This large former residence – second in size only to the Forbidden City – is made up of a series of lovingly restored courtyards that leads to extensive, well-kept gardens. It’s a firm favourite for Chinese tour groups, but there’s enough space here, particularly in the gardens at the back, to make this a pleasantly peaceful retreat.
The courtyards themselves are a bit museum-like, and there are very few English captions to bring them alive, but the architecture at least does give you an impression of how the other half lived 250 years ago. There’s some lovely strolling to be done in the gardens, and the ponds and rockeries mean that pretty picnic spots abound.
Despite the name, Prince Gong’s Palace, which dates from 1776, was never actually the residence of any royals. It was home instead to one of Emperor Qianlong’s favourite chief advisors, Yixin, who was nicknamed Price Gong. Performances of Beijing opera are held regularly throughout the day in the Qing-dynasty Grand Opera House in the east of the grounds. The palace is a short stroll from the lakes at Houhai where you can go boating, swimming, play table tennis or just enjoy a lakeside beer.