Visiting the Forbidden City in Beijing

The Forbidden City is an ancient imperial palace complex in Beijing, China, it is the largest ancient palace in the world (measured by the combined floor spaces of buildings, see also: Facts about the Palace of Versailles, the largest royal domain in the world). The palace is situated in the heart of Beijing, it served as the major imperial palace in Ming and Qing Dynasty and was home to 24 emperors. With a history of 600 years, it's one of the best preserved ancient structure and imperial palace in China and one of the world's top 5 most important palaces.

How to get to the Forbidden City

The most popular way to get to the Forbidden City is by metro: Take Metro Line 1, stop at Tiananmen East station, get out at Exit B, then walk towards the Tower of Tiananmen, and walk though it, you will see another similar tower, again walk through it, you will finally see the gate of the Forbidden City -- the Meridian Gate.

The History

Below is a brief review of the history of Forbidden City:
In 1402, when Yongle Emperor became the third emperor of Ming Dynasty, he moved the capital from Nanjing to Beijing, followed with a proposal for a new palace complex to be built in the center of the new capital city.
The construction of the palace complex which would become Forbidden City began in 1406, more than one million workers participated in the construction, which lasted 14 years, the Forbidden City was complete in 1420.
After the completion of the palaces, Forbidden City became the political center of Ming Dynasty, and remained that for next 224 years.
Ming Dynasty collapsed in 1644, when Forbidden City was invaded by rebel army led by Li Zicheng, who briefly took control of the palace for a few months, after that in the same year, he was defeated by Manchu forces, which then occupied Forbidden City and founded Qing Dynasty, Forbidden City became the seat of Qing Dynasty, and remained that for another 268 years, until in 1912 when the last emperor of China Puyi was abdicated.
Since 1925 the Forbidden City started being recognized as the Palace Museum, allowing public to visit, the museum houses extensive collection of treasures made in the Ming and Qing dynasties.
In 1948, before China was fully controlled by Communist party, a small part of the treasures in Forbidden City was transferred to Taiwan, those small part of collection is now displayed in National Palace Museum in Taipei.
In 1987 the Forbidden City was declared a World's Cultural Heritage Site by UNESCO, and is listed as the world's largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures.

Interesting Facts about the Forbidden City

Below are some interesting facts about the Forbidden City:

1. The scale

The Forbidden City is shaped in rectangle, it's 3,153 feet (960 meters) long from north to south and 2,470 feet (753 meters) wide from east to west, covering an area of 7,747,200 sq feet (720,000 sq meters or 180 acres), that's approximately twice the size of the Vatican City in Rome.

Forbidden City looked from above
Forbidden City looked from above

Today there are a total of 980 buildings existing in Forbidden City, with 8886 rooms, some buildings were destroyed in fire accidents which occurred many times in the history, it is said that the palace complex originally had a total of 9999 rooms.
The Forbidden City is surrounded by a moat, it can be found on all the four sides of the rectangle of Forbidden City, the moat is 3800 meters long in total by four sides of the rectangle and 52 meters wide.

2. The name of Forbidden City

The Forbidden City is actually not forbidden today, the name is translated from the Chinese word "紫禁城", which literally means "Purple Forbidden City", the word Purple at here symbolizes the imperial power, not the purple color, so it's shortened as Forbidden City in English, Forbidden City is called that is because in the past it was an imperial palace that built only for the emperor, royal family, ministers and some related personnel, common people were forbidden to enter there.
Nowadays in China, this name is rarely used by local, as the Forbidden City is no longer forbidden since Qing Dynasty collapsed, it had been transformed into the Place Museum which is opened to public for sightseeing. In China the Chinese word Gugong (In English: Former Palace) is now the most used name of the palace complex, it's also called Palace Museum as it stores numerous treasures, and the ancient buildings themselves are collection, which is known as the largest collection of ancient wooden structures in the world.

3. About some major buildings

Meridian Gate: The southern gate of the Forbidden City, Meridian Gate is the only entrance for visitors.

The Meridian Gate is comprised of five buildings, one in the middle, both of its two sides stood two smaller buildings, forming a scene of two protruding arms on either side.
The site of Meridian Gate was believed being situated at a point where the Meridian passes, and the entire Forbidden City was designed to be symmetrical to this axis.
A saying of "Beheading out of the Meridian Gate" is very common in Chinese films and TV series, in the history, only the punishments on some sergeants and the captives were carried out on the square of Meridian Gate. The most execution of the criminals were held in Caishikou, which is about 1.8 mile southeast of Meridian Gate.

The Hall of Supreme Harmony: The largest hall in the Forbidden City and the largest surviving wooden structure in China, The Hall of Supreme Harmony is the third building on the central axis of Forbidden City, it's situated behind the Meridian Gate and the Gate of Supreme Harmony, at the the heart of the Outer Court.

The Hall of Supreme Harmony and the courtyard
The Hall of Supreme Harmony and the courtyard

In the Ming dynasty, the emperors held court in the hall to discuss affairs of state with ministers. The hall became a ceremonial center in Qing Dynasty for emperors to host enthronement and wedding ceremonies.

The Palace of Heavenly Purity: The largest hall of the Inner Court, the Palace of Heavenly Purity was the residence of Emperors in Ming Dynasty. In Qing Dynasty, the emperors chose the Hall of Mental Cultivation to the west of it as their residence, and made the Palace of Heavenly Purity as the emperor's audience hall to hold court.

Gate of Divine Might: The northern gate of Forbidden City, a banner displays "Place Museum" is installed on the north side of the building. However, this gate is not opened to visitors, to get into Forbidden City visitors must enter through the Meridian Gate.

4. The door steps

One of the most distinct features of the buildings in Forbidden City is the high steps that found at the entry of every chamber or at other kinds of doors.

You may think they are unnecessary, but in the eyes of Chinese and especially who believe in Taoism or Buddhism, those high steps must be there, because in Chinese culture ghost can't jump high, the high step can make ghosts trapped thus prevent ghosts from entering the rooms to hurt people who live in the room.

5. The replica for filming

Before 1990s, there were some movies and TV series filmed in Forbidden City, one of them is The Last Emperor, a film about the life of Puyi, the last emperor of China. After 1990, almost no films or TV series were filmed in Forbidden City, as it's quite difficult to be approved by the authority.
To make Forbidden City shown in the films and TV series, in 1998 a same scaled replica of Forbidden City that looks almost exactly same as the original one is built in Hengdian, a town in Zhejiang Province.

The replica of Meridian Gate in Hengdian
The replica of Meridian Gate in Hengdian

6. The closed Starbucks coffee shop

There used to be a Starbucks coffee shop inside the Forbidden City, the coffee shop was operated in Jiuqing Court House(九卿朝房), which is not far from Palace of Heavenly Purity, it was the place for ministers to have rest before the courts held.


After 7 years of operation, The Starbucks coffee shop in Forbidden City was closed in July 2007, since the existence of this store that under an American brand in such a major Chinese cultural site got reported by a large number of medias in early 2007 and sparked protects, the critics claimed that the Starbucks erodes Chinese culture. Soon after that a new coffee shop under the brand name of the palace itself was opened in the same place.

7. The height restriction on nearby buildings

In 1978, the renowned architect I.M. Pei (An Chinese American starchitect who best known for his work of Bank of China Tower in Hong Kong, Louvre Pyramid in Paris and many other notable buildings in the world.) was invited to visit Beijing and was asked to design a high-rise hotel building beside Forbidden City, he refused, as he thinks the existence of nearby high-rise buildings will ruin the dignity of Forbidden City, soon after that, a policy of height restriction for the area near Forbidden City was enacted, that's why today the tallest buildings in Beijing are not built in the central area of the city.

Tourism and sightseeing

The Forbidden City is the most popular single site tourist attraction in China, it's very popular among both Chinese and foreign tourists, attracting an average of 15 million visitors annually recent years and is still increasing, in 2016 the number of visitors had even reached 16 million.
Inside the Forbidden City, you will be able to enjoy the impressive views of so many ancient palaces, it's so large that you may spend many hours to see all those buildings, gardens, plazas inside it. Forbidden City also stores numerous collections of historical artifacts, including porcelain wares, paintings, bronze wares, jades, and many more, for these collections Forbidden City is also known as Palace Museum.
Although there are so many things to see in this former imperial palace complex, the admission fee is only 9 US Dollars from April to October, and 6 US Dollars from November to March, it's considered very cheap compared with many other attractions in China, for reference, Shenyang also has an imperial palace, which was used as the official residence of the emperor of Qing Dynasty before he migrated to Forbidden City, but it's much smaller than Forbidden City and has much less buildings to see, it charges same as Forbidden City for a visit.
As the amount of visitors is so large, the queues for tickets can be very long, particularly on weekends and Chinese holidays. It's better to book the ticket online in advance.

Be aware the opening hours of Forbidden City is 8:30 to 17:00 in Spring and Summer, and 8:30 to 16:30 in Autumn and Winter, it closes earlier than other tourist attractions, don't forget to go earlier.

Today visiting Forbidden City is much less difficult than in the past, you don't even need a visa, Beijing is one of the cities in China that had the policy of 72-hour visa-free transit implemented in 2013, if you just want to visit Forbidden City or Great Wall and do not intend to visit other cities in China, 3 days is enough for you.

Share this:

4 thoughts on “Visiting the Forbidden City in Beijing

Comments are closed.