The Old Summer Palace (Chinese: Yuanming Yuan) is a complex of palaces and gardens of the Qing Dynasty. This palace gathers the essence of Chinese garden art and integrates both western and eastern architecture styles. Many landscape architects regard it as the peak work in the history of Chinese golden art. In its peak beauty times, it was referred to as the "Garden of gardens." The famous French author Victor Hugo even praised it as one of the wonders of the world."
In the 19th century, this glorious imperial garden featured some 1,000 palaces, about 100 viewing points, and numerous treasures, all taking over an area of 350 hectares (865 acres). However, what you can see now is only ruins fo the palace. In 1860, the French and British troops occupied Beijing and reached the Old Summer Palace. They looted, burnt and destroyed the imperial premises. The palace was so large that it even took 4,000 men and three days to burn it to the ground.
In spring, usually around April–May, Beijing holds the annual Spring Excursion Festival of Yuanming Yuan Ruins Park. This festival brings back the culture and history of the Qing Dynasty via various exhibitions. You can also enjoy spring blossoms of peach, begonias, and peonies at the time.
Lotus are in their blossoming from roughly from mid-June to mid-August. There are more than 300 different kinds of lotus in the Old Summer Palace, and the planting area of the lotus is more 65 hectares (160 acres). You may even see lotus blossoms from century-old seed that was discovered during archaeological works in 2017. The seeds that had been dormant for more than a hundred years blossomed in the summer of 2019.
In October and early November, leaves of ginkgo trees along the Yuanmingyuan Ginkgo Avenue turn yellow. This is the best time to enjoy the "yellow ocean" with the warm sunshine in the Old Summer Palace.
Considering all the seasonal perks of the Yuanming Yuan, the best time to visit would be from April to early November. A visit to the Old Summer Palace usually lasts two-three hours.