Beijing’s Forbidden City stretches over a massive 720,000 square metres, and was home to the emperors of China for almost five centuries. It has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is listed by the same organisation as the largest collection of ancient wooden structures in the world.
Set amid pristine gardens, the city contains an enormous collection of carefully maintained relics in its age-old buildings. The spiritual side of life is also well represented, with plentiful temples, shrines and other places of worship.
The name of the Forbidden City comes from the fact that, historically, ordinary people were not allowed to set foot inside. Protected by high, imposing walls, it would have presented a daunting sight to the residents of the wider city before being opened up to the public in 1925.
You should allow yourself a minimum of half a day to stroll around and soak in the fantastic royal culture and design around you. Enter through the Gate of Heavenly Peace, where you can pick up a map and an audio guide at the ticket office, or hire an English-speaking guide to take you around to gain a deeper understanding of the history and culture on display.
Take in the diverse architectural styles of different eras and admire centuries of incredible antiques. Art lovers will be enthralled by the many artworks, including statuettes cast in bronze and the beautiful old paintings which adorn the interior walls of the palace.
The fabulous five arches of the Meridian Gate will take your breath away, while the Hall of Supreme Harmony offers opulently appointed décor in the biggest of the many ceremonial halls – these sights are most definitely not to be missed. Finish your tour by admiring the graceful and harmonious Imperial Garden before leaving through the Gate of Divine Might.
The Forbidden City is in the centre of Beijing, and can be reached by walking, cycling or via public transport. There is also a bus which circles the outside of the walls, making it easier to access different areas. Visit the palace during the week if you can, as Saturday and Sunday are particularly busy.