A glimpse in to the extravagant lives of Chinese Emperors is an experience that you will cherish for a lifetime. The Palace Museum or Forbidden City in Beijing was the seat of power for Chinese civilizations for almost 500 years and to this day is an accurate reflection of that grandeur.
The ticket prices to this essential attraction vary with the season; during touristy April – October months they sell at RMB60 while in November – March season they cost RMB40. Tickets @ RMB10 are also sold separately for Treasure Galleries and the Clocks Gallery. There is a discount for students and elder citizens. Beware, however, that passports are a MUST for entry. Bear also in mind that only limited number of guests are allowed per day and the timings are 15:30 in winter and 16:00 in the summers so pre-planning is advisable.
One thing that often catches tourists off-guard, besides the sheer magnitude of this age-old beauty, is the throngs of visitors that seem to fill up its grounds even on weekdays (except Mondays, which is an off-day). It is a very popular local attraction and these crowds are nothing when compared with those on public holidays and weekends! Coming earlier in the day helps beat being herded from end to end of the designated walkway.
Unless you’re an architecture or history buff, it takes about 2-3 hours to cover the main points of interest, appreciate the intricacies of design and relish the stories of court that are associated with the Forbidden City. Arriving at Tiananmen Square, which is easily accessible through both subway and public bus, the Meridian Gate is a mere 500 meters by foot after a security check point. The Meridian Gate (or Wumen), at the south end, is the only point of entry to the Palace. Exits are from the north through the Gate of Divine Might or east, through East Glorious Gate. (There is a wonderful photo-op of the northeastern/northwestern turret towers when exiting through the north gate)
The Forbidden City has seen many Chinese empires rise and fall. As such there are stories, myths and symbolism tucked away in every nook and cranny. A knowledgeable tour guide can shed light on many such instances and really take you back to the time of imperial China and its culture. However, you can set your own pace with a RMB40 audio guide available in most foreign languages (the English version is voiced by Roger Moore!).
Taking in the Palace Museum in a single day is a tall order and can be very overwhelming. The aesthetic gardens, the delightful naming convention (Gate of Supreme Harmony, Hall of Literary Glory, Palace of Tranquil Longevity to name a few) and all the history within. Decide beforehand what you’d like to cover and then proceed for a more rewarding tour. But whatever you do, do not forget to take in a birds-eye view of the enormous complex from Prospect Hill in Jingshan Park, right across the Northern gate of the Palace.