This Chinese Imperial Palace in the heart of Beijing, dubbed as “The Forbidden City” or “Zijin Cheng,” boasts of a very long history. It served as home to 24 Chinese emperors and their households for about over five centuries or since the Ming Dynasty until the end of the Qing Dynasty.
The city is aligned with the pole star stressing the important role of the emperor as the “son of heaven.” It has been recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and is listed as having the world’s largest collection of best-preserved olden wooden structures.
It used to be inaccessible to commoners, which explains the moniker. In fact, at certain times in its history, uninvited admission can cost the unsuspecting intruder/visitor his head.
These days the city is yours to explore for a mere ¥40 or ¥60. But because the entire complex is massive with 980 buildings and encompassing about 72 hectares, it will take a day to reasonably see the best parts of the city or more than a few tips if you’re a history or museum buff.
For a convenient tour of the Forbidden City, also known as the Palace Museum, a must-see in Beijing, here are some useful tips for you.
Tour Tips When You’re in the Forbidden City
- Guides – Keep your cost down by preferring the automatically activated audio tours available in more than 40 languages.
- Accessible Tours for Young and Old – There are wheelchairs, pushchairs and strollers available to use free of charge, but you must make a deposit ranging from ¥300 to ¥500.
- Amenities – There are ATMs available in the palace grounds, as well as rest rooms.
- Restaurants and Shops – There are only a few restaurants and cafes in the grounds such as Quanjude Roast Duck and Donglaishun Muslim Restaurant in Qianmen, and Dasanyuan Restaurant in Jingshan. There are two cafes that you can see near the Imperial Garden. Snacks can be bought at Donghuamen Snack night market outside East Flowery Gate and Wangfujing Snack Street. There are also shops near the Gate of Heavenly Purity, Hall of Mental Cultivation and the Imperial Garden.
- Peak Season – This starts from late March to first week of June and from around last week of August to late November. If you want to avoid the crowd, any day outside these times and except weekends would be good.
- Best Routes – Do some planning to understand the layout of this immense complex. Decide on what you see during the day, check this link for a Virtual Guide.
- Entrance and Exit – Take the Meridian Gate in the south linked to Tiananmen Square. It will be hard to miss a massive and lofty U-shaped gateway towering at 38 meters (125 feet). This was the official entrance for the emperor leading to a succession of impressive courtyards and finally to the Hall of Supreme Harmony. Take the Gate of Divine Prowess/ Might or Shenwu Men in the north, behind the Imperial garden when leaving the city.
Attractions Not to Miss
- Gallery Exhibitions – There are several galleries in various halls or palaces. Pick the one that appeals to your interest:
o Ceramics Gallery – Hall of Literary Glory
o Chinese Painting and Calligraphy Gallery – Hall of Martial Valor
o Treasure Gallery – Palace of Tranquil Longevity area
o Timepieces Gallery – Hall for Ancestry Worship
o Gold and Silver Wares Gallery – Palace of Great Brilliance in the Six Eastern Palaces
o Bronze Ware Gallery – corridor rooms around the Palace of Heavenly Purity
o Qing Imperial Opera Gallery –Pavilion of Pleasant Sounds and Hall for Viewing Opera
o Jade Gallery – Palace of Gathering Essence (Zhong Cui Gong) in the Six Eastern Palaces
- Three Great Halls – The first is the Hall of Supreme Harmony; the largest ceremonial hall in the main building where the emperor used to conduct business. This houses the intricately decorated Dragon Throne (??; Lóngy?) used by the emperor when presiding affairs while the subjects kowtow nine times (forehead touching the floor). The second is the smaller Hall of Middle Harmony used for last-minute preparations, practice speeches and accept high-ranking ministers. The third is the Hall of Preserving Harmony designed for feasts.
- Smaller Halls – The three most important ones are the Palace of Heavenly Purity, the Hall of Union and the Palace of Earthly Tranquility. The first used to be the home of the Ming and early Qing emperors. It was later used as an audience hall for receiving important dignitaries. The second houses important memorabilia such as a water clock made in 1745 called Clepsydra, a mechanical clock built in 1797 and a collection of royal jade seals. The third was the imperial couple’s bridal chamber and palace harem.
- Imperial Garden – This is a classical Chinese garden located before the Gate of Divine Prowess/Might in the north. The landmark can’t be missed with its symbolical two bronze elephants with bent front knees.
- Complete Palace of Peace and Longevity – This is a mini Forbidden City located in the northeastern bend of the complex. This was inhabited by the empress dowager and the imperial concubines during the Ming dynasty These days, it houses the Treasure Gallery .
- Western and Eastern Palaces – These are actually where most emperors actually resided The Hall of Mental Cultivation is among the most important parts. The Palace of Gathered Elegance used to be the home of Puyi, the child ruler and the last emperor at the turn of the 20th century.
For more tips, check out this page Forbidden City Travel Tips – The Palace Museum Travel Tips of Tour Beijing.