The Summer Palace in Beijing was built as a royal garden for the Qing dynasty emperors and their families to relax, entertain and escape the city. It has in fact been rebuilt several times due to damage by wars and fires, but the architectural style still remains faithful to the original designs.
Most of the park is taken up by the giant Kunming Lake, which is surrounded by various pagodas and bridges. There is also a small island in the centre of the lake which is worth a visit, crossing the magnificent seven arched bridge. The palace itself is relatively small (certainly compared to the Forbidden City) but well-formed, with plenty of small courtyards and buildings to explore.
We also spotted several boat tours and similar activities on the lake – however these seemed to be rather overpriced. However, it might be good fun for younger children to play around in a small peddle boat on the water.
We only had a couple of hours at the summer palace, but you could easily spend the best part of a day here exploring the main complex and walking around the lake. In the summer, it was pretty busy with lots of tourists – however the further you walk away from the main entrances the quieter it gets.