The Forbidden City is neither a city nor forbidden: Discuss.

I don’t think that I gave the Forbidden City a fair shake. I was pre-disposed to not being particularly enamored with it thanks to comments I’d heard from others and I almost certainly let that cloud my judgment. No doubt there are parts of the site which are incredibly impressive. Still, overall, I was not particularly wowed by the experience.


The UNESCO World Heritage Site inscription for the palace includes this as part of the justification for the inscription:

The Imperial Palaces bear exceptional testimony to Chinese civilisation at the time of the Ming and Qing dynasties, being true reserves of landscapes, architecture, furnishings and objects of art, as well as carrying exceptional evidence to the living traditions and the customs of Shamanism practised by the Manchu people for centuries.

And I definitely saw bits of that. I’m just not sure it was enough to sway my views of the visit.


I was one of the first to enter the site the morning of my visit. This afforded me the opportunity to see the grounds relatively empty, which was certainly atypical. I wasn’t fighting to get to the front at the main buildings as I approached them. That meant unimpeded views of the thrones set up for the emperors, and that’s certainly better than waiting in line to get to see them. But the sights just weren’t particularly awesome. How many different throne rooms in one compound does an emperor really need?


For a bunch of 4-500+ year old buildings they’re in very good shape. And that definitely is one of the bits more appealing about the visit. And I understand that the collection as a whole is even more impressive because they are all together rather than just a one-off structure somewhere.


It was actually the some of the other buildings and relics in the site that I found most interesting. The cauldrons for fighting fire, for instance, had ornate handles on them which were quite impressive. They were also kept heated in the winters so that they did not freeze so they were always available to put out a fire if needed. Something ironic about using fire to keep water ready to put out fires; I love it.


And there were a number of lesser buildings towards the north end of the park where the interior was accessible, making them more enjoyable as sites to visit and enjoy.


After a mere 45 minutes I found myself at the north end of the park, standing at the exit gates. A couple and their guide were next to me. I’d more or less been pacing them throughout my visit and we chatted a bit as we departed the park. The guide was somewhat proud that he’d shepherded his charges through in the same short amount of time as President Obama apparently spent on his State visit. Not real sure that’s a badge of honor to wear, but sure.


And then I was done, out on the north side of the park and once again left to fend off the touts. I suppose that’s one benefit of the visit; there were none of those inside thanks to the RMB 40 (~USD $6) entrance fee. And lest I sound too down on the whole situation, I am glad I got to see it. I just wouldn’t necessarily budget too much more time than an hour inside.

Read more from this Trip Report under the Dream2011 tag here.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. My wife and I spend the majority of a day in the forbidden city several years ago, despite it being freezing cold at the end of December. We loved all the detail, the size of the complex, and the stories behind many of the buildings, thrones, etc. To each their own, I suppose!

    1. No doubt that the area is quite large and one could spend lots of time in there looking at things. I just didn’t get much out of “here’s another throne the emperor would sit in to talk to this type of visitor” repeated over and over again. Glad you enjoyed it!

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