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How to Plan a Forbidden City Tour – Be a Smart Visitor

No lover of history or architecture can resist the lure of the Forbidden City. This 600-year-old palace complex was home to the last 24 emperors of the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1912) dynasties. After a large-scale renovation it now houses the Palace Museum, an absolute must-see in Beijing.

The Forbidden City is a huge and popular attraction, so before you leave, you should plan a smart palace tour and take on board some essential travel tips.

What to Expect in the Forbidden City

The Forbidden City covers an area of over 180 acres, with 980 surviving buildings and extensive artwork and artifacts. So generally, no matter how interested you are in the palace, it is unlikely you will get round the whole city in one day. Following are some special features we have selected for your inspiration.

1. Classical Chinese Architecture

the Hall of Supreme Harmony

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 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.

  • If you want a professional guide to help you learn more in depth about the Palace Museum, just contact us.

2. Permanent vs. Temporary Exhibitions

Exhibition in the Forbidden City

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:

Clock Exhibition
  • 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 accoutrements 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

Hilltop View of the Forbidden City

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.

Best Time to Visit

the Turret of the Moat

The best seasons to visit the Palace Museum are spring (April to May) and autumn (September to October), when the temperatures are more comfortable. But of course, it’s ok if you’re interested in joining the endless stream of tourists in summer, or in enjoying a unique and quiet snow-covered palace.

Remember, however (if you hate squeezing through the crowds), not to try to visit the Forbidden City during Chinese public holidays, including New Year’s Day (January 1st), Spring Festival (late January or early February), May Day (May 1st to 3rd) and Chinese National Day holidays (October 1st to 7th), as well as summer holidays from July to August each year.

Recommended Tour Routes

Forbidden City Tour Routes

Depending on your physical condition and interests, we have three recommended palace tour routes for your reference.

1. Two-Hour Standard Tour (the red line, the most popular and crowded route): from the south entrance to the north exit along the central axis (the Meridian Gate → the Hall of Supreme Harmony → the Hall of Middle Harmony → the Hall of Preserving Harmony → the Palace of Heavenly Purity → the Palace of Union and Peace → the Palace of Earthly Tranquility → the Imperial Garden → the Gate of Divine Prowess)

2. Half-Day Tour (the blue line): walk through the three main halls along the central axis and then tour the East Wing (the Hall of Clocks → the Treasure Gallery → the 6 east-wing palaces → the Imperial Garden → the Gate of Divine Prowess), or the West Wing (the Hall of Mental Cultivation → the 6 west-wing palaces → the Imperial Garden → the Gate of Divine Prowess)

3. One-Day In-Depth Tour (the green line): the Meridian Gate → the Hall of Literary Brilliance (”Gallery of Painting and Calligraphy”) → the Gate of Supreme Harmony → walk through the three main halls along the central axis → lunch → Hall of Ancestral Worship ("Hall of Clocks") → Area of Palace of Tranquil Longevity ("The Treasure Gallery, Gallery of Qing Imperial Opera") → step through the long corridor of the 6 east-wing palaces → Palace of Great Benevolence → tour through the latter three halls → the Imperial Garden → the Gate of Divine Prowess

How to Avoid the Crowds

Family Tour in Beijing
  • 1. Buy tickets in advance on the  official Forbidden Palace English website (http://en.dpm.org.cn/).
  • 2. Dont walk through Tiananmen, which is always terribly crowded. You can take an alternative route to the palace: walk through the Gate of East Brilliance (Donghua Men) and move along the city moat. You’ll get to the Meridian Gate (Wu Men, the entrance).
  • 3. Tour in the low season (November 1 to March 31).
  • 4. Get to the Forbidden City early or late: before its opening time (8:30 am) or in the afternoon (after 2 pm).
  • 5. Skip the central axis at the beginning. Upon entering the palace, most tourists visit the three main halls and then leave through the Gate of Divine Prowess.
  • 6. To avoid the crowds, you can visit in the opposite direction, i.e. tour the east or west wing first and then turn round to visit along the central axis, and finally exit the palace from the Donghua Men (an alternative exit).

Travel Tips

the Forbidden City
  • 1. Since June 2018, the Museum has been closed on Mondays (excluding national holidays).
  • 2. The maximum daily number of visitors is 80,000.
  • 3. Ticket windows provide a service to foreigners who can’t buy tickets online.
  • 4. Galleries at the western corridor rooms flanking the Hall of Imperial Supremacy (Huangji Dian), which form part of the Treasure Gallery, have been closed for upgrading since 24 February 2018.
  • 5. Entry is allowed only through the Meridian Gate (Wu Men), while exit is allowed only through the Gate of Divine Prowess (Shenwu Men) behind the Imperial Garden, or the Gate of Eastern Brilliance (Donghua Men).
  • 6. Audio guide devices can be rented from Wu Men or Shenwu men at a cost of CNY 20 for Chinese and Cantonese versions, or CNY 40 for other languages.
  • 7. Wheelchairs and strollers are available at Wu Men and Shenwu Men, on payment of a deposit of CNY 300.
  • 8. Prepare some good walking shoes!

Experience Palace Culture with China Travel

Forbidden City

Our Customers and Guide

Would you like to dig deeper into imperial culture and history and hitherto secret gossip about the emperors and their concubines? Book our Beijing Boutique Tour. Our knowledgeable English-speaking guide will escort you to experience the best of the Forbidden City! Alternatively, if you have any queries about possible tours, just contact us.

Other popular tours incorporating the Forbidden City: