A giant complex of temples, palaces and gardens hidden away behind massive walls, the Forbidden City was once the center of world power. It was home to the Chinese emperor and the imperial court from the Ming Dynasty in the 15th century to the dissolution of the Chinese Empire in the 20th century. It derives the “forbidden” in its name because no one outside of the imperial court was allowed to enter the palace grounds. It was literally an entire city of bureaucrats, guards, concubines and servants whom served the emperor.
What to Expect
Explore the many courtyards surrounded by high walls and palaces. The architecture is sublime and there are exhibitions set up in buildings throughout the compound to showcase the history and artifacts of the Chinese Empire. There’s also a beautiful garden near the end of the compound. While the site is always crowded, it’s so large that the other tourists aren’t too bothersome. Expect to spend at least three hours at the Forbidden City to see everything it has to offer.
Who Will Love It
The Forbidden City with be a lifetime travel highlight for anyone with an interest in history or China. People who have seen Chinese cinema, which is often set in the days of the Empire, may find it particularly interesting. But no matter what the Forbidden City is an attraction that does not often disappoint and it is an absolute “must-see” on any visit to Beijing.
Who Will Be Disappointed
Some visitors are disappointed because they find the buildings to be repetitive or because of the large empty courtyards. It is also jam packed with tourists, which can detract from its historical charm.
The Forbidden City is situated in the center of Beijing and the neighborhoods to the east and west of the site are well known for their hutongs—traditional Chinese-style alleyways that are brimming with activity. So make sure to check out those neighborhoods afterward for lunch or a walking tour.