The Forbidden City (Palace Museum) Beijing

The Forbidden City was once the imperial palace of the Ming and Qing Dynasties and was originally constructed in early 1400’s. The city was once off-limits to the general public and home to 24 successive emperors. Now, it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the world attracting over 7 million visitors a year.

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Its official name has been changed to the Palace Museum, but most people still refer to it as the Forbidden City.

The complete site occupies an area of over 720,000 square meters featuring nearly 10,000 buildings. It is also the largest collection of ancient buildings in China which are also the best preserved.

The Forbidden City also features a moat around its outer walled perimeter and internally is divided into two parts, being an outer court (for ceremonies) and an inner court where the emperor would live and handle state affairs.

Don’t miss the nighttime view of the moat and its turrets

It’s easy to see the lavish opulence that the residing Chinese emperor of the time would have enjoyed. Apparently many emperors chose never to leave the palace and it’s easy to see why as this place is immense. There are special buildings and areas for nearly every activity the emperor undertook, and some buildings just to cater for the differing moods of the emperor!

There are four pavilions in the Imperial Garden which represent the different seasons, this is The Pavilion of Myriad Springs (Wan Chun Tin) representing Spring of course.

 

Three halls at the center of the city – L to R – Hall of Supreme Harmony, Hall of Middle Harmony and Hall of Preserving Harmony. Click image for larger picture..

 

From L to R – Large building is the Meridian Gate, the Inner Golden Water Bridges and building far left is the Gate of Supreme Harmony. Click on image for larger version…

 

I spent more than 4 hours just wandering around all the hallways, pathways, rooms, halls, open squares and garden areas, and still, there was so much more to see. It would be no problem to spend a whole day here and even come back again if you were really interested in ancient Chinese history and culture.

 

The imperial throne within the Palace of Heavenly Purity

 

I wandered around this place on my own rather than being stuck in a tour group, but here’s a handy trick, there is plenty of tour groups moving around the place with English speaking guides. So, when you want to know more about something, just move in on the group as the tour guide is spieling out an explanation. There’s also a map available at the ticket office which features a small write up on the important sections, and you can also hire audio books to walk around and listen to while in the city.

 

Lions guard the Gate of Heavenly Purity – Notice the difference between the male and the female lion?

 

It’s well worth getting there before the gates and ticket office open at 8.30 am, as the tour groups pour into this place and the line up I saw later in the day looked like no fun at all!

 

Why was it called the Forbidden City?
It’s original name in Chinese, Zi Jin Cheng, which translates to Zi meaning purple, Ji meaning forbidden, and Cheng meaning city. Being an imperial palace up until 1925 ordinary people were not allowed. During that time it was exclusively for the emperor, his family, servants, government officials and visiting dignitaries with much of the grounds being exclusively for the emperor. 

 

My Top Ten Forbidden City visiting tips

  1. Plan your route so as not to wear yourself out, and miss key highlights.
  2. The flow of people is from South to North now. The only entrance is from the Meridian Gate
  3. ID needs to be shown when buying tickets (passport or Chinese ID card for each person)
  4. It is closed on Mondays, except during certain holidays 
  5. It’s a must to avoid visiting during Chinese public holidays due to crowds
  6. Be mindful of heat exhaustion. Beijing’s summer is from June to August. Drink plenty of water and wear appropriate clothing.
  7. Don’t miss the turret towers and moat which are beautifully illuminated at night (no ticket reqd.)
  8. Afterward, head to Jingshan Park and Wanchun Pavillion for a panoramic view of the palace (wide-angle + zoom lens are useful)
  9. There are left luggage areas at the Meridian Gate and North Gate, but, then you have to return there to get it. Easier to not take anything that you won’t like to carry for two, three or more hours.
  10. Have an exit strategy. It’s a bit confusing as to how to get to the next destination after heading out the north gate as the streets are fenced off. Know which destination you are going to next and have the route worked out how to get there. 

 

Opening Hours & Ticket Price

Months Opening Hours Ticket Cost Last Tickets  Last Entry
April to October 8:30-17:00 60 RMB 16:00 16:10
November to March 8:30-16:30 40 RMB 15:30 15:40


 

How and where to buy tickets for the Forbidden City

As of late 2017, all tickets are sold online via the official website: http://gugong.228.com.cn

Unfortunately, it’s not available in English and even if you use Google Translate to navigate the site, payment is required by local bank card or Alipay (China’s equivalent to Paypal).

Don’t fret, tickets are still easy to get for foreigner visitors.

At Meridian Gate, there is a Comprehensive Service Window (综合服务窗口) to the left of the main entrance where they check tickets for entering, and they will help you get tickets. It’s fast and easy.

Unless it is a Chinese holiday, you should have no trouble securing tickets. If you are planning to go during a Chinese holiday, and you cannot visit on another day, go in advance and purchase tickets.

You must show ID, so be sure to take your passport.

Also, see the official website of the Palace Museum at dpm.org.cn which features info on upcoming exhibitions and section closures.

Ticketed Galleries inside the Palace Museum

If you wish to visit these, and it’s recommended, you need to pay for entry

Treasure Gallery (Zhenbao guan 10 yuan
Hall of Clocks (Zhongbiao guan 10 yuan

 

Food and Beverage

There are 8 cafe/kiosks inside. The small food court near the Hall of Mental Cultivation has a sitdown area. Outside the Gate of Heavenly Purity, there is the old Starbucks that still serves coffee and similar light foods. Can get expensive compared to street prices so you may like to take your own water and snacks.

 

Visitor Services

Free WiFi – search for “PalaceMuseum-WiFi”.

Free left luggage – at Meridian Gate and Gate of Divine Prowess (North Gate).

Free Wheelchairs and strollers – at Meridian Gate and Gate of Divine Prowess (North Gate).

Tourist Service Center – at the Gate of Supreme Harmony and the Arrow Pavilion 

 

Getting There

Subway: Take the Subway Line 1 to Tiananmen West Station (天安门西), exit B, or the preferred Tiananmen East station (天安门东), exit A, as it’s much closer to Tiananmen Gate.

Taxi: Show the driver this 故宫 and he/she will look after the rest and drop you within a short walk to Tiananmen Gate.

Once you get to Tiananmen Gate, walk through, and continue along past Zhongshan Park on your left until you reach the ticket office at the Meridian Gate.

Leaving there

It’s confusing at first as the streets are fenced off. Look for a large sign that has tips on getting to a series of onward destinations. Basically for everything you simply head in a westerly direction. After walking 20 meters to the west you’ll find an underpass and head to Jingshan Park, there are also bus stops here. Alternatively, ignore the underpass and keep walking to the bus stop where you can catch the trolley bus 103 to Wangfujing St, or bus 814 and head to the Temple of Heaven, or hail a taxi, or keep walking westward for 800m and you’ll find Beihai Park.

 

Forbidden City Map

Click Image for Larger Version

 

Suggested tour routes through the palace

The key to getting the most out of your time at the Palace Museum is not getting lost, and doubling back over covered ground, and wearing yourself out. Here are incredibly useful maps of the Palace Museum with suggested tour routes and the must-see highlights.

The One Day Full Tour Plan and Map

1. The Meridian Gate
2. “Painting and Calligraphy Gallery” Hall of Martial Valor
3. “Ceramics Gallery” Hall of Literary Brilliance
4. Gate of Supreme Harmony
5. Hall of Supreme Harmony
6. Hall of Central Harmony
7. Hall of Preserving Harmony
8. Palace of Heavenly Purity
9. Hall of Union
10. Palace of Earthly Tranquility
11. Hall of Mental Cultivation
12. Area of Six Western Palaces
13. Imperial Garden
14. Area of Six Eastern Palaces
15. “Hall of Clocks” & Hall for Ancestral Worship
16. “The Treasure Gallery, Gallery of Qing Imperial Opera” & Area of Palace of Tranquil Longevity
17. Gate of Divine Prowess

 

Half Day Tour Plan and Map

1. Meridian Gate
2. Hall of Martial Valor: Painting and Calligraphy Gallery
3. Gate of Supreme Harmony
4. Hall of Supreme Harmony
5. Hall of Central Harmony
6. Hall of Preserving Harmony
7. Palace of Heavenly Purity
8. Hall of Union
9. Palace of Earthly Tranquility
10. Area of Six Eastern Palaces
11. Hall for Abstinence
12. Outer Court of Palace of the Tranquil Longevity Sector: Treasure Gallery and Stone Drum Gallery
13. Inner Court of Palace of the Tranquil Longevity Sector: Treasure Gallery, Opera Gallery, and the Well of Consort Zhen
14. Gate of Divine Prowess

 

Forbidden City/Palace Museum Beijing Location Map 

Including my picks for the top-rated and most convenient places to stay near the Palace Museum. 

Center map
Traffic
Bicycling
Transit

 

Also see my hand-picked list of the top 15  spa hotels in Beijing

 

Forbidden City History

I’ll include some fast facts here and if you’d like to dive deeper into the history and workings of the palace I’ll suggest this 12-Part Series: The Forbidden City- CCTV-9 Documentary Channel.

  • Construction began in 1406 four years after the capital was moved from Nanjing to Beijing by emperor Zhu Di (Yongle)
  • Completed in 1420. It was completed in record time due to the large number of workers, reportedly up to 1 million
  • It served two dynasties, the Ming (1368–1644) and the Qing (1644–1911)
  • 24 Emporers have lived here
  • In 1450, the Jingtai Emporer claimed the throne from his brother, the Zhengtong Emporer, and imprisoned him for seven years in the Southern Palace of The Forbidden City.
  • The “Storming of the Gate Incident” in 1457 saw the overthrow of Jingtai and his brother returned to the throne, naming his new reign as that of the Tianshun Emperor.
  • In 1461, the palace survived another coup by Mongol generals
  • In 1644, Beijing was under an attack led by Li Zicheng, which saw many fell the palace, including the emperor who hung himself to avoid capture
  • Li Zhencheng did not last a year until Manchu forces took over China and began the Qing Dynasty
  • In the 1860’s, the Qing Dynasty was crumbling with a society that was a boiling pot of rebellious movements, including that led by Sun Yat-Sen and the Boxer Movement
  • Post the Boxer rebellion, the French occupied the Forbidden City until Emperoress Dowager Cixi returned to the throne
  • In 1911, rebellion by pro-democracy led groups overthrew the Qing Dynasty and the last emperor, Puyi, was dethroned.
  • The late emperor continued to live at the palace until 1924
  • In 1924, the palace was opened to the public
  • In 1987, it was declared a World Heritage Site 

 

Also, see my overview and guide to visiting the Ming Tombs at Beijing