Beijing (formerly Peking) is the political and spiritual capital of China. With a population of 15 million, it is China's second largest city after Shanghai. Now a very modern city, Beijing is full of imperial history. For a thousand years, the emperor sat enthroned here, at the center of the Chinese universe. He lived with his empress and giant harem in the gilded cage that was the Forbidden City and made offerings on behalf of the people at the Temple of Heaven. Beijing has long been a favorite with visitors to China, thanks to its mix of traditional and modern, its great sights and proximity to the Great Wall, and its many creature comforts. In addition to the famous Tian'anmen Square and Mausoleum of Mao, there are many fascinating sacred places (Buddhist, Confucian, Taoist, Muslim and more) to visit in Beijing. And thanks to its hosting of the Summer Olympics in 2008, the city's infrastructure is better than ever.
Temple of Heaven
Completed in 1420, this magnificent temple was considered the meeting point of Earth and Heaven. For 500 years it hosted the emperors' sacrifices and prayers for a good harvest at the winter solstice.
This temple is fairly touristy but is still worth a visit for its colorful 17th-century architecture. It is an active Tibetan Buddhist center, but one that is officially sponsored by the Chinese government.
White Cloud Temple
Once the most influential Taoist center in China, this recently renovated temple is now the home of 30 monks and the China Taoism Association. It is a lively place that is popular with pilgrims and devotees.
Niu Jie Mosque
There are around 200,000 Muslims in Beijing. The Niu Jie mosque in the Muslim Quarter of the city is a colorful building in Chinese style, with text in Chinese and Arabic.