Most people's attention will be firmly focused on events on the field during the Games but the ancient city has a lot to offer on the days when there is a gap in the schedule. Poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge tells us that 'in Xanadu did Kublai Khan a stately pleasure dome erect'. The jury is still out on whether Beijing counts as a Xanadu, but the same Kublai Khan, grandson of the famous warrior Genghis Khan, can claim credit for turning Beijing into a proper city during the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368). The first tourist of note was Marco Polo, who pitched tent here and travelled with Kublai Khan. Marco Polo ended up staying in Beijing for 20 years before heading back to Europe with fantastic stories of a great eastern civilisation, which some doubt to this day. Most of what we understand as modern Beijing was built during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644). It was built to show off the power of the emperor and is based on specially built temples and altars for staging rites and ceremonies. The design of the city reflects Confucian principles of order, ethical conduct and the importance of rites to express filial duty. Massive Tiananmen Square lies within the boundaries of one of the old city walls and is formally accessed through Zhengyang Gate. Chairman Mao's tomb is in the path of the gate, while on one side you have the People's History Museum and on the other, the Great Hall of the People, which is used for major government meetings, state occasions and even to stage Riverdance. Tiananmen Square is in front of the Imperial City, within which lies the Forbidden City, probably Beijing's most famous landmark. The red walls and the huge portrait of Mao Zedong are in strong contrast to the grey surroundings. You enter the Imperial City by crossing the bridge in front of Mao's portrait and passing through Tiananmen, or Gate of Heavenly Peace, under the nose of the Great Helmsman himself. Then you see the Meridian Gate, which leads to the Forbidden City. In imperial days, only people who had business with the court, including the emperor, hundreds of ministers and over 70,000 eunuchs, were allowed inside the Forbidden City. A tip when visiting the city is to check out the audio tour - narrator is Roger Moore of James Bond fame and his dulcet tones bring the city to life. As you cross an open courtyard, you approach the Hall of Supreme Harmony where scholars took their finals during the early Ming dynasty. Next up are the Hall of Middle Harmony and the Hall of Perfect Harmony, which were also used for public functions. The Forbidden City gets more interesting the further you go and also less crowded, so it's worth sticking it out. The Forbidden City and the three Halls of Harmony look directly south towards the Temple of Heaven. In imperial times, twice a year at Winter Solstice and again in the fourth lunar month the emperor would proceed from the Forbidden City to the Temple of Heaven to ask for blessings for the people. The streets between the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven were cleared, all the doors and windows were locked and commoners were forbidden from looking upon the divine person of the emperor. These days, the Temple of Heaven is a great park to take a break from Beijing's ceaseless traffic. Thousands of pensioners practise their tai qi, play music, fly kites or sing Beijing opera in the grounds. Whenever the constricted life of the court became too much for the emperor, he would decamp to the Summer Palace around half an hour outside Beijing. The 'palace' is really a garden complex, which includes a small mountain, a lake, a river, and lots of buildings, covering a distance of 2.5km from east to west. Qianlong of the Qing dynasty built a garden here to honour his mother in 1750 and he used Jesuit priests to build European style houses on the site. He installed baroque statues and fountains and called the Summer Palace the Garden of Pure Ripples. During the Second Opium War in 1860, British and French troops destroyed the Garden of Pure Ripples as well as Yuan Ming Yuan, or the Old Summer Palace. The Dowager Empress Cixi began rebuilding the Summer Palace in 1873 for her retirement and renamed it Yi He Yuan - Garden of Peace and Harmony in Old Age, channelling funds from the treasury into the building project that were supposed to be paying for upgrading the navy. It was burnt again by Russian, British and Italian troops in 1900 as retaliation for the Boxer Rebellion; Cixi rebuilt it in 1902. It's a great place to just wander around enjoying the names of the sights, like Hall of Dispelling Clouds, Strolling through Painted Scenery, Floating Heart Bridge and Gate of Welcoming the Moon. Not too far away is the Fragrant Hills park, another imperial villa resort, while also worth visiting are the Wanshou Temple, known as the mini-Forbidden City in west Beijing, site of the Beijing Art Museum built during the Ming Dynasty in 1577. You can get to the Great Wall easily from Beijing and there are basically two sites where it can be best viewed - Badaling and Mutianyu. The latter has slightly better views and intact guard towers, while Badaling is more accessible but more overrun with tourists. The Great Wall, which began construction over 2,000 years ago, stretches for thousands of kilometres across northern China. It dates back to the third century BC, when it was built to protect the country from northern invaders. The wall, which spans more than 3,000km, has been periodically rebuilt and modified throughout history by each reigning dynasty. Although it never worked as a defensive structure - Genghis Khan supposedly bribed sentries to get across - you can see what prompted former US president Richard Nixon's comment on seeing the fortification during a visit in 1972: 'It sure is a great wall'. Food is as important to the northern Chinese as it is to Hong Kong people, although the diet is very different between mandarin and Cantonese speakers. Beijing's specialities are both quite heavy, reflecting the cold winter weather, but both are fantastic. Jiaozi, meat-filled ravioli-style dumplings, are a cheap and cheerful delicacy, boiled and served scalding hot. Beijing Duck tends to be more expensive but worth it, particularly when you see the amount of preparation that goes into it. The duck is raised on a diet of grain and soybean paste. After it is slaughtered, the duck is coated with molasses, pumped with air, filled with boiling water, dried, and then roasted over a fruitwood fire. Then comes a plate of crepes, with a dish of shallots, plum sauce and cucumber. The duck is thinly sliced and you make little pancakes of the whole lot. It's one of the great dishes and goes well with a big bottle of locally brewed Yanjing beer. Recommending places to eat and drink in Beijing is a risky affair as the city is in constant flux, particularly with all the building work going on. By 2008, the situation is sure to be even more complicated.