If there’s one sight that has come to represent not only Beijing, but Imperial China as a whole, it’s the Forbidden City. Closed to the world for some 500 years, this vast Imperial palace puts into perspective just how powerful China’s ancient leaders actually were.
One of the best ways to explore the Forbidden City is on a classic Beijing tour. While many visitors tour the palace grounds on their own, having a local guide along with you allows you to dig deeper into the historical significance of the place and hear anecdotes about what life was like for China’s imperial family. Besides visiting the Forbidden City, a typical Beijing city tour will include stops at the Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven and Tiananmen Square.
You don’t necessarily have to stay in Beijing to see this iconic UNESCO-listed attraction either. If you’re pressed for time during your China travels but still want to see this historically significant attraction, it’s possible to visit Beijing on a day trip by air from either Shanghai or Guangzhou.
No matter how you choose to explore the Forbidden City, there are a few things you can do to make your time more enjoyable. If you’re touring on your own, it’s a good idea to show up at the ticket office right when it opens, as you’ll get to tour the ground ahead of the tour buses that arrive a bit later. While many tourists pass right down the center of the palace grounds, you should take some extra time to explore the galleries in the structures to either side of the main courtyards, as these contain an impressive collection of art and artifacts from several of China’s dynasties.