What is it:
This residential palace of past emperors, where entering the grounds without an invitation used to cost you your life, sits squarely between Tian’anmen Square on the south side and Jingshan park to its north. Most tourists (and there are a ton of them), concentrate their efforts on the main drag of the complex, hitting the three main Great Halls: Hall of Supreme Harmony, Hall of Middle Harmony and Hall of Preserving Harmony. The Hall of Supreme Harmony, built in the 15th century, is the star attraction and includes a huge, elaborately decorated Dragon Throne. Here is where the emperor held court and made underlings kowtow, a practice of touching the floor with the forehead nine times.
Tips to avoid crowd frustration:
I hate crowds, so I always try to find the quieter, less trodden parts of attractions. If you want to slip off into a less densely packed area, after passing through Meridian Gate, try heading left to a Caligraphy exhibit, or right to a meticulously curated porcelain exhibit.
Make sure to check out:
For a small fee, you can hit the Treasure Gallery, which contains the interesting Nine Dragons Screen. Try to find a square panel that looks different from all the rest. Legend has it that one of the workers broke the only porcelain tile made and there was not enough time to make another one. The workers decided to use a wood panel instead, hoping that no one would notice. Time is the great revealer and now the eroded wood is noticeable when compared to the pristine porcelain tiles.
For a good Picture:
Off to the right hand side of the Hall of Preserving Harmony is an area where tourists can dress up in traditional Chinese garb and take a virtual flight (replete with blue screen technology :)) through the Forbidden City. A lot of Chinese tourists do it, and many mill around the outside of the richly decorated entrance. It’s a perfect chance to snap a very atmospheric (all be it fake) photo. The Chinese tourists will most likely be happy to accommodate and may even want you to return the favor by taking a picture with them.
Price: 40 Yuan Nov – March / 60 Yuan Apr – Oct. 40 Yuan for an Audio guide.
Opening Times: 8:30 am to 4 pm May – Sep / 8:30 am to 3:30 pm Oct – April.
Getting There: Take the Metro to the Tian’anmen West or East stop.