As the ancient imperial palace of the Ming and Qing emperors (as well as their many concubines and children), the Forbidden City is one of the must-see sights of Beijing. The sprawling complex consists of almost 1000 buildings and is located conveniently at the heart of modern Beijing. Each building or hall has an extravagant name like “The Hall of Supreme Harmony” and “The Palace of Heavenly Purity” which hint at their original purpose.
Of particular interest is the influence of the different religious beliefs throughout the ages on the development of the forbidden city. Temples and shrines throughout the palace indicate the following of Shamanism, Taoism and Buddhism by its occupants.
As well as admiring the ancient architecture, visitors can also browse through artefacts in the many small museums around the site – including some incredible ceramics, jade and bronzeware.
It takes a couple of hours to do a quick tour through the main halls of the Forbidden City, but if you want to thoroughly explore this incredible palace then a good half day is required.
Gate of Heavenly Peace
The entrance to the Forbidden City and an icon of Beijing – mostly due to its impressive architecture and large portrait of Mao Zedong. The words on either side of the portrait read: “long live the people’s republic of China” and “long live unified people of the world”.
Built in 1417 during the Ming Dynasty (but burnt down several times and most recently rebuilt in 1970), it was used not just as a gate but also as a stage where new emperors and empresses would be presented to the common people. Commoners were forbidden from crossing the threshold of this gate until the end of the last dynasty in 1911. Only the emperor could pass through the central archway, whereas important aristocrats were permitted to enter via the smaller side entrances.
To reach the gate you must first pass over the Golden Water Bridge. This network of seven marble bridges is protected from evil spirits by guardian lions and dragon carvings.
Tickets: 40 RMB (winter), 60 RMB (summer).
Opening hours: 8:30 – 16:30 (winter), 8:30 – 17:00 (summer).
Recommended visit: 1/2 day.
Transport: take the bus or metro line 1 to Tiananmen Square East (天安门西) or West (天安门东).
Top tip: the Forbidden City is also known as the Palace Museum – which is the name used on signs in the area.