The Forbidden City

Address: West Chang'an Avenue, Dongcheng District, Beijing, China

- Mid-range


Discover the epic scale of a palace off-limits to ordinary folk for 500 years.

The physical, political and symbolic heart of Imperial China, the Forbidden City is a staggering feat of palace building. Towering perimeter walls (cemented together by glutinous rice) enclose symmetrically aligned halls and pavilions from which two dynasties of Emperors ruled ‘all under heaven’ for six centuries. These days it’s perennially packed with tourists, but before the end of the Qing in 1911, the palace would have been teeming with servants, including vast harems of hand-picked concubines guarded over by quarrelsome, scheming eunuchs.

With a reported 9,999 buildings across 74 acres, you’re likely to run into palace fatigue if you try to see it all. I usually enter via the quieter north gate where the most interesting buildings and gardens lie, and work my way south only as far as the Hall of Supreme Harmony. More than enough for one day.

Value for money

Price advice

Tickets are 60 RMB per person (40 RMB in low season), but to visit some of the exhibitions, including the fascinating Clock and Watch Gallery, you'll need to purchase another ticket at about 10 RMB.

Expert tips

Bernardo Bertolucci’s film The Last Emperor offers a fascinating glimpse at what life might have been like for a Qing emperor living in the palace. A good primer before you visit.

Bring a sunhat or brolly (for a sunshade) in summer.

Enter via the north gate to beat the crowds.

Beware of polite, English-speaking locals inviting you to go for tea – it’s almost always a scam.

Recommended for

  • Culture vultures
  • Families with teenagers
  • First-time travellers
  • Sightseeing
  • Art
  • History
  • Design and architecture