The Presidential Palace could be thought of as Nanjing’s version of the Forbidden City in Beijing with it once being home to ancient emperors and later political leaders. The palace was also the base for Dr. Sat Yun Sen when he led the Kuomintang party to power in China.
Officially, it is now called the China Modern History Museum yet its history dates back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) when it functioned as a royal palace. It was taken over during the Taiping Rebellion and for ten or more years it served as a base for that revolutions leaders until the Qing government reclaimed Nanjing in 1864. It was also the KMT’s (Kuomintang) headquarters from 1927 to 1949 from which it ruled the country until Mao Zedong and the CCP took over control and declared Beijing as the capital once again.
All of that is a very long story, but one can understand, this place has a played a very special part in what were defining periods in China’s history.
Inside of the walls, you can still find the imperial palaces and gardens built many years ago and also buildings added in the 1930’s that housed the revolutionary government.
Inside the rooms of the several original buildings are interesting displays, such as the emperor’s throne, moving into the newer buildings the many rooms are filled with displays of artifacts, photos and storyboards of the then revolutionary government that led China from 1911 to 1949.
There’s also the former home of Dr. Sat Yun Sen to wander through, and the many nooks and crannies of the garden shouldn’t be missed as it’s hard to beat a garden built that was originally built for an emperor. Especially a garden that features a mini-lake with a boat made of stone.
Alongside the Presidential Palace is whats known as 1912 (南京1912街区), a cluster of charming old buildings now packed with bars and eateries (Chinese/Western). You can find a Starbucks and Costa Coffee here, several bars and night spots, hot pot restaurant, Pizza Hut, KFC.
Across the street is the Nanjing Library (南京图书馆) which is actually at exit 5 of the subway station so take a peek before you head over to the palace, and a few minutes walk away is the Jiangsu Art Museum (江苏省美术馆), across from which is the Six Dynasties Museum (六朝博物馆).
The Summer Palace is an imperial garden built by Emperor Qianlong in 1750 to celebrate his mothers birthday, it was later used as a garden where emperors and empresses would escape the heat of Beijing’s summers.
The palace covers a staggering 290 hectares featuring a massive lake, temples, halls, pavilions, corridors, towers which are decorated with fine stone, bronze sculptures and feature paintings, all amongst a garden of ancient pines and cypress trees.
A major feature of the Summer Palace is the man-made Kunming Lake covering over 2 square kilometers and having three islands all connected via beautiful stone bridges.
In the late years of the Qing Dynasty, the Summer Palace was also used to entertain foreign dignitaries and became China’s most active stage for handling foreign affairs at the time.
A fascinating feature of the Summer Palace is the ‘Long Corridor’ which runs alongside the lake for almost a kilometer! As per the photo below, each of the corridors beams features a unique painting. In total there are 14,000 paintings!
Much like the Forbidden City in Central Beijing, you could spend all day if not days wandering around this place and admiring what is now touted as one of civilisations greatest treasures.
You have the option of buying just the entrance ticket and wandering the grounds and should you choose to enter the main attractions listed below there will be an extra fee. Alternatively, you can buy a ‘Through Ticket” that covers everything.
April to October
November to March
Tower of Buddhist Incense
Suzhou Street and Danning Hall
06:30 – 18:00
07:00 – 17:00
You can also hire a boat from one of several docks and cruise the lake. Pedal Boat 60 RMB/hour and electric boat 80 RMB/hour.
Suggested Tour Routes and Map for the Summer Palace
I strongly urge you to have a route plan so as not to wear yourself out and miss some of the highlights. Remember, this place is massive. This route below takes in many of the highlights and should fill in about 2.5 to 3 hours. It starts at the North gate and departs at the East Gate. You can also do it in reverse by entering at the East Gate and departing at the North Gate.
From the North Gate
The North gate — Suzhou Street Bridge — Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha — The Temple of Dispelling Clouds — Long Corridor — The Hall of happiness and longevity — Yiyun Hall — The Hall of Jade Ripples — The Garden of Virtue and Harmony — The Hall of Benevolence and Longevity
From the East Gate
The East Palace gate — The Hall of Benevolence and Longevity — The Garden of Virtue and Harmony — The Hall of Jade Ripples — Yiyun Hall — The Hall of Happiness and Longevity — Long Corridor — The Temple of Dispelling Clouds — Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha — Suzhou Street Bridge
Where to Stay in Beijing?
One of my top picks for places to stay is the Sofu Hotel, which has a small food street near its door, it’s four-star, and is a very short walk to Ping’anli Station which gives you access to Line 4 and 6. Another choice is the Novotel Xinqiao which is four star and very near Chongwenmen Station or the Ji Hotel at Xuanwumen Station. All three are super convenient for getting around the attractions of Beijing by subway.
The Forbidden City was once the imperial palace of the Ming and Qing Dynasties and was originally constructed in the early 1400s. 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.
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 and 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.
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!
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.
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 audiobooks to walk around and listen to while in the city.
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
Plan your route so as not to wear yourself out, and miss key highlights.
The flow of people is from South to North now. The only entrance is from the Meridian Gate
ID needs to be shown when buying tickets (passport or Chinese ID card for each person)
It is closed on Mondays, except during certain holidays
It’s a must to avoid visiting during Chinese public holidays due to crowds
Be mindful of heat exhaustion. Beijing’s summer is from June to August. Drink plenty of water and wear appropriate clothing.
Don’t miss the turret towers and moat which are beautifully illuminated at night (no ticket reqd.)
Afterward, head to Jingshan Park and Wanchun Pavillion for a panoramic view of the palace (wide-angle + zoom lens are useful)
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.
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
April to October
November to March
How and where to buy tickets for the Forbidden City
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)
Hall of Clocks (Zhongbiao guan)
Food and Beverage inside the Forbidden City
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. It can get expensive compared to street prices so you may like to take your own water and snacks.
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
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.
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
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 Forbidden City 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 Forbidden City 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