Essential Guide to the Beijing Palace Museum
Also known as the Forbidden City
· 4 min read
No visit to Beijing is completed without visiting the Palace Museum, or more commonly known as the Forbidden City. The heart of China's imperial history, this iconic palace complex was built during the Ming Dynasty and served as the imperial palace for 24 emperors during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Immerse yourself in the grandeur, history, and cultural richness of one of the world's most magnificent palace museums.
Why is the Palace Museum also known as the Forbidden City?
故宫 (Gu Gong), as the Palace Museum is known in Chinese, means an old palace. The Beijing Palace Museum that we see now is a palace that was built during the Ming Dynasty, and it took a whopping 1 million workers over a total of 14 years to complete construction.
Its name 'Forbidden City' comes from how it was referred to during the Ming and Qing Dynasty. During the Ming and Qing dynasty, the palace was where the emperors lived and worked. The palace grounds were out of bound to the common citizens, hence the name 紫禁城 (Zi Jin Cheng), or when translated into English, the Forbidden City.
For those interested, when we look at the Chinese characters 紫禁城, 紫 (Zi, which literally means purple) symbolises royalty and the highest powers; 禁 (Jin, which means restricted) means forbidden, and 城 (Cheng) means city.
Highlights and Must-See Attractions
The Palace Museum boasts a large collection of art and artefacts from ancient China. Spend some time looking through the intricacies of the paintings and sculptures on display.
Aside from the huge collection of items, also spend some time exploring the various halls. Walk through the different halls of the Forbidden City and marvel at the architecture of the palace grounds.
- Hall of Supreme Harmony (Taihedian): The largest hall in the Forbidden City, it was used for major state ceremonies and the emperor's enthronement.
- Meridian Gate (Wumen): The southern entrance to the Forbidden City, known for its imposing structure and intricate architecture.
- Palace of Heavenly Purity (Qianqinggong): Explore the emperor's living quarters and discover the lavish interiors.
- The Imperial Garden: A serene oasis within the Forbidden City, featuring ancient trees, pavilions, and beautiful landscapes.
- Treasures in the Hall of Clocks and Watches: Marvel at an impressive collection of timepieces from various dynasties.
Important notes for visiting the Forbidden City
If you are planning to visit the Forbidden City, there are a few things to take note of:
- Advanced ticketing is required. You will not be able to get same-day tickets at the door.
- All visitors need to be registered. For foreigners, you will need to register with your passport, and each passport is only entitled to one ticket per day.
- When visiting, remember to bring along your passport as it will be checked.
- Ticket sales open at 7 days before the day of visit, at 8pm China time.
- There are two entrance sessions each day. Make sure to choose the one that works best for you. Depending on the session you choose, the time that you can validate your ticket would differ.
- If you purchased a ticket and did not show up, it will be counted as a no-show. If you accumulate more than 3 no-shows in 180 days, you will not be allowed to buy tickets to the Forbidden City for the next 60 days.
How to get tickets to the Forbidden City
To purchase a ticket to the Forbidden City, you can get it via their official ticketing site.
Tickets tend to get snagged up relatively quickly, especially during the peak period, so you might want to set your alarms for ticketing!
Alternatively, you can also get your tickets through a tour agency via Klook. With Klook, they have a longer booking window. However, it is important to note that since the official booking window is 7 days in advance, there is still a chance that your booking might get cancelled if the selected date is fully booked when official sales open.
Note that some areas and exhibits may require separate tickets.
- Audio Guide or Guided Tour: To fully appreciate the rich history of the Forbidden City, a guided tour is highly recommended. The Palace Museum offers guided tours in English for groups up to 5 people. If you need the tour service, head to the visitor center near the Meridian Gate to check on the availability. Alternatively, if you were booking your tickets via Klook, they also offer English and Chinese tours for the Forbidden City.
- Comfortable Clothing: A tour of the Forbidden City can easily take at least 2 hours, and it involves a lot of walking. Wear comfortable shoes and clothing.
- Avoid Peak periods: The Forbidden City is a very popular destination not only for tourists, but also for the locals. It can get very crowded during the peak seasons from April to October, and ticket prices are higher during the peak season. In particular, you can expect huge crowds during the Golden Week in October, so if possible, try to avoid visiting during that period!
The Palace Museum has four gates, but the entrance for visitors is the southern gate, at the Meridian Gate (Wu men).
You can get to the Meridian Gate using public transportation.
- Subway: Take Line 1 and get off at Tiananmen East (Tiananmen Dong) or Tiananmen West (Tiananmen Xi) stations. Walk north to reach the main entrance of the Forbidden City.
- Bus: Numerous bus lines, including 1, 120, 52, 82, Night Line 1, Sightseeing Line 1, and Sightseeing Line 2 have stops near the Forbidden City.
Alternatively, taxis and ride-sharing services are readily available in Beijing. Simply input the museum's address into your preferred app, and you'll be dropped off at the closest entrance.
The Palace Museum is generally open every day, except Mondays. The standard opening hours are from 8:30am to 5:00pm during the peak season, and 8:30am to 4.30pm during the off-peak.
However, it's advisable to check the official website for any closures.