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Temples, Beijing

China's insider take:

Beijing has dozens of ancient temples, some chaotic complexes, others quiet jewels. There are far too many to visit in one trip—but Beijing's three most famous temples are all must-sees.

Built during the Ming dynasty, the ornate Temple of Heaven was closed to commoners until 1912. Today, the main halls retain their splendor (helped by an ongoing renovation in preparation for the 2008 Olympics), and anyone can admire the magnificent architecture and stroll in the tranquil park (Yongdingmen Dajie, Chongwen District; 86-10-6702-8866).

North of the Temple of Heaven, the grand and gorgeous Lama Temple is often thronged with Tibetan Buddhists issuing clouds of purifying incense into the sky. The collection of buildings, with their imperial-yellow tiles, ornate halls, and formal gardens, were once the home of the Qing dynasty's Prince Yin Zhen. Today, the crowds of monks, worshippers, and tourists can make it feel like an enormous spiritual party (12 Yonghegong Dajie, Dongcheng District; 86-10-6404-4499).

The Confucius Temple has been a tranquil oasis amid the bustle of Beijing for 700 years. Built to honor the great Chinese philosopher, the main courtyard of this tiny temple has stone tablets carved with the names of all the scholars who passed the imperial civil service exam in the Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties. The temple halls are plain and visitors scarce, making this a peaceful spot to rest under the ancient gingko trees (13 Guozijian Jie, Dongcheng District; 86-10-8402-7224).

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