How to Visit the Forbidden City
The Forbidden City, the world’s largest royal palace complex, is a truly unique and special place. No longer is entry punished by the pain of death, so anyone with a ticket- can come to see it now. Visiting it can be intimidating though, for a variety of reasons; it sees thousands of tourists every day, Beijing’s weather and smog are notorious, and the language barrier inherent in visiting China is difficult to overcome. Fortunately, we have a guide that can help you make this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity a reality.
The Best Time to Visit
Visit the Forbidden City
According to the annual tourist flow map, the week before September 1st (when the school term begins), i.e. the last week of August, is the period when the Forbidden City has the least tourists each year.
Winter and summer vacations, Labor Day (May 1st to 3rd) and National Day (October 1st to 7th) are peak periods, but the flow of daily visitors in the last week of the summer vacation is sharply reduced to about 1/5 of the average, which is the main trough in the year.
Try not to visit the Forbidden City during the major Chinese public holidays mentioned above, unless you want to join in some celebrations.
The Forbidden City is visited by 14,000,000 tourists annually. That’s an average of over 38,000 tourists a day, the following guidelines will help you avoid getting lost in the massive crowds.
Top Highlights to See
1. Classical Chinese Architecture
Located at the center of Beijing’s central axis, the Forbidden City is a museum featuring palace culture, art, architecture, and history.
It is the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world, consisting of two parts, showcasing the supremacy of imperial power in ancient China: the magnificent Outer Court (the southern section) and the strictly symmetrical Inner Palace (the northern section).
From the overall symmetrical layout to the smallest detail, the complex was meticulously planned to reflect the philosophical and religious principles of ancient Chinese palace architecture.
When touring the city, don’t miss the three most essential halls (the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Hall of Middle Harmony, and the Hall of Preserving Harmony) on the central axis.
In addition to the palace buildings, there are more than 1.8 million cultural relics in the Palace Museum at present, including all kinds of treasures and articles, used or collected by the emperors.
It’s a good idea to skip the central axis and take a different route to visit the glorious exhibitions in the palace, for a deeper understanding of imperial history and hitherto secret gossip about the emperors and their concubines.
The main permanent exhibitions are:
- The Hall of Clocks in the Hall for Ancestral Worship (Fengxian Dian) – Clocks and timepieces from the permanent collections are routinely exhibited here.
- The Treasure Gallery in the Palace of Tranquil Longevity Sector (Ningshou Gong Qu) – This consists of six rooms displaying items from the imperial collection and extant accouterments for palace life, including jade, jadeite, gold, silver, pearls, and other precious and semi-precious stones.
- The Ceramics Gallery in the Hall of Martial Valor (Wuying Dian) – Hundreds of porcelain and ceramic items showing the evolution of ceramics from the Neolithic Age to the late Qing dynasty.
The museum also houses some other high-quality themed exhibitions, constantly changing, for example:
- The “Four Wangs’ Paintings of the Early Qing Period, Collected by the Palace Museum” from 2018-09-12 to 2018-10-30;
- The “Color of History – Exhibition of Archeological Cultural Relics, Decorative and Applied Art of Ukraine” from 2018-09-26 to 2018-11-19; and
- The “Antikythera Shipwreck” from 2018-9-14 to 2018-12-16.
3. A Panoramic View from the Hilltop
Jingshan is the man-made hill opposite the northern gate of the Forbidden City. Walking up to Jingshan Park after touring the palace, a panoramic view from the highest point of Jingshan is even more eye-catching than the views from inside.
Most photographic overviews of the Forbidden City on social media that attracted your attention were taken from the top of Jingshan.
How to Buy Tickets?
1. The Palace Museum has been implementing an online ticketing policy since October 10th, 2017.
2. The Museum has been closed on Mondays since June 2018 (excluding national holidays) to improve the protection of the cultural heritage and to create more time for renovations of the ancient buildings.
3. Due to the daily limit of 80,000 visitors, tourists are recommended to buy tickets online (the official website available in English: The Palace Museum) with appropriate IDs well in advance. Those without any credentials cannot gain access to the museum.
4. There are windows to provide a ticketing service to foreigners who can’t buy tickets online.
How to Avoid the Crowds
The Forbidden City isn’t so forbidden anymore. Seeing close to 40,000 people on average per diem, it’s easy to get lost in the multitudes. However, a crafty visitor can see the city without getting pushed around by noisy, inconsiderate tourists by following a few guidelines.
Show Up Early
Arrive before the complex opens and queue in the front. When the gates open, you will be the first inside.
Come During the Off-Season
Avoid Chinese holidays- particularly National Day, from the 1st to the 7th of October. Avoid weekends.
The last week of July is the low season for the Forbidden City. If you happen to be in Beijing then, that would be a great time to visit.
Facilities in the Palace
1. The museum provides a free luggage check-in service: you can check in your luggage at the entrance (the Meridian Gate) and collect it again at the exit, the Spiritual Valor Gate (Shen Wu Men).
2. It would be a good idea to rent an audio guide device from the Meridian Gate or the Gate of Divine Prowess (Shen Wu Men) at a cost of CNY 20 for Chinese and Cantonese versions, or CNY 40 for other languages.
3. Barrier-free access is available in the Forbidden City.
4. Wheelchairs and strollers are provided at the Meridian Gate and the Gate of Divine Prowess (Shen Wu Men), on payment of a deposit of CNY 300.
5. There are restaurants and tourist shops in the area.
Recommended Tour Routes
Depending on your physical condition and interests, we have three recommended palace tour routes for your reference.
In-depth Forbidden City Tour with China Travel
Take your time to enjoy the 4-Day Beijing Essence and In-depth Forbidden City Tour with China Travel:
- Our English-speaking expert guide will lead you to explore this largest imperial palace in the world and give you comprehensive explanations with pictures.
- You will see all highlights and discover the hidden history of Chinese imperial life.
- This in-depth Forbidden City tour takes about 3 hours while common Forbidden City tour only lasts about 2 hours.
- In the afternoon, you’ll visit the corner watchtower to have a bird's eye view of the Forbidden City.