The visually striking Temple of Heaven was built between 1406 and 1420 during the reign of the Yongle emperor, who also ordered the construction of the Forbidden City. With its unique round structures and contrasting colors, this religious complex is an impressive reminder of China's rich history and an unmissable sight for visitors to Beijing.
The Temple of Heaven, designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998, occupies an area three times bigger than the Forbidden City and is the largest existing complex of ancient sacrificial buildings in China.
The Temple was built for the ceremonies carried out by the Chinese emperor, who was, according to the ancient beliefs, the Son of Heaven. The emperor had to offer sacrifices to heaven in order to pray for a good harvest. The ceremony was of the utmost importance to the Chinese people, who believed that the smallest mistake could result in a bad year for the entire nation, especially during the winter solstice.
Like most parks in China, the Temple of Heaven Park has four entrances, but the East Gate and the South Gate are the most commonly used by visitors. It is ideal to enter through the South Gate and exit through the East Gate, as this route will allow you follow in the footsteps of the emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties as they carried out annual ceremonies of prayer and sacrifice. This route will allow you to see all the important sacrificial buildings in the temple complex as well, including the Circular Mound Altar, the Imperial Vault of Heaven and Echo Wall, and the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests. Following this route, you also don't need to walk back through the park in order to exit.
The Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest is a must-see during your visit to the Temple of Heaven. The triple-gabled circular building is where the emperors performed ceremonies, including sacrifices and burning incense, to pray for good weather and abundant harvests. An interesting fact about this building is that it is completely wooden; no nails were used in its construction. This is quite remarkable considering the sheer size of the structure. While visitors can approach the hall and walk around it completely, please be aware that tourists are not allowed to enter the hall.
There are several types of tickets available at the ticket window. Be sure to buy the through ticket, which includes entry to both the park and the inside temples and halls.
The temples and palaces are surrounded by large areas of greenery, including a forest of ancient cypress trees. The park has plenty of benches and offers a shady area to stroll and relax after you complete your tour of the temple architecture.
The Temple of Heaven Park is a very popular place for locals engaging in martial arts and other activities, especially in the morning. Strolling around the park and watching (or even joining!) locals in their various morning activities is a unique cultural experience when visiting the park.
Temple of Heaven is full of culture and history, but there are few plaques or descriptions of what you are seeing, so it is best to hire a guide to get the most out of your visit.
Be sure to bring a hat and/or apply sunblock for sun protection; although there are many trees in the park itself, there are not many shaded areas around the main temple. Be sure to wear comfortable shoes as well, as the park is very large and will require some walking.
Just across the street from the East Gate is the famous Pearl Market (Hongqiao Market), where you can buy pretty much anything, including pearls, silk, clothing, jade, jewelry, electronics, watches, etc. It is an interesting market to explore if you want to shop for souvenirs.
Most areas of the Temple of Heaven complex are wheelchair accessible and accessible toilets are also available. Please note that the ramp leading up to the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvest is very steep and you may require assistance to go up it.
Opening hours: March-June: 8:00am-5:30pm / July-October: 8:00am-6:00pm / November-February: 8:00am-5:00pm
Entrance fee: April-October: 15 CNY; November-March: 10 CNY; Combo ticket (recommended): 35 CNY (April-October) / 30 CNY (November-March)
Average time for this activity: 1.5 hours
The East Gate of Temple Heaven can be easily reached by Subway Line 5 Tiantandongmen Station (Exit A). There are also many bus stops at the the East Gate and the South Gate.