How to Visit the Forbidden City - An Insider’s Guide

Beijing Palace Museum Map
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As you know, the Forbidden City is the largest imperial palace worldwide and contains thousands of buildings. A visit inside can be both eye-opening and challenging. When planning a Forbidden City trip, consider your schedule and physical strength and skip some less-important spots if necessary. Here is an insider's Forbidden City travel guide for you to arrange a tour with different lengths.
 

What You Must See in the Forbidden City: 6 Halls + 2 Galleries

The six most popular halls line along the central axis from south to north, respectively:

 Hall of Supreme Harmony - The place where the emperor ascended his throne and granted audience to visiting officials and where other important ceremonies were celebrated.

 Hall of Central Harmony - The place where the emperor rested on his way to the Hall of Supreme Harmony and interviewed ministers or officials from the Ministry of Rites; rehearsals for ceremonies were also held here.

 Hall of Preserved Harmony - Imperial banquets were often held here to entertain high officials. Emperors presided the final national examinations to select officials from intellectuals all over the country in this hall.

 Palace of Heavenly Purity - The bedroom and office of emperors. They also gave banquets here.

Inside Hall of Central Harmony
Inside Hall of Central Harmony
Forbidden City, Beijing
Forbidden City

 Hall of Celestial and Terrestrial Union - Empresses received greetings from other concubines here. It was used to store the emperor and empress's imperial seals.

 Palace of Earthly Tranquility - The empress' bedroom.

Besides the halls, the Treasure Gallery in the Palace of Tranquil Longevity and the Clock and Watch Gallery in the Hall for Ancestry Worship should not be missed.

Now, with the help of Forbidden City map, start your tour from the Meridian Gate - the only entrance to the Forbidden City!
 

Classic Tour Route: Tour along the Central Axis - 2 Hours

Meridian Gate → Gate of Supreme Harmony → Hall of Spreading Righteousness → Hall of Supreme Harmony → Hall of Central Harmony → Hall of Preserved Harmony → Gate of Heavenly Purity → Palace of Heavenly Purity → Hall of Celestial and Terrestrial Union → Palace of Earthly Tranquility → Imperial Garden → Gate of Divine Prowess

For tourists with a tight schedule, this is the most ideal visiting itinerary as it assembles the most magnificent imperial buildings in the Forbidden City.

Gate of Heavenly Purity, Forbidden City
Gate of Heavenly Purity
Imperial Garden, Forbidden City
Imperial Garden

Half-day Tour Route: Tour along the Central Axis + West Wing

Meridian Gate → Hall of Literary Glory (Painting Gallery) → Gate of Supreme Harmony → Hall of Supreme Harmony → Hall of Central Harmony → Hall of Preserved Harmony → Hall for Ancestry Worship (Clock and Watch Gallery) → Palace of Heavenly Purity → Hall of Celestial and Terrestrial Union → Palace of Earthly Tranquility → Hall of Mental CultivationSix Western Palaces → Imperial Garden → Gate of Divine Prowess
 

Half-day Tour Route: Tour along the Central Axis + East Wing

Meridian Gate → Hall of Martial Valor (Pottery Gallery) → Gate of Supreme Harmony → Hall of Supreme Harmony → Hall of Central Harmony → Hall of Preserved Harmony → Palace of Heavenly Purity → Hall of Celestial and Terrestrial Union → Palace of Earthly Tranquility → Six Eastern Palaces → Hall of Abstinence → Palace of Tranquil Longevity (Treasure Gallery & Opera Museum) → Gate of Divine Prowess

The two half-day routes are similar, with slight differences in the selected galleries. Tourists can choose either according to personal interest.

Gate of Divine Prowess
Gate of Divine Prowess
Chengguang Gate in Forbidden City
Chengguang Gate

One-day In-depth Tour Route

Meridian Gate → Hall of Martial Valor (Pottery Gallery) → Hall of Literary Glory (Painting Gallery) → Gate of Supreme Harmony → Hall of Supreme Harmony → Hall of Central Harmony → Hall of Preserved Harmony → Palace of Heavenly Purity → Hall of Celestial and Terrestrial Union → Palace of Earthly Tranquility → Hall of Mental Cultivation → Six Western Palaces → Imperial Garden → Six Eastern Palaces → Hall for Ancestry Worship (Clock and Watch Gallery) → Palace of Tranquil Longevity (Treasure Gallery) → Gate of Divine Prowess

This itinerary gathers all highlights in the Forbidden City. It requires physical strength as you need to take a long walk. You need to take some food for the one-day visit because there are few restaurants inside the Forbidden City and the food is costly.
 

Visiting Tips

1. Consider booking a guided tour for a better travel experience. It saves you the trouble of booking tickets online and queuing to collect tickets on the spot and helps to make your trip more organized. A knowledgeable Forbidden City guide can ensure you a fun trip even if you do not know much about Chinese history.

2. Jingshan Park opposite to the Gate of Divine Prowess is the best place to have a panoramic view of the imperial palace. Visitors are highly advised to combine your Forbidden City trip with Jingshan Park.

3. Wear comfortable shoes for the long walk.

See more Forbidden City Travel Tips

 Independent Tour Routes for Your Reference:
Tour along the Central Axis
Tour along the Western Route
Tour along the Eastern Route
Tour along the Outer Eastern Route
 

- Last modified on Dec. 06, 2018 -
Questions & Answers on How to Visit the Forbidden City
Asked by ria from BRUNEI | Oct. 26, 2016 21:40Reply
Hi. We are planning to spend 2 days in Beijing. One day for Great Wall Trip.
Another to visit Forbidden City and Olympic Stadium. Time is quite tight. Pls advise how long will Imperial City tour will take?

Thanks. Cheers
Answers (3)
Answered by Victoria from FINLAND | Oct. 27, 2016 21:35
01Reply


Generally speaking, you need to spend 5 to 6 hours to tour around there.
Answered by ria from BRUNEI | Oct. 27, 2016 22:04
01Reply


Thanks Victoria. How about visit to 'bird nest' stadium afterwards? i believe the distance is not that much. Do advise.
Answered by Victoria | Nov. 03, 2016 01:32
00Reply


It takes one or two hours to visit the stadium. It is about 7 miles (11km) to the north of the imperial palace. You can take sightseeing bus line 3 from the palace to East Beichen Road (Bird's Nest) Station. :)
Asked by Natalie from MALAYSIA | Oct. 11, 2016 03:40Reply
We are family of 5 with 2 elderly, how do we get to Forbidden City from Renaissance Beijing Capital?
Answers (1)
Answered by Lena from ITALY | Oct. 11, 2016 22:00
00Reply


The distance between these two places is not fare. For your convenience, just take a taxi from your hotel. Besides, you need to get to cabs. For one cab, it would cost around CNY 30 in the day time.
Asked by George Antony from INDIA | Apr. 02, 2016 11:44Reply
Shuttle from Beijing Airport to hotel
We are a family of three adults visiting on 9th April (till 12th) and staying at a hotel at Nanchizi Street, Dongcheng. Can we get a shuttle from airport or is it better to hire a cab.
Answers (1)
Answered by Elina from USA | Apr. 05, 2016 01:43
00Reply


Hi, shuttle bus can be your option. Take line 3 to International Hotel with CNY24 and then take a taxi to your hotel with CNY13. If taking a taxi directly to ur hotel, the cost can be CNY80-90.
Asked by Sarah from SOUTH AFRICA | Mar. 15, 2016 05:50Reply
Can I walk alone in Beijing?
Hi there
I am a single female staying at hotel in Dongzhim and wanting to walk from here to forbidden city.

is this safe to do .. and what other sites are within walking distance? please advise ..

Answers (1)
Answered by Abbey from UNITED KINGDOM | Mar. 16, 2016 20:03
10Reply


Yes, the city is quite safe for you. But it is about 4 miles (7km) away from Dongzhimen. It may take around 1.5 hours to walk there. You may consider taking metro line 2 from Dongzhimen to Jianguomen. Change to metro line 1 to Tiananmen East Station, Exit A, and walk north to the attraction. Sites within walking distance include Altar of Earth, Yonghe Lamasery, and Shichahai. :)
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