Tips for the Forbidden City

Posted by on May 7, 2011

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I’ve visited the Forbidden City over a half dozen times in the course of my visits and sojourn in Beijing. Here are a few ideas to make your visit more enjoyable.

  1. Start your visit by going to JinShan Park on the northern side of the Forbidden City.  You can hike up to the top of the man made hill to a large pavilion that houses a large golden Buddha.  From here you can look down into and across the Forbidden City.  Make sure you also go to the opposite side and look towards the DiAnMen gate as well as the Drum and Bell Tower.  This view gives you an appreciation for the Chinese sense of cardinality as the entire set of buildings and gates line up perfectly along the north-south axis. You also get a sense for the size of the Forbidden City.  When your down inside wandering through its many mazes and corridors its easy to to loose a sense of its size.
  2. Taking a BreakEnter from the Northern Gate.  This is not the traditional entrance.  As such its less crowded.  Especially if you enter at opening time you’ll have a lot more freedom to walk around than if you fight the lines and crowds at the Southern  entrance.  This northern end of the city is the garden and living quarters.  The ancient cyprus trees are impressive for their size and the way they have been cared for; many patched with boards and propped up with supports. There are many small corridors and walkways.  Its possible even with all the crowds to actually at times be completely alone.  Especially in the side corridors that run the length of this upper complex.  In general if you want to get away from the crowds, just head to the left or right side areas of the city and you’ll find solitude.
  3. As you enter the Northern Gate keep an eye out for the tour guides. They might even find you.  If you don’t see them outside, just inside the ticket gate is a courtyard and you can rent audio guides there (which I’ve never done) and you can also find guides there. They are relatively inexpensive by US standards, around 100-150 rmb ($15-20 USD) and they will greatly enhance your experience. Filling you in on the details of life in the courtyard and much of the symbolism.
  4. The Dragon StaircaseAs you exit the northern living quarters you come into the middle section of the Forbidden City.  This is a very large open courtyard that is filled with large halls of worship and thrones.  These halls and the center land that leads from the next to the next are very crowded. There will be myriads of crowds of tourist groups all wearing matching hats and following their tour guide with their colored flag and little loudspeaker hooked to their belts.  These main halls are worth seeing, especially the large marble carvings of dragons set in the middle of the large stair cases that lead up and down to the pavilions the halls stand upon.   But again to avoid the crowds or to experience a few quieter moments, just stay to the left or right. You can walk across the courtyards or along the walkways on the edge of the large plaza.  Here you’ll find 5% of the people. These courtyards are separated by very large gates and the central gate will be a zoo and the side gates will have hardly anyone.
  5. Taking a BreakMake sure that you stop and set in the benches and soak up a sense of the place.  Especially in the northern section with its many corridors and maze like buildings. You’ll find small enclosures with almost no people and you can sit and relax and ponder what it must have been like to seen this place at the height of its glory.
  6. As you exit the Southern Gate you have a very large set of outer courtyards to go through before you reach the TianAnMen Gate (The Gate of Heavenly Peace) that sits opposite ChangAn avenue from TianAnMen square. Its worth buying a ticket to climb to the top to overlook the square.  You’ll have to check your bags first though as they don’t allow you to take them up on top of the Gate. It was here on this gate before a crowd of tens of thousands that Mao in 1949 stood and said : “Today the Chinese People have stood up”.

Well that’s it. I’d love to hear your tips for enjoying the Forbidden City and I’ll more if I think of any.


2 Responses to Tips for the Forbidden City

  1. Teresa

    I’ve used the audio guide and thought they were very helpful. However, I’ve never used a live guide so I can’t compare the two. Also, my longest visit to the FC was 2 days after Christmas. Few tourists; and my friend and I had many moments of solitude….even in the main thoroughfare. It was so nice and perhaps just for a second or two, you could imagine it way back when. I liked to think of young Pu-Yi running around in the courtyards or walking along with his tutor in later years.

  2. Stacey

    I went to FC with a friend a few years ago while Mark and her husband were at work. We were approached by a woman (Rosemary) outside on the East side and I think we paid her 150RMB for the tour but ended up giving her an extra 50RMB at the end, she was very informative and fun to talk to. Her English was really good and she knew her stuff. I too thought of Pu-Yi running around or riding his bike down the corridors after his British teacher taught him how to ride. The North end is my favorite area and I could just sit there for a couple of hours watching people and enjoying the beauty of the garden’s. We ended up using Rosemary another time to go to the Wall, Mutianyu section. She rented us(there were four of us) a van and took us out and then for hot pot after and it cost about 600RMB all together (which is about 93USD). If anyone wants her info I can email it to you. I have her contact info.

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