I didn’t find the Forbidden City in Beijing particularly interesting at all, especially when considering the other amazing places I have been fortunate enough to visit. Maybe it was just the ice cold weather in Beijing at the time of my stay which affected my morale? Don’t get me wrong, the place is still impressive (it’s hard not to be impressed with the culture and architecture in Beijing), it’s just that for something considered to be one the ultimate tourist destinations in all of China, my experience there was not up the level I had hoped for having read the guidebooks. The Temple of Heaven is without question in my mind superior to the Forbidden City in every way for a tourist.
The Beijing Forbidden City was built between 1406-1420 and was the site of the Imperial Palace for the Ming Dynasty and right up until the end of the Qing Dynasty. It is situated at the heart of Beijing, and most of Beijing’s outer ring roads are encircling the Forbidden City at regular intervals. That’s how the roads of Beijing are designed and operated even to this day. The Forbidden City was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987 and is also known as the largest collection of preserved wooden structures in the world. Within its 720,ooo square meters, the Forbidden City is the site of nearly one thousand buildings of various sizes.
One thing I will say about the Forbidden City is that it is steeped in history. It is almost overwhelming to have a complex so large to explore, yet it remains one of the main tourist draws to Beijing – along with the Great Wall of China, of course – and as such it can get very busy. I have seen signs in the grounds of the Forbidden City which remind visitors to not climb on the walls and not to touch the artefacts. It seems the Chinese are very keen to preserve these artefacts even during the increasing numbers of tourists flocking to the site each year. In fact, nowadays, the Forbidden City is controlled by the Palace Museum, who help in the upkeep of all the ancient artefacts. You can access the area by taking the Beijing Subway Line 1 to either Tiananmen East or Tiananmen West stations and then walking along the road to the impressive entrance, as photographed above.
I guess my experience at the Forbidden City could have been a case of not researching the attraction before my visit. I didn’t read up much on the Forbidden City before visiting, so maybe I was the architect of my own downfall in that regard. I paid 40CNY for admission, and there were options to buy additional tickets for another 10CNY each which would have given me admission to the Treasure Gallery and the Clock & Watch Gallery. Neither really interested me too much, so I just bought the standard admission ticket.
The ticketing counters here at the Forbidden City are very decrepit and cramped, and the queues – while not particularly long, nor slow-moving – were just dull and uninspired, as were penned in like cattle in perpendicular lines. There were many touts also running these lines trying to sell themselves as guides, and you would be advised to do what I did, and just basically refuse to look them in the eyes as they walk past. That way, they may leave you alone. They are not aggressive; merely loud and annoying, and it’s not a great way to start the tour of supposedly one of Beijing’s main attractions.
Some people recommend a visiting time of around 4 hours at the Forbidden City. I would say that that is the least amount of time you need to really give the place a good going over. There are is simply too much to look at, and in my opinion, a lot of it looks the same, despite the history of the each building/artefact. It’s like an open-air museum in Luxor or something (but without the desert sunshine) only here on display it’s precious Chinese cultural gems rather than ancient Egyptian antiquities.
I spent around 3 hours or so here, and all I seemed to do was walk through endless gate after gate. I am aware of the inner and outer courtyard structure of the city, but I became disoriented very quickly, and it was simply too cold to go on any further: my feet were freezing! I had a good experience up to a point, although it was not as impressive an experience as I had hoped for.