Easily within striking distance of the Summer Palace are Běijīng’s Western Hills (西山; Xī Shān), another former villa-resort of the emperors. The part of Xī Shān closest to Běijīng is known as Fragrant Hills Park. Beijingers flock here in autumn when the maple leaves saturate the hillsides in great splashes of red.

Scramble up the slopes to the top of Incense-Burner Peak (Xiānglú Fēng), or take the chairlift (one way/return ¥80/160, 9am to 4pm). From the peak you get an all-embracing view of the countryside, and you can leave the crowds behind by hiking further into the Western Hills.

Near the north gate of Fragrant Hills Park, but still within the park, is the excellent Azure Clouds Temple, which dates back to the Yuán dynasty. The Mountain Gate Hall (Shānmén) contains two vast protective deities: Heng and Ha, beyond which is a small courtyard and the drum and bell towers, leading to a hall with a wonderful statue of Mílèfó – it’s bronze, but coal-black with age. Only his big toe shines from numerous inquisitive fingers.

The Sun Yatsen Memorial Hall (Sūn Zhōngshān Jìniàn Tāng) contains a statue and a glass coffin donated by the USSR on the death of Mr Sun (the Republic of China's first president) in 1925. At the very back is the marble Vajra Throne Pagoda (Jīngāng Bǎozuò Tǎ), where Sun Yatsen was interred after he died, before his body was moved to its final resting place in Nánjīng. The Hall of Arhats (Luóhán Tāng) is well worth visiting; it contains 500 statues of luóhàn (those freed from the cycle of rebirth), each crafted with an individual personality.

Southwest of the Azure Clouds Temple is the Tibetan-style Temple of Brilliance (Zhāo Miào), and not far away is a glazed-tile pagoda. Both survived visits by foreign troops intent on sacking the area in 1860, and then in 1900.

There are dozens of restaurants and snack stalls on the approach road to the north gate of the park, making this your best bet for lunch out of any of the sights in this part of the city.

At the time of writing it was expected that sometime in the future the subway will extend here via the Summer Palace and Botanic Gardens.