The Ming Tombs in Beijing is a massive area featuring mausoleums for 13 of the 16 Ming Dynasty Emperors, also buried at the site are empresses and concubines of the era. Only a couple of the tombs have been excavated, many are still sealed awaiting the progress of technology to provide a means of preserving everything that is inside once they open the tomb.
On my first visit, I was still feeling pretty ordinary from a bout of travel exhaustion so I chose to join a tour group to see the Great Wall rather than go through all the challenges of how to get there and back. I asked the tour desk at the hotel and they got me into a tour the next morning (Later in the post I am going to include all the details you need to do a self-guided tour of the tombs).
A minibus picked me up from the hotel early in the morning and off we went, all three of us, a grand total of five including the driver! Cool, this could be OK! First stop was the Ming Tombs.
It’s another display of China’s history and the extravagant life of its former emperors. The guided tour rushed through this area and I wish I could have explored the area more, but this is an organised tour, and the tombs are spread out over a very large area, also I think was the ‘there it is, ok, let’s go’ version of a Ming Tombs tour. I suggest a much better experience is to be had by charting your own course and the info below will enable you to do such.
The other problem with guided tours is the stops at shopping halls where the guides will earn a commision from anything you buy, so, be wary of low-priced tour tickets.
Of the 13 tombs, only three are open to the public being Dingling Tomb, Zhaoling Tomb, and the Changling Tomb. The other essential site is the Sacred Way which leads to tombs.
The Whole Ming Tombs Site Overview
Of the 13 tombs, only three are open to the public being
- Dingling Tomb – mausoleum of Emperor Zhu Yijun and his two empresses, Empress Xiaoduan and Empress Xiaojing. Featuring marble stone bridges, Wailuo Wall, courtyards, kitchens and storerooms (for the afterlife), Ling’en Palace, engraved stone road, Lingxing Gate and the tomb itself. Here you will find the underground palace and perhaps the key sight of the whole area being the only unearthed tomb.
- Zhaoling Tomb – mausoleum of Emperor Zhu Zaihou and his three empresses, don’t miss the stone turtle.
- Changling Tomb – mausoleum of Emperor Zhu Di and Empress Xu. A highlight here is the Blessing and Grace Palace being made from Camphor and sitting on top of three levels of white marble. It also contains many artifacts and a lifelike bronze statue of the emperor.
The 13 Ming Tombs and their emperors
Here is something interesting about Chinese emperors, they had a convention of naming their reign as if to give it a theme or slogan. For example, Zhu Di who ruled from 1402 to 1424 named himself the Yong Le emperor, Yong Le translating to perpetual happiness.
- Changling Tomb (open to public) – Emperor Yong Le, Zhu Di (1360 – 1424)
- Dingling Tomb (open to public) – Emperor Shen Zong, Zhu Yijun (1563 – 1620)
- Zhaoling Tomb (open to public) – Emperor Mu Zong, Zhu Zaihou (1537 – 1572)
- Yongling Tomb – Emperor Shi Zong, Zhu Houzong (1507 – 1567)
- Xianling Tomb – Emperor Ren Zong, Zhu Gaozhi (1378 – 1425)
- Qingling Tomb – Emperor Guang Zong. Zhu Changluo (1582-1620)
- Maoling Tomb – Emperor Xian Zong, Zhu Jianshen (1447 – 1487)
- Kangling Tomb – Emperor Wuzong, Zhu Houzhao (1491-1521)
- Jingling Tomb – Emperor Xuan Zong, Zhu Zhanji (1398 – 1435)
- Tailing Tomb – Emperor Xiao Zong, Zhu Youtang (1470 – 1505)
- Deling Tomb – Emperor Xi Zong, Zhu Youjia (1605-1627)
- Yuling Tomb – Emperor Ying Zong, Zhu Qizhen (1427 – 1464)
- Siling Tomb – Emperor Si Zong, Zhu Youjian (1611 – 1644)
Ming Tombs Facts
- the Ming Dynasty began in 1368 and lasted until 1644.
- the first tomb was built in 1409, and the last one in 1644.
- the timber used in construction came from other provinces and took six years to transport and hundreds of lives as it was so difficult to procure.
- each brick used in the construction had the name of the manufacturer and the official in charge printed on them
- The Ming Tombs area covers forty square kilometers
- Sacred Way is 7 kilometers long featuring stone sculptures, pillars, one archway, gates, a five-arch bridge, one pavilion, and stele.
- the Changling Tomb is the largest and first, built for emperor Zhu Di (朱棣, 1360-1424) and his empress Xu
- the Dingling Tomb was built for emperor Zhu Yiyun (朱翊钧, 1563-1620) and is the only tomb to be unearthed and opened to visitors.
- the Zhaoling Tomb was built for emperor Zhu Zaihou (朱载垕, 1537-1572) and his three empresses.
- visiting the site was forbidden to ordinary folk
- in 1644 when Li Zhecheng’s army attacked Beijing to overthrow the Ming rulers the army ransacked the tombs.
- excavation of the Dingling Tomb was halted due to the Cultural Revolution and much was lost
- Ming Tombs were listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in August 2003
- there are more Ming Tombs in Nanjing, Hebei, Hubei, and Liaoning province.
- Official site: Mingtombs.com
The Entrance & The Sacred Way
Sometimes referred to as the Spirit Way or Divine Road. It is symbolic in that it represents the path to heaven. It also incorporates Feng Shui, as does the entire site, with the road being on a North-South axis. The Stone Archway is one of the first built in China and also the largest. Through the Palace Gate, and further along, you will find the Stele Pavilion, featuring a giant turtle with an inscribed stele. The stele holds a tribute to the Yong Le Emporer (Zhu Di), and record of tombs including costs, and also a record of why the Ming Dynasty fell. Further along is the sacred way, featuring stone pillars and stone sculptures of officials, lions, haetae, qilins, horses, camels, and elephants. Then through the Lonfeng gate over the bridge and the road leads to the Changling Tomb of the Yong Le Emperor (Zhu Di).
Key Sights of the Entrance & The Sacred Way
I. Stone archway
II. Great Palace Gate
III. Stele Pavilion
IV. Sacred Way
V. Longfeng Gate (Dragon and Phoenix Gate)
Ming Tombs Location Map Beijing
Ming Tombs Open Hours
|Scenic Spot||Low Season Nov 1 – March 31||Peak Season April 1- Oct 31|
|Dingling (定陵 )||
AM 8:30－PM 5:00
AM 8:00－PM 5:30
|Changling (长陵 )||
AM 8:30－PM 4:30
AM 8:00－PM 5:00
AM 8:30－PM 5:00
AM 8:00－PM 5:30
|Sacred Way (神路)||
AM 8:30－PM 4:30
AM 8:30－PM 5:30
Ming Tombs Entrance Fees
|Apr. – Oct.||Nov. – Mar.|
|Combo Ticket||CNY 130||CNY 100|
|Dingling||CNY 60||CNY 40|
|Changling||CNY 45||CNY 30|
|Zhaoling||CNY 30||CNY 20|
|Sacred Way||CNY 30||CNY 20|
Getting to the Ming Tombs
Address: Ming Tombs ( 明十三陵) Changchi Rd, Changping Qu, Beijing
Take subway Changping Line to Changping Dongguan station (昌平东关) from where you’ll need to take a bus or taxi. See here for a Beijing Subway Map
Public Bus from Subway Station
To visit the Stone Archway
From Changping Dongguan station (昌平东关) take bus 67 to 石牌坊 bus stop. After visiting the Stone Archway, catch bus 32 or 67 to the next stop Dagonmen bus stop 大宫门 which is the Great Palace Gate. From there you can walk to the Stele Pavilion, and continue walking along the Sacred Way, at the end of which is Changping Huzhuang stop (昌平胡庄) and you can catch the 314 bus to Changling stop (长陵) or Dingling stop (定陵).
To skip the Stone Archway
Take the bus 314 to Dagongmen bus stop (大宫门) for the Great Palace Gate. From there you can walk to the Stele Pavilion, and continue walking along the Sacred Way, at the end of which is Changping Huzhuang stop (昌平胡庄) and you can catch the 314 bus to Changling stop (长陵) or Dingling stop (定陵).
It’s 2 km and about 30 min walk from the Great Palace Gate to the end of the Sacred Way and the bus stop.
To Skip the Sacred Way and go straight to the Tombs
A taxi from central Beijing to the Ming Tombs area ( 明十三陵) would take around 70 minutes in travel time and cost around 140 RMB. You could also negotiate with the driver as to how much to shuttle you around the different sections and return home.
Taxi from Subway Station
Alternatively, you can go to Ming Tombs Station (十三陵景区) on the Changping Line and take a taxi from the subway station. Some people have reported lots of touts working here quoting high prices and even taking people to showrooms. You may be better to get off at the prior station being Changping (昌平) and get a real taxi as it’s on a main road.
For example, the taxi fare from the subway station to the Great Palace Gate should be around 25 RMB. From the subway station to the Changling Tomb in a taxi should be around 35 RMB. Here are the Chinese names for the driver.
Stone Archway – 石牌坊
Great Palace Gate – 大宫门
Stele Pavilion – 长陵神功圣德碑亭
Sacred Way – 明十三陵·神路
Dingling – 定陵
Changling – 长陵
Zhaoling – 昭陵
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.
See also, my hand-picked list of the top 15 spa hotels in Beijing.
This post was first published May 19, 2010 and last updated Sep 2018