Why is it called the Forbidden City?‘Forbidden City’ is a translation of the palace complex’s Chinese name Zijin Cheng (紫禁城), and refers to the fact that during the time of the emperor, no one was allowed to enter without the emperor’s permission. Part of the name, Zi, means purple and refers to the North Star, the traditional heavenly home of the Celestial Emperor, also known as the Jade Emperor, one of the representations of the first god. As the home of the terrestrial emperor, the Forbidden City was the counterpart of the North Star on Earth.
Why should I visit the Forbidden City?The Forbidden City is China’s most popular tourist attraction (with its 14 million annual visitors exceeding that of any single section of the Great Wall), and for good reason! It’s the world’s largest imperial palace, with over 980 buildings and 8,700 rooms, plus it’s the world’s largest collection of preserved medieval wooden structures. Construction began in 1406 under the Yongle Emperor (a member of the Ming dynasty), took 14 years and required the labor of over 1 million workers. Over its 600 years of history, it was home to 24 emperors, with the final emperor, Puyi, living in the palace until his abdication in 1912. Today it houses the Palace Museum, which is one of China’s largest collection of historical items and treasures, featuring porcelain, jade, and other important relics.
What should I expect on a guided tour?Your guide will take you through the Meridian Gate, where you’ll be facing the Gate of Supreme Harmony. Through this gate, you’ll arrive at a large square, opposite the Hall of Supreme Harmony, which is where the emperors were crowned, where they granted audiences to visitors, and where other important ceremonies were celebrated throughout the year. A straightforward tour on the shortest route will also guide you through the Hall of Central Harmony (where ceremonies were rehearsed), the Hall of Preserved Harmony (where imperial banquets and national examinations were held), the Palace of Heavenly Purity (where the emperor’s private chambers and office were to be found), the Hall of Celestial and Terrestrial Union (where the Empress would receive visits from other concubines), and the Palace of Earthly Tranquility (where the Empress had her chambers). On a longer tour, you might also see the Hall of Literary Glory, the Hall for Ancestry Worship (which includes a gallery of clocks and watches), and the Six Eastern and Six Western Palaces which were home to the imperial concubines and their children. You’ll exit close to Jingshan Park, and many tours will also visit the park. Climb to the top of the hill for an awesome view of the whole of the Forbidden City.
Is Tiananmen Square inside the Forbidden City?Tiananmen Square (or the Square of Heavenly Peace) is just to the south of the Forbidden City and contains several monuments and memorials in addition to Chairman Mao’s mausoleum. Many tours of Beijing will take you through the square before you move on to visit the Forbidden City. It’s free to enter (though there may be security checkpoints), so if you’re traveling without a guide you can easily spend some time in the square on the same day that you visit the Forbidden City.
Can we film or take photographs?Feel free to film or take photographs wherever you’d like to in the squares and other outdoor areas of the complex. You can also take photos in the exhibition halls as long as you don’t use flash or tripods.
How long should I expect a trip to take?The most popular and shortest route moves straight through the center of the complex and takes about 2 hours to complete. If you want to see more then there are other routes which veer off to the right and left of the central series of halls and squares. If you decide to take one of those routes then expect to spend at least 4 hours in the Forbidden City, but with a guide or audio guide, and stops for snacks or to rest your feet, you can easily spend a whole day inside the complex.