FolkestoneJack's Tracks

The Forbidden City

Posted in Beijing, China by folkestonejack on November 19, 2012

The Forbidden City is both a fascinating and frustrating place to visit. Inevitably, the place attracts vast numbers of tourists and even on a weekday, in low season, it can feel like you are sightseeing through a scrum just to get a view inside the fenced off palace buildings. However, once you move away from the main south-north axis the crowds thin out and the experience becomes much more pleasant.

Off the beaten track

Off the beaten track in the Forbidden City

I started my visit to the Forbidden City at 11am and spent about four hours wandering around. I was surprised by some aspects of the layout, such as the military barracks and basketball court located within the boundaries of the complex, just outside the Meridian Gate, and unprepared for just how much more beautiful some sights appear in person. The five marble bridges over the golden water were a particular delight.

The military maintain a presence on the approach to the Forbidden City

The military maintain a presence on the approach to the Forbidden City

I took a leisurely wander around the Forbidden City exploring any passages that caught my eye, often leading to small galleries tucked away in hidden courtyards. I began to realise how much the tour groups being whisked through on the main axis must be missing. Similarly, the Eastern Palaces (requiring a 10 Yuan ticket) were much quieter still which was a pity as some of the treasures tucked away there were really worth a look – as was the nine dragon screen that can be found here.

The view across the golden water

The view across the golden water

The absolute highlight of my day was, rather unexpectedly, a visit to the exhibition of clocks in the Hall of worshing ancestors. I was completely blown away by the utterly amazing timepieces on display – the most elaborate, inventive and beautiful clocks I have ever seen – and all utterly amazing in their own right. I had timed my visit for the second of the day’s displays of working clocks (at 2pm) with about five clocks wound up for people to watch their extraordinary movements (towers rising, pieces twirling etc).

Overall, I would say that the entrance fee is an incredible bargain for such a remarkable place. I paid 40 Yuan for the main ticket, plus two supplementary 10 Yuan tickets which works out at somewhere around £6 for a day’s entertainment. I am sure I could have spent longer in the Forbidden City too – I am sure I missed some of the Western Palaces and other exhibitions (there is only so much my brain could digest in one day!).

The end of the day

The end of the day

In the evening I returned to Tian’anmen Square for a view of the illuminated tower gateway to the Forbidden City which was as striking at night as in the daytime. The other monuments in the square are also lit up, but you cannot access the square itself after night has fallen.


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