Officially known as the Palace Museum, this magnificent complex is a grand monument to the 24 emperors who ruled from its halls over a period of almost 500 years. The symbolic center of the Chinese universe, the palace was the exclusive domain of the imperial court from its completion in 1420 until the last of the emperors was forced to abdicate at the beginning of the 20th century. The modern world intruded in 1949, when the public were finally admitted through the palace gates.

  • North of Tian’an Men Square

  • 8511 7048

  • Subway: Tian’an Men West or Tian’an Men East

  • Audio guides are available for ¥40 (plus ¥100 deposit)


The Last Emperor

Pu Yi, ascended the throne at the age of three in 1908, but his brief reign was brought to an early end in 1912 by a new Republican government. The young ex-emperor continued to live in the Forbidden City until ejected in 1924. He was later imprisoned under the Communists, until Mao granted him amnesty in 1959. He died in 1967, after working for seven years as a gardener.

Glazed panel with lotus and mandarin ducks

There are various snack kiosks near the ticket office, and one restaurant inside the Forbidden City.

Most visitors buy their tickets at the Meridian Gate, but to avoid the lengthy queues you could enter the Forbidden City from the north via the Gate of Divine Prowess, and visit in reverse.

Top 10 Features
  1. Meridian Gate

    In Chinese it is the Wu Men. This is the traditional entrance to the palaces. From the balcony the emperor would review his armies and perform ceremonies marking the start of the new lunar year.

  2. Golden Water

    Five marble bridges, symbolizing the five cardinal virtues of Confucianism, span the Golden Water, which flows from west to east in a course designed to resemble the jade belt worn by the court officials.

  3. Gate of Supreme Harmony

    The fourth and final great gate gives access into the Outer Court, the heart of the Forbidden City. The gate is guarded by two large bronze lions, classic imperial symbols of power and dignity. The lion on the right is the male; the one on the left with a cub under its foot is the female.

    Bronze guardian lion
  4. Hall of Supreme Harmony

    Raised on a triple tier of marble terraces, this largest of halls houses a sandalwood throne, used in the coronations of 24 emperors.

  5. Hall of Preserving Harmony

    The most spectacular aspect of this hall is the great carved ramp on the north side, sculpted with dragons and clouds, and made from a single piece of marble weighing more than 200 tons.

  6. Gate of Heavenly Purity

    The only building in the whole palace not to have been burnt down at least once, and thus the oldest hall of all. It is the boundary between the Outer Court (official) and Inner Court (private).

  7. Inner Court

    The Inner Court is more intimate than the formal Outer Court, because this is where the emperor, empress, and the many concubines actually lived.

  8. Imperial Garden

    The emperor Qianlong wrote that, “Every ruler, when he has finished his public duties, must have a garden in which he can stroll, and relax his heart.” This formal garden, the oldest in the Forbidden City, has two beautiful pavilions.

  9. Western Palaces

    Much of the western flank of the complex is off limits, but some of the halls neighboring the Inner Court are visitable, including the Palace of Eternal Spring, where trompe-l’oeil paintings at the ends of passageways make them appear infinitely extended.

  10. Eastern Palaces

    East of the Inner Court are smaller halls where the emperor’s harem lived. Also here is the well down which the Empress Cixi had her nephew’s favorite concubine thrown.

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