Overview: If walls could talk, visitors to the Forbidden City would hear tales of opulence beyond their wildest dream, from daily 100-course... more »
If walls could talk, visitors to the Forbidden City would hear tales of opulence beyond their wildest dream, from daily 100-course... more » meals to harems of 9,000 concubines. Alas, we can only wander through the massive palace and infer what lives these exalted emperors led from the structures left behind. Officially titled the Imperial Palace, the Forbidden City earned its common name from the fact that ordinary citizens weren't allowed to approach the complex during the 500 years of its use.
After visiting the palace, get a different impression of China's rulers in the adjacent Tiananmen Square, where you can pay a visit to Mao Zedong himself. While some tourists choose to spend several days exploring the Forbidden City, those with limited time can see plenty with this half-day walk. The walk includes several main structures of the Forbidden City as well as the highlights of Tiananmen Square. less «
Not surprisingly, the Forbidden City can be quite packed on weekends; arriving early is a good way to avoid crowds if you can't visit ... more »during the week. There is no particular dress code. Indeed, it can be quite entertaining to check out current Chinese fashion while wading through the masses; the younger generation is quite stylish.
If you want to catch some action at Tiananmen Square, show up for sunrise or sunset, where there is a daily flag raising/lowering ceremony. Otherwise don't expect any excitement as plainclothes police and staggering amounts of security cameras ensure no one's acting up.
As you walk about in this area, avoid "art students" looking to bring you to wildly overpriced exhibitions as well as friendly strangers who want to practice their English by taking you a traditional tea ceremony (you'll get stuck with a serious bill).
Take Line 1 of the subway to Tiananmen Square. As you exit the subway, you can generally follow the crowds and signs toward the Forbidden City. If you get off at Tiananmen Xi (west) stop, the main entrance to the Forbidden City will be on your left. If you get off at Tiananmen Dong (east), the main entrance will be on your right. Both subway stops are equidistant from the palace. In either case, you will have to walk some 300 meters to the entrance. less «
At the entrance to the Forbidden City, go past the classic portrait of Chairman Mao, the stalls selling snacks and souvenirs, the guards doing drills or playing basketball, and continue until you can go no farther. On your left (west) is the ticket booth. The cost is 60RMB from April to October and 40RMB from November to March. The Hall of Jewelry... More and the Clock Exhibition Hall will set you back another 10 RMB each and you pay for those inside in palace. These exhibits are not only full of interesting wares, but the crowds are generally thinner here. There is a neat audio guide that also includes a map of all the buildings and shows where you are within the complex. The guide costs 40RMB with a 100RMB deposit.
You can pay with a credit card for the tickets; the audio guide is cash only. If you are paying by credit card, choose the line with the Union Pay sticker in the window. This line is for tour guides but can also be used for credit card purchases.
Hours: 8:30am - 4:30 pm
Entry Fee: CNY 60Less
As you enter the Forbidden City you will pass through the Meridian Gate and directly ahead will be a large courtyard leading to the Gate of Supreme Harmony. Note the differences in the two bronze lions that flank the gate. The lion on the western side has his paw on a ball, symbolizing the world and the emperor's power over it. The equally... More intimidating eastern lioness has her paw on a cub, symbolizing the emperor's lineage.Less
The largest building of the complex is the Hall of Supreme Harmony. Here the emperor would preside over the most important state occasions, such as his birthday or the nominations of military leaders. Coronations were held here as well.
Join the group peeking inside the hall and get a glimpse of the emperor's golden dragon throne. When the... More emperor was seated here (or anywhere) a kowtow would be performed as a sign of respect. Kowtow is a type of bowing where one's head touches the ground. The full kowtow was the most formal type, which involved three kneelings and touching one's forehead to the ground nine times.
Behind the Hall of Supreme Harmony is the Hall of Middle Harmony, where you can see the chairs that carried the emperor throughout the grounds.Less
The third hall is the Hall of Preserving Harmony, which was used for banquets. Later, in the Qing Dynasty in the 18th century, it was also used for imperial examinations.
An ornate throne can be seen in the middle of the hall. When you pass through to the other side, be sure to check out the low relief sculpture that forms a ramp between sets of ... Morestairs. The emperor, being transported in his sedan chair, would be carried over the marble carving of nine dragons twisting among clouds, waves and lotuses every time he ascended or descended the building. Similar ramps can be found throughout the Forbidden City. But, at more than 16 meters long and weighing in at 250 tons, this block of marble is the most impressive.Less
Veering right (east) after the Hall of Preserving Harmony, you will pass through a courtyard where contests of archery and horsemanship were once held. Nowadays, you can pick up a soda or other light refreshment before heading on to the northeast section of the Forbidden City. The areas to the south are not open to the public.
Before you can... More view the Hall of Jewelry and all the treasures within, you must buy an additional ticket for 10RMB. If you're hesitating, note that the ticket actually grants access to several different sites in this section, not just the one hall. As you go through the gate, you will see the "Nine Dragon Screen" on your left, which is a colorful mural composed of 270 glazed tiles. The Chinese always have been big believers in superstitions and symbols. The number nine is considered auspicious both because it is the highest single digit and because the name sounds similar to the word for long, implying longevity. The dragon, a hugely popular creature in China, is a symbol of imperial power and good luck.
Continue north to see the halls with exhibits, including the Hall of Joyful Longevity, the Hall of Jewelry and the Hall of Harmony.Less
As you emerge from the exhibit halls you will be on the northeast corner of the Forbidden City. Head left, toward the center, to reach the Imperial Garden. A Chinese garden differs from a Western one in that there no masses of pruned flowers, instead the focus is on a balance of light, forms, and textures. The Imperial Garden is no exception and... More is full of ancient wrinkled cypress trees, rock formations, ponds and archways.Less
Tiananmen Square is often associated in the West with the 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations and subsequent killings that occurred in neighboring streets (the number of reported deaths varies wildly).
Last expanded in 1951, Tiananmen Square was constructed to be a symbol of the physical greatness of the Communist Party, an open area where... More literally 1 million people could gather for parades and speeches. Note the number of people taking souvenir pictures of themselves in the vast space and you can get a sense of what an important icon this is for national tourists. At 440,000 square meters, it is the world's largest public square.
It is also a bit tricky to access, as the square is lined with railings and you can enter only via a few points along the perimeter. Look for the icon of a man descending stairs as you exit the Forbidden City. There is one to the left and one to the right. These lead to underground walkways. From here you will see signs in English directing you to the square and after having your bags X-rayed you will find yourself street level at the northern end of Tiananmen Square.Less
The first structure you will notice in the vast square is are two large screens depicting idyllic scenes of China. Behind that is the Monument to the People's Heroes, an obelisk that pays tribute to those who lost their lives during the Communist Revolution.
Next, get in line to see the preserved body of Mao Zedong, located directly south of the Monument to the People's Heros. He is better known as Chairman Mao, leader of the Chinese Revolution and ruler of China from 1949 to 1979. While there are mixed feelings toward the ruler, many Chinese still revere Mao and his picture is hung in living rooms... More throughout the country. Viewing his body is a solemn and brief experience. This is also the place to pick up all manner of Mao memorabilia.
The entrance is on the eastern side of the hall. Admission is free, but there is a small fee for baggage storage and an extra charge if you're storing a camera. No photography is allowed inside. If you have no one to hold your stuff, you have to check your bag at a kiosk outside the hall. The maximum cost is 15RMB.
From Chairman Mao Memorial Hall the closest subway station is the Qianmen subway station, which is on the Line 2 route. There is an entrance about 100 meters southeast of the hall. Alternatively, you can turn around and head back to the Line 5 stops located on either side of the Forbidden City, Tiananmen West or Tiananmen East.