Forbidden city

Forbidden City Beijing China

Along with the Great Wall, the Forbidden City is the main attraction of Beijing. This imperial city, located in the heart of Beijing, is the largest palace complex in the world and had for over five centuries, this place was prohibited for ordinary mortals. While emperors, harems, palace staff and euneuchen lived for decades in the private domain, the public had no idea what was happening behind the walls of 10 meters high and 8 meters thick. To this the Forbidden City takes its name.

The city was built in the 15th century by Ming Emperor Yongle. The huge complex housed 23 more emperors after Yongle 23 (for a total of two dynasties) across five centuries. It is China’s largest heirloom from the period when the emperors were reigning.

Fortunately, you can now visit the complex, and marvel at the beautiful historic buildings, courtyards, halls, palaces, gardens and galleries.

Take a walk through the Forbidden City

The entrance to the Forbidden City is located at Tianmen Square. Right under the portrait of Mao Zedong is the entrance. Inside, you buy an entrance ticket to the Palace Museum (Forbidden City).

Within the walls is a huge complex where you can basically spend the whole day. Also keep in mind that only a part of the city is accessible to tourists, about half of it is closed to visitors. Fortunately, there is a lot to see in the open section.

What you should not miss in any case, are the Ceramics Gallery, Hall of Supreme Harmony, Hall of Middle Harmony and Hall of Preserving Harmony. Impressive are the statues of centuries that stand guard at the stairs. The Clock Exhibition Hall is worth it, but try to be here at 11:00 or 14:00, when some kind of show is taking place here. Then go to the Palace of Peace & Longevity and take a look at the Nine Dragon Screen; a wall full of pictures of dragons that would protect against evil spirits. Then visit the Opera House, where emperors have enjoyed operas for centuries. In this are you will find several gardens and courtyards where you can look for protection from the sun on a hot day.

Then, stroll down to the Palace of Heavenly Purity, Hall of Union and Palace of Earthly Tranquillity. Do not forget the Imperial Gardens, the imperial gardens is where you can see the famous sculptures of kneeling elephants. Then quickly have a look at the Western Palaces at the west-side. This way, you end up at the North Gate of the Forbidden City, where the exit is.

View of the Forbidden City from Jingshan Park

Basically you have now seen the Forbidden City, but once you walk out of the exit, straight ahead you can see a hill with a small wooden temple on it. This is Jingshan Park, a former imperial garden. You can climb the hill for a great view of the Forbidden City. It’s easy to find; walk to the foot of the hill and buy your ticket there. Then it’s quite a climb up the stairs. On top you will find a temple with a large golden Buddha image and you have a magnificent view!

Practical tips for your visit to the Forbidden City

• The Forbidden City is closed on Mondays.

• Try to plan your visit as early as possible in the morning, after the opening of the Forbidden City at 8:30. This prevents long queues for a ticket and on hot days the temperature in the walled city can get really high. So, before the heat strikes, you could already have seen most of it.

• Preferably do not go during the weekends, especially if you are in Beijing in July or August. Then, the Chinese also have their holiday and the city will attract around 80.000 visitors per day in the weekend, instead of the ‘normal’ 40,000 visitors.

• Visit the city on a smog-free day, if you have a choice. The heat is more bearable and your photos are much nicer.

• Cost per person: 60 yuan from April / October, 40 yuan from November / March. If you have a student card, you get a discount.

• Take your ID with you, they ask for this when buying tickets.

• Want to know all about the Forbidden City, then you can do an audio tour for 40 Yuan. Dutch is also available.

• Within the gates you will find restaurants and you can buy water, but always for a high prize. Make sure that you have some water with you for the first few hours.

• For the view point after the exit of the Forbidden City, in Jingshan Park, you buy a separate ticket. This is because it is not officially part of the Forbidden City. The cost is 10 Yuan.

• Time: we spent about 5 hours in the Forbidden City and about 45 minutes at the viewpoint. But there are also people who make it in 3 hours, or take an entire day. Just make sure that you have enough time to extend your visit on busy and hot days.

Other tips in Beijing

Discover Nanluogu Xiang, the most fun alley in Beijing

Wangfujing night market with Chinese street food

Explore the Hutongs; Beijing’s cosy alleys