Home China Guide Beijing Attractions The Forbidden City

The Forbidden City — 9999 Rooms for 14 Emperors

The Forbidden City; the palatial heart of the Middle Kingdom. Conceived of, and originally constructed, during the early Ming Dynasty it is the best preserved imperial palace in all of China, and the largest ancient palatial structure in the world. 

The grand palaces and foreboding walls proudly display the essence and culmination of traditional Chinese architectural accomplishment in a city surging into the future. 

International Recognition

In 1961 the Forbidden City was listed as an important historical monument under Chinese central government special preservation, a listing which spared the City from the ravages of the Cultural Revolution. In 1987 its splendor was further recognized when it was nominated as a World Cultural Heritage site by UNESCO. 

The Forbidden City of China

To this day, the Palace Museum is a treasure trove of Chinese cultural and historical relics dating back hundreds of years. These include magnificent paintings, ceramics and jade, as well as items used by the imperial family in daily life.

The Forbidden City has now become recognized as one of the five most important palaces in the world. A distinction it shares with the Palace of Versailles in France, Buckingham Palace in London, the White House in the United States, and the Kremlin in Russia. 

History

The Forbidden CityThe Forbidden City

The Forbidden City, situated in the very heart of Beijing, was home to 24 emperors of the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) Dynasties.

The construction of the grand palace started in the fourth year of Emperor Yongle of the Ming Dynasty (1406), and ended in 1420.

In ancient times, the emperor was said to be a son of Heaven, and therefore Heaven’s supreme power was bestowed upon him. The emperors’ residence on earth was built as a replica of the Purple Palace where God was thought to live in Heaven.

Names: Such a divine place was certainly forbidden to ordinary people and that is why the Forbidden City is so named. Originally called Zijin Cheng ('Purple Forbidden City'), in China now it is usually called Gugong (故宫 /goo-gong), the 'Former/Old Palace'.

The Layout of the Imperial Palace

high defensive wallThe Forbidden City's high defensive wall The main hall of the Forbidden City

To represent the supreme power of the emperor given from God, and the place where he lived being the center of the world, all the gates, palace and other structures of the Forbidden City were arranged about the north-south central axis of old Beijing.

For security the Forbidden City is enclosed by a 10-meter-high defensive wall, which has a circumference of 3, 430 meters. At each corner of the Forbidden City, there stands a magnificent watchtower, which was heavily guarded in the past. Around the city there is a moat as the first line of defense. 

The Forbidden City covers an area of about 72 hectares (178 acres) with a total floor space of approximately 150,000 square meters (1,600,000 square feet). It consists of 90 palaces and courtyards, 980 buildings and 8,704 rooms.

How To Get There

The Forbidden City is ideally situated in central Beijing and extremely convenient to reach. There are a number of different options available to you.

Subway

Line 1 is the best option for reaching the Forbidden City by subway. Simply get out at either Tian'anmen East or Tian'anmen West station and you will immediately see the enormous red walls, the bustle of Tian'anmen Square, and the smiling portrait of Mao Zedong hanging above the main entrance. 

If you prefer to walk and sight see along the way, a good option is to take Line 2 and get out at Qianmen station which is on the other side of Tian'anmen Square. From here you can walk through the square and enjoy the sites of the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall (commonly known as the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong), the National Museum of China and the Great Hall of the People on the way to the main entrance of the Forbidden City.

Bus

The Forbidden City can be reached by taking several different buses to reach the north of Tian'anmen square, where the main entrance to the Forbidden City is located. The bus numbers in ascending order are 1, 5, 10, 22, 52, 59, 82, 90, 99, 120, 126, 203, 205, 210 and 728.

Taxi

There is strictly no stopping at any time outside of the main entrance to the Forbidden City. However, taxi drivers are well aware of this rule and will stop a few dozen meters away with the famous red walls still in sight. Simply flag down a taxi and ask to go to Gugong (or Forbidden City, as most taxi drivers will be aware of its English name) and the driver will take you straight there. Beijing taxi's are cheap by western standards and tips are not expected.

Costs

Entry

The price of entry to the Forbidden City varies by the season. In the colder months from November – March the price is 40 yuan (approx. 6.3 USD), whilst during the warmer months the price rises to 60 yuan (approx. 9.4 USD). 

Entry to the Clock Exhibition Hall or the Hall of Jewelry is priced at 10 yuan (approx. 1.5 USD).

Extras

  • Audio guide (more than 40 languages available) — 40 yuan (approx. 6.3 USD) 
  • Wheelchairs — Free to use with a 500 yuan (approx. 79 USD) deposit
  • Pushchairs/strollers — Free to use with a 300 yuan (approx. 47 USD) deposit

Things to Be Aware Of

Photography Restrictions

Photography is allowed within most places of the Forbidden City, with photography restrictions being clearly signed in prohibited areas.

Opening Times

The Forbidden city is open 8:30am–5pm throughout April–October, and 8:30am–4:30pm throughout November–March. The last entry is 1 hour prior to closing. The site is closed on Mondays.

Queues and Crowds

Forbidden CityForeground: private tour group
Background: group tour parties
See 11 Reasons Your China Tour Should Be Private… Not a Group Tour

As you might expect, the Forbidden City can become very busy as it attracts more than 14 million visitors annually. Because of this the queue to gain entry can be quite long, but tends to move quite quickly. 

Once inside, due to its sheer size you can find many areas with minimal visitors, however around certain attractions, such as The Hall of Supreme Harmony, the crowd can get quite big as they try to peek inside. Simply be patient and try to work your way to the front. 

A Typical Forbidden City Guided Tour

Any tour of Beijing would be incomplete without a visit to the Forbidden City. The following is the typical group tour route.

Entrances

Tian'anmenTian'anmen

Most travelers enter the Forbidden City through Tian'anmen, the Gate of Heavenly Peace. Through the gate, across an expansive brick-paved square, you will reach the main entrance to the palace, Meridian Gate (Wumen in Chinese).

Meridian Gate was the place where the Emperor announced the new lunar calendar on the winter solstice. Enter through Meridian Gate, and go across Golden Stream Bridge, then you will arrive at the outer court. The Forbidden City falls into two parts: the outer court and the inner palaces.

The Outer Court

Hall of Supreme HarmonyHall of Supreme Harmony

The outer court is made up of three main buildings, the Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihedian), the Hall of Central Harmony (Zhonghedian) and the Hall of Preserving Harmony (Baohedian). These halls were where the emperors attended the grand ceremonies and conducted state affairs.

Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihedian)

The first hall waiting for you is the Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihedian), the most important and largest structure in the Forbidden City. The emperors' Dragon Throne (Longyi) is in this hall.

Hall of Central HarmonHall of Central Harmon

Hall of Central Harmony (Zhonghedian)

Behind the Hall of Supreme Harmony is the Hall of Central Harmony (Zhonghedian), the resting place of the emperor before presiding over grand events held in the Hall of Supreme Harmony. Emperors would rehearse their speeches and presentations here before departing to the Temple of Heaven for the sacrifice rites.

Hall of Preserving Harmony (Baohedian)

The last hall is the Hall of Preserving Harmony (Baohedian) used for banquets and later for imperial examinations.

Side Gardens and Inner Court Gateway

There are a couple of side gardens with interesting halls to explore. Please consult with your local guide if you want to visit them, if you have more time to explore the palace.

Out from the Hall of the Preserving Harmony, you will notice a huge block of marble carved with cloud and dragon designs. Go straight, and you will see another gate, called the Gate of Heavenly Purity (Qianqingmen). This is the main gateway to the inner living court.

The Inner Court

Palace of Heavenly Peace The Palace of Heavenly Purity

The inner court is composed of the three main structures at the rear of the Forbidden City.

The first structure inside the inner court is the Palace of Heavenly Purity (Qianqinggong), the emperors' sleeping quarters. Behind it is the Palace of Union and Peace (Jiaotaidian), where the imperial seals were stored. The third hall is the Hall of Terrestrial Tranquility (Kunninggong), the emperors' wedding room.

Mental Cultivation Hall (Yangxindian)

On the left side of the inner court, travelers will find the Mental Cultivation Hall (Yangxindian), the most important building except for the Hall of Supreme Harmony. From the time of the third emperor, Yongzheng, all the Qing emperors, 8 in total, resided in this hall.

The Living Quarters and Imperial Garden

Besides the three main buildings there are the six eastern palaces and six western palaces, where the emperor used to handle everyday affairs, and which was the living quarters of the emperor, expresses and concubines. Those palaces have been converted into exhibition halls, where a spectacular set of imperial collections is displayed.

Exiting and going further north, travelers will find the Imperial Garden. The garden offers an aesthetic change from the crimson and gray building complex to a colorful and luxuriant atmosphere.

Exit

The main exit gate of the Forbidden City is the Gate of Divine Might, behind the Imperial Garden.

An In-Depth Tour of the Forbidden City

If you want to go deep into the history and culture of the Forbidden City, we recommend that you take an in-depth tour guided by an expert .

  • In a typical tour, you will walk amongst the noisy crowds and see the routine palaces along the Central Axis Way.
  • In an In-Depth Tour, we'll also guide you off the beaten path deeper into the Forbidden City to see more of its treasures, whilst keeping your experience crowd-free.

In an In-Depth Tour, apart from admiring the surface splendor of the imperial palaces, you will discover the history and culture behind them, spanning the emperors’ personal lives, fengshui, imperial examinations, and worship.

Your guide will use pictures and videos on an iPad to make your journey into the past vivid and easy to grasp. 

See more on our In-Depth Forbidden City Heritage Tour and  and Private 4-Day Emperor's Tour of Beijing.

Not interested in the above tours? Just tell us your interests and requirements and we will tailor-make a tour for you.

Related Articles