple of nights so that guests can overnight in Beijing. Another alternative that I don’t recommend is enduring a day-long (as in over 11 hours) shore excursion to the city.
Alan and I visited Beijing on a shore excursion when we sailed on Regent Seven Seas Mariner from Vancouver to Singapore. Regent offered all passengers transportation to and from Beijing plus one night’s free stay, with the option to purchase a second night, which we did.
Our accommodations at The Regent Beijing Hotel were luxurious and convenient. Although the ship’s tour office offered free tours in Beijing, Alan and I hired a private guide, who unfortunately has closed her guiding service. The Temple of Heaven, a UNESCO World Heritage site, was one of the highlights of our private day tour in Beijing.
How to visit the Temple of Heaven
Most baby boomer visitors to The Temple of Heaven in Beijing, China, are awed by the sheer magnitude of the Taoist complex. Did you know that it’s three times larger than The Forbidden City? And oh those colors at the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests.
The intricately designed buildings with their blue-tiled conical roofs and red facades are impressive and particularly photogenic. But what delighted me the most, when Alan and I arrived to explore, were the Chinese boomers hanging out in Temple of Heaven Park that surrounds the complex of religious buildings.
The sea of parked bicycles was our first clue that something big was happening here. After entering the gate, we walked down the sidewalk shaded by cypress trees that are hundreds of years old. But we soon learned that we had not happened upon some important event.
“No,” said Jane, our Chinese guide, “This is every day life for retirees in Beijing.”
Chinese boomers having fun at The Temple of Heaven Park
It was like New York’s Central Park on steroids. To my left, a group of boomers practiced Tai Chi. On my right, men and women retirees exercised using fans. And then there were the badminton tournaments or chess for the more sedentary Chinese baby boomer.
Dancers clogged the sidewalks as their leaders shouted instructions. One group practiced ballroom dancing while another danced the jitterbug. I had to restrain myself from dragging Alan over to join the fun.
Continuing the walk toward the entrance to The Temple of Heaven, we turned a corner to discover a woman and man entertaining a crowd. Dressed in a pink sweater, blue jean skirt and yellow shoes, the woman sang and danced to her partner’s harmonica accompaniment.
Across the way, a male opera singer belted out an aria as an older gentleman wearing war medals pinned to his coat pocket listened intently.
The amount of things to do, combined with people watching, was an overwhelming experience. It turned out to be my favorite part of the day.
Going back in Chinese history
Entering through the ticket gate at The Temple of Heaven (purchase skip-the-line tickets here), we moved from the world of the Chinese retiree to an era (beginning in the 1400’s) when the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties prayed for the optimum time to plant and for a successful harvest.
Joining the crowd of tourists, both local and international, we marveled at The Hall of Prayer For Good Harvests. The round building with three-tiered roof is made of wood but no nails were used in the construction.
Another must-see sight, The Imperial Vault of Heaven, houses stone tablets (God’s tablets) used in the harvest prayer ceremony. And then there is the Circular Mound Altar which hosted Winter Solstice ceremonies.
Our adventure at The Temple of Heaven could have lasted an entire day, but we had more of Beijing to see. When we left, the crowd in the park had thinned out, although small clusters of boomers were deep into conversation. Jane explained that Chinese parents come here to make a wedding match for adult children who are too busy with careers to care about marrying.
Tips for visiting The Temple of Heaven
- Expect crowds. This is a very popular Beijing attraction. Go in the morning, if you can.
- Photography is hard due to the crowds. Don’t expect to capture the perfect photo.
- Air pollution is part of the experience. On my three trips to China, I’ve never seen a clear sky. If you are allergic to air pollution, bring your allergy medications and consider wearing a mask.
More must-see China destinations
- Visit the Great Wall of China, but choose a less popular area of the wall near Beijing, if you can.
- Take a Chengdu Panda tour. Wildlife watchers will love this one.
- See the spectacular Impression West Lake show in Hangzhou.
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