Beijing, China: Temple of Heaven and Yonghe Lama Temple

From the accordion-like rooftops peeking through the incense-filled air to the ancient trees lining the alleyways that connect them, Chinese temples have an inimitable charm.

Red, turquoise and golden glimmer in the hazy sunshine and Chinese characters – most of which are still unintelligible to me, because learning Mandarin is hard, yo! – tell tales of times long past.

Each temple has a story of its own and the two we are visiting today are as diverse as they come – Temple of Heaven is a 15th century Taoist temple constructed at the same time as the Forbidden City, while Yonghe Lama Temple is an 18th century Buddhist lamasery.

The thing that binds them together is a thread of harmony, peace and acceptance running through the cracks in their faded walls. Read on to see photos of both temples and to learn a little more about them!

Temple of Heaven

Your Lonely Planet guidebook will tell you loads of useless trivia you will forget in a manner of minutes, but the most important thing you need to know about Chinese temples is that they close at around 5pm. That’s the one thing I didn’t know – and pretty much the only thing I needed to know before arriving at Temple of Heaven at 5.05pm and staring at the main building through a thick red fence like a heart-broken puppy.

I’d recommend setting aside around 2 hours to see the entire complex and 15¥ for the entrance fee. I only visited the gardens and I still think the complex is well worth a visit, so that’s certainly something.

Tip: Many locals come to the Temple of Heaven to exercise. Feel free to strap on your running shoes, but just remember that Beijing air is borderline toxic and combining it with anything more strenuous than excitable frolicking is likely to kill you. Or at least that’s my excuse for not exercising whilst in China.

Yonghe Lama Temple

Yonghe Lama Temple is probably the coolest temple I’ve ever been to. And “cool” is probably the worst word one could choose to describe it – the place exudes unprecedented warmth, a subtle glow that can hardly be communicated through pictures alone.

The admission fee is 25¥ and – although you could probably see it in half the time – I’d recommend spending about 2 hours in the complex to really explore it in depth.

Don’t forget to claim your free pack of incense at the end of the alleyway leading from the entrance toward the first temple. Oh, and don’t miss this perfect opportunity to creepily lama-watch from the side – I was entertained to see how many of them had smartphones and fly ass sneakers. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – you do you, lamas!