The Purple Bamboo Park (Zizhuyuan) is a cool respite in northwestern Beijing's Haidian district for those seeking a refreshing walk without the hassle of visiting a popular tourist site.
Covering 14 hectares near Beijing Zoo and National Library, Purple Bamboo Park is one of the seven largest parks in Beijing. The park encompasses 3 lakes and a canal that runs to the Summer Palace. The lakes are connected by a series of bridges and little islands dotted with benches and plenty of shade provided by an abundance of trees. The garden paths and lakeside benches are well-kept and the park is almost litter free.
The lakes served as a reservoir for the city's water supply during the 13th century, and the park was a favorite destination for city dwellers marking the "Pure Brightness" festival (Qingming) during the Ming dynasty. After the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the park was renovated and re-opened with its current crop of lush bamboo, scenic lakes and garden paths.
As its name suggests, the park is home to several bamboo gardens and over 50 varieties of bamboo can be found here.
Locals are especially fond of this park, making it a great location for foreigners to practice their Chinese. On the garden paths groups of elderly Beijing residents gather to play cards or mahjong. There's enough open space that small bands regularly set up to play for ballroom dancers.
The lakeside is a more restful retreat; here, visitors are more likely to find people relaxing on benches, blankets or fishing. Around the lakes mid-afternoon snacks can be taken in the teahouse and small concessions.
Each of the lakes has a boathouse, with a variety of pleasure boats for rent. The most charming of these have traditional style pavilions that shelter boaters from the sun. The lakes are well-kept and clean, flourishing with lily pads, lotus flowers, and families of ducks.
A scenic canal runs along the north side of the park, which once served as the water route to the Summer Palace. It was used by Qing dynasty Emperors and officials. Boats still cruise along the canal; the terminal can be found at the Exhibition Center near Xizhimen.
The Purple Bamboo Park is within walking distance of both the National Library and the Beijing Zoo, so visitors can easily cover more than one site in a day. A stone's throw from the Xizhimen transportation hub, the area is easily accessible from anywhere in the city.
Unlike some more popular outdoor attractions in Beijing' s northwestern Haidian District, such as the Summer Palace, the Purple Bamboo Park is free of charge and closes late in the evening.
The atmosphere at Purple Bamboo Park is a mix of activity and relaxation; there is easy access to other sites in the area and public transportation only adds to its appeal. What the park lacks in fame, compared with the city's other large public gardens, it makes up for in local culture and manicured beauty.