Beijing is a cultural haven for those interested in historic sites. Although the city's history as a capital of various Chinese states and dynasties can be traced back to about 2500 years ago, it has only consistently been the political center of China since 1421, when the Ming transferred their capital from Nanjing to the present site of Beijing and gave the city it's current name. (The only exception was at the beginning of the 20th century, when the Kuomintang moved the capital back to Nanjing.)
Many of today's well-known tourist attractions were built during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) dynasties. A number of them can be found within the second ring road, which corresponds to where the city walls once stood. Luckily, many of the traditional-style Beijing houses with inner courtyards, called hutongs, have also been preserved in this area.
Probably one of the most visited sights in Beijing is the impressively large, centrally located imperial palace, also known as the "Forbidden City", which was lived in by the emperors and empresses of the Ming and Qing dynasties. Just south of the Forbidden City is Tian'anmen Square. A giant portrait of former Chairman Mao Zedong keeps watch from the Tian'anmen Tower in the north. For those interested in a closer look, Mao's body can be viewed in the Mausoleum at the south end of the square.
In the northeast of central Beijing lies the Lama Temple (in Chinese "Yonghegong"), one of the largest Tibetan Buddhist temples in the world and still an active lamasery. A visit to Tiantan (Temple of Heaven) Park, located several kilometers south of the Forbidden City and laden with symbolism, offers insight into Chinese Taoism and Heaven worship.
Last, but most certainly not least, a day trip to explore the beautiful temples and scenic landscape of the Summer Palace provides a welcome getaway from the daily grind of Beijing's busy modern life.