China's most glorious palace sits in the heart of the capital city of Beijing. As one of China's largest and most well preserved heritage sites, the Forbidden City is a must-see for all visitors to China. It is considered to be among the world's top 5 most important palaces of all time, and is China's most popular single site tourist attraction. Read on for the top facts pertinent to tourists.
The Forbidden City is one of three ancient palaces still standing in modern China and is the largest ancient palace in the world.
While the other two palaces have significant places in the history of China's ruling elite, the Forbidden City has been the home 500 years of dynastic rule and is the one of the most well preserved ancient structures in all of China. The palace is cherished by the Chinese people and considered a national treasure, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Due to its cultural significance and unique beauty, the Forbidden City is extremely popular with both Chinese and foreign tourists. The palace museum boasts 14 million visitors annually.
These overwhelming numbers often make for extensive lines, particularly on national holidays and weekends. The Chinese government is working hard to ensure the constant flow of visitors is well-regulated and to prevent harm to the ancient buildings by the large crowds. The palace is considered a must-see for everyone lucky enough to visit Beijing.
There is a lot of ground to cover once you enter the Forbidden City and each twist and turn has a new aspect of Chinese history and culture to offer.
Each of the many rooms feature statues and other artifacts and representations of life in ancient China. The 9,999 rooms in the Forbidden City are contained within 980 magnificent wooden buildings. You can read more about specific buildings and their unique features:
For more on the typical tour route, see our main Forbidden city page.
Traditional Chinese cuisine is always excellent, but the imperial dishes stand out. During the reign of China's emperors, many dishes were created by the chefs at The Forbidden City that could only be found on the imperial table.
If you are looking to dine like an imperial ruler, Beijing offers many imperial cuisine restaurants that prepare meals as they would have been made in the kitchens of the palace. Peking duck is one of the most popular of such dishes. The Fangshan Restaurant and Family Li Imperial Cuisine Restaurant are both popular places to dine like emperors. They are also located near the Forbidden City and can be reached by taxi or on foot.
The Forbidden City is home to one of the most well curated collections of Chinese historical artifacts in the world. Visitors will be able to see a stunning array of ancient treasures and buildings while touring the complex. Ancient porcelain and jade, gardens, plazas, sites of historic significance for China and the world feature prominently.
The collection spans thousands of years of Chinese history and is considered one of the best museums in the world. It's top of China's top 10 museums list. It is also home to the largest collection of ancient wooden structures in the world.
For more see The Top 10 Treasures in the Forbidden City.
History states that 24 Chinese emperors called the Forbidden City home during their reigns. The emperors of the Ming Dynasty began construction in 1406 and the complex was completed in 1420. These Ming emperors held control until the Manchus took possession in 1644 and moved the capital to Shenyang briefly.
The Qing Dynasty later moved the capital back to Beijing and The Forbidden City. The emperors of China ruled from this impressive fortress until the abdication of the last Qing emperor in 1912 at the creation of the Republic of China.
The estimated 1 million laborers who worked to complete the structure have left their marks in the unique artistry of the paintings, carvings, and design of the palace. At 720,000 square meters (7,747,200 square feet / 180 acres) it is an impressive structure for those with an interest in learning about Chinese architecture and culture.
The societal implications given in the layout and design of the structure reveals what it may have been like to live in imperial China. For a size comparison, the Vatican measures 440,000 square meters, and the Kremlin measures 275,000 square meters. The impressiveness of the size and scale of this ancient fortress is not to be missed.
See more on ancient Chinese architecture.
The Forbidden City is in an excellent location for tourism. The central location offers easy and efficient access to surrounding sites and some of the best shopping in Beijing (see Wangfujing Street).
Many tourists opt for a walking tour of the area that includes Tian'anmen Square (the National Museum there is also worth a visit), the hutongs, and Jingshan Park for an elevated overview of the Forbidden City. The restaurants, and upscale tourism areas make the area an ideal place to spend the day.
The weather in Beijing is at its most pleasant in the spring and fall.
Spring offers mild temperatures with blooming gardens, but can occasionally be rainy. It lasts from March to May and is a popular time for travel throughout China.
Fall is an excellent time to visit before the winter chill sets in. September to November are usually the clearest and warmest months for travel during fall in northern China.
You can enjoy up to three days touring the Beijing area without a visa. Beijing became 72-hour visa-free in 2013 and many tourists have taken advantage of this opportunity. Seeing the Forbidden City is a perfect way to spend one of your three visa-free days in the capital. Read more about traveling visa-free travel in Beijing to learn if you qualify.