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The Forbidden City | China DIY

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The Forbidden City is a city within a city. It is at heart of a larger ancient space called the Imperial City in central Beijing. For nearly 500 years, it was home to 24 emperors. In 1987, UNESCO inscribed it as a World Heritage Site for its unique antiquity.

Surrounded by a moat & huge fortified walls, no one can get in or go out from the city without the imperial consent. Hence, forbidden.

I could imagine the lavish banquets that were thrown by the emperors. I could hear the clinging sound of the finest Chinas & the impish chortles of the concubines. On its hallowed atriums I could see them in their embroidered tunics & cheongsams. My first experience of the real China in the Forbidden City was nothing short of the word spectacular.

Forbidden City Layout

With its massive size flanked by thousands of rooms, antechambers, shrines & gardens, spending a full day is necessary. It is the world’s largest palace complex. Let’s begin with the layout of the Forbidden City.

forbidden city

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A wide moat, defensive walls & massive gates on all sides surround the Forbidden City. It is divided into 2 sections. The Outer Court on the southern end was used for ceremonies while the Inner Court on the northern end was the imperial residence.

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The Hall of Supreme Harmony

The Hall of Supreme Harmony is the nucleus of all the buildings inside the city. It was used for investitures, coronations & affairs of the state. The elaborate architectural designs reflect the grandeur of China’s artistic culture. Everything here, even the tiniest detail speaks of opulence.

The Palace Museum

After the reign of Puyi, the last emperor of China, ended in 1912, the Forbidden City slowly became open to public in 1925. It is now called the Palace Museum & showcases the imperial collections of Ming & Qing Dynasties. On its guarded galleries are hundreds of thousands of exquisite pieces such as ceramics, porcelain, paintings, bronzewares, jades, timepieces & other important historical artifacts.

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Qing Dynasty Vase (1611) with variegated glaze.


Forbidden City Surroundings

Everything grows out of the Forbidden City. Around it are holy shrines & beautiful gardens that form part of the larger commune called Imperial City. Check this layout.

forbidden city

Photo credits: (original source: kurosawa)

Jingshan Park is on the northern end of the Forbidden City & provides a fantastic aerial view of the 74-hectare palace. It’s a man-made hill decked with a pavilion on the summit.

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Plums & many other wild flowers abound in the parks that surround the Forbidden City.

Beihai Park, located on the northwest side of the palace is an 11th century garden. This 69-hectare park mimics the finest garden art all around China. Sun Zhongshan, a garden dedicated to Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, is on the southern end of the complex.

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Anyone who journeys into China must not miss The Forbidden City. Its palatial architecture, grandiose collections of art pieces & artifacts, extra-ordinary horticulture showpieces & ancient history transport you to the old-world China.



How to Get to the Forbidden City

By Bus

  1. Take bus number 101, 103, 109, 124, 58, 685. Get off at Gugong Station.
  2. Take bus number 1, 52, 99. Get off at Tiananmen East or West.
  3. Take bus number 17, 48, 59, 66. Get off at Qianmen East or West.
  4. Fare starts at RMB 2 (USD 0.37).

By Subway

  1. Take subway Line 1. Get off at Tiananmen East or West.
  2. Take subway Line 2. Get off at Qianmen.
  3. Fare starts at RMB 3 (USD 0.41).


Admission Fees & Timelines

  1. April to October: RMB 60 (USD 10)
  2. November to March: RMB 40 (USD 7)
  3. Additional fees RMB 10 (USD 2) are collected in some special galleries.
  4. Closed on Mondays.
  5. Opens at 8:30AM. Last entry is at 4PM.
  6. To check for updates, click here.


Important Things to Remember

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  1. Get there early. Selling of tickets end at 80,000.
  2. Tickets may be purchased ahead of time. Check here (Mandarin only).
  3. Ticket booths are only in the south gate (inside Tiananmen Gate).
  4. There’s only 1 tour direction. Entrance in south. Exit in north.
  5. Be ready to hussle with thousands of domestic tourists.
  6. There are refreshment stores inside the palace complex.
  7. Audio guides are available for rent.
  8. Some galleries are No Bag-No Camera Zones.
  9. Prepare for a serious walk.
  10. It can get really noisy. Bring a headphone.
  11. There are no lean hours.
  12. Don’t wait for the area to clear to take photographs. It’s impossible.
  13. To get to Jingshan Park, take the underpass outside north gate.
  14. To get to Beihai Park, take the Jingshan Park connection.
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