The Forbidden City, also known as the Palace Museum or Gu Gong in Chinese, sits at the heart of Beijing and was the Chinese imperial palace from the Ming dynasty to the end of the Qing dynasty. The well-guarded Palace is surrounded by a moat 3,800 meters long and 52 meters wide. The complex consists of 980 buildings, and many of which are now open to the public.
The Forbidden City is a massive complex, however, most visitors will stick to the central axis from the south entrance to the north exit. This route takes around two hours and allows you to take in all of the most magnificent gates and palaces, including the Meridian Gate (Wumen), the Gate of Supreme Harmony (Taihemen), the Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihedian), the Gate of Heavenly Purity (Qianqingmen), the Palace of Heavenly Purity (Qianqinggong), the Imperial Garden (Yuhuayuan) and the Gate of Divine Prowess (Shenwumen). The central axis usually attracts the most visitors and is crowded during peak hours.
If you are interested in Chinese architecture and history and want to avoid the crowds, you can walk away from the central axis and explore the many smaller buildings and courtyards along the sides of the Palace, many of which host exhibitions. Depending on how in-depth you want to go, it can take up to a full day to explore all of the accessible areas in the Palace. You can find up-to-date information on the exhibitions here.
The central axis of the Palace Museum is accessible to wheelchair users. The wheelchair friendly route is on the right side of the complex. You can find the map of the wheelchair friendly route here.
The Forbidden City served as the home of emperors and their households, as well as the ceremonial and political center of the Chinese government, for almost 500 years. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987 and is listed by UNESCO as the largest collection of preserved ancient wooden structures in the world.
Travelers must enter the Palace Museum at the South Gate. Note that before you can enter the Tian'anmen area and walk through to the entrance of the Palace Museum, you will need to queue for a security check. You will need your passport to get a ticket and enter the Palace Museum (Starting from October 2, 2017, all visitors to the Forbidden City must book their tickets online. Find out how to buy Forbidden City tickets online here).
It is forbidden to enter many of the important structures; you have to look into the room through the doors and the windows. The written information is all in Chinese and English. However, if you want to make the most of your visit, we recommend getting a licensed guide. Alternatively, you can rent an audio guide.
If you want to beat the crowds, avoid weekends and Chinese Holidays and go in the early morning or in the afternoon. Bring enough water if you are visiting during the summer or early autumn as it gets rather hot and there is little shade inside. In addition, wear comfortable shoes as you can spend hours just walking around the area on uneven stone courtyards.
There are places to buy drinks and snacks inside the Palace Museum but expect touristy prices. The gift shops sell good souvenirs at fixed prices. Toilets are adequate and mainly Chinese style.
After touring the Palace Museum, visitors must exit from the North or East Gate. There is no subway station near these two gates, so you will need to opt for a bus or taxi.
Jingshan Park is just opposite the North Gate; we recommend climbing the hill(Coal Hill) inside the park so you can get a bird's eye view of the Forbidden City after your visit.
Entry fee: April 1-October 31, 60 CNY; November 1-March 31, 40 CNY
Ticket for Treasure Gallery/Hall of Clocks: 10 CNY
Opening hours: April 1-October 31: 8.30-17.00, last entry: 16.10; November 1-March 31: 8.30-16.30, last entry: 15.40. Closed on Mondays.
Average visit: 2 hrs