Forbidden City

It doesn’t have a street address—which is only fitting for a place that was once considered the center of the universe. The Forbidden City’s vast, gorgeous compound of buildings, courtyards, and pathways—all surrounded by fortress-like walls—was completed during the reign of the Ming dynasty in the 15th century, and for hundreds of years it was open only to emperors and their kin and servants. Today, however, it’s a public museum space that occupies the literal and figurative heart of Beijing. Properly exploring it requires at least half a day; history buffs should definitely take part in the self-guided audio tour, which gives intriguing insights into the way the emperors lived. (For Sons of Heaven, every second of every day followed a rigid ceremonial theme.)

Tip: Avoid the plausible-sounding students at the entrance offering to be guides. Scams are common whereby the visitor is whisked to a post-tour tea ceremony and presented with a whopping bill.