An afternoon in the Forbidden City

The Forbidden City, a World heritage site since 1987, was the site of the Chinese Imperial Palace from the 15th century Ming Dynasty to early 20th century Qing dynasty. The Forbidden City houses the Palace museum, one of the most visited museums in the world. As the Forbidden City contains around 1000 buildings, one would need to visit the place over a few days to visit them all. My friends and I simply walked along the central axis from the south gate to the north gate taking in the structures along the way.



Close up view of the city wall and its intricate roofing

Walking into the outer city through the Meridian Gate, one has a a lovely view of the Gate of Supreme Harmony. During the Ming Dynasty, the Emperor held morning court sessions with his Ministers here while in the later Qing dynasty, it was used for ceremonial functions only.


view of the Gate of Supreme Harmony from the courtyard of the outer city

I saw the movie ‘The Last Emperor’ after my visit but I would recommend your seeing it before your visit to the Forbidden City, if you haven’t seen it yet. The movie, filmed mostly at the Forbidden City, provides an interesting glimpse into the life of the last Emperor of China, who abdicated in 1912.


Bridge over the Inner Golder Water river

Crossing the little bridge, we entered the Gate of Supreme Harmony to come across the center of the complex, three halls on a marble terrace. The largest, the Hall of the Supreme Harmony was the venue of important official ceremonies.



Sun dial on the terrace of the Hall of Supreme Harmony

Behind the Hall of Supreme Harmony is the smaller Hall of Central Harmony, where the Emperor used to rest before or between ceremonies. The third of the halls in this square is the Hall of Preserving Harmony, which was used for rehearsing ceremonies.


Throne at the Hall for Preserving Harmony

Beyond the Hall for Preserving Harmony is the inner city, the home of the Emperor and his family. The center of the inner city had another set of three halls – the Palace of Heavenly Purity which was the official residence of the Emperor, the Palace of Earthly Tranquility, the official residence of the Empress and between the two halls was the Hall of Union.


Palace of Heavenly Purity

Walking beyond the inner city halls, we came across the Imperial Garden. A key hall within this garden is the Hall of Imperial Peace.



I found that I liked the Imperial Garden best because it not only seemed tranquil, but also had the atmosphere that people had been happier here than they had been in the ceremonial halls in the outer and inner courts.


My friends, Michelle and Emma, were happy to reach the end of our walk through the Forbidden City and eager to find some place to eat as they had skipped lunch and were very hungry.

Exiting the Forbidden City at the north end, we came across a major bus stop as there were many numbers marked on the road and different buses would stop at the number corresponding to its bus number. Intrigued, we decided to take a bus to ‘Wangfujing’, as I recollected it was a shopping area nearby and bound to have restaurants.  After talking to other commuters, we found that the bus to Wangfujing was 103 so we waited at the stop, which had the number marked on the road. However, when a bus which was not 103 came by, some of the people we had asked earlier indicated that we should get in. To make sure that that bus went to Wangfujing, I asked the driver, “Wangfujing?” and he nodded but didn’t take the money I gave for our three tickets. He pointed to the back so we went in. There was a person shouting at the back, which was presumably the conductor of the bus. It was not really different from the crowded Sri Lankan public buses, where the ticket conductor would keep shouting for people to move so that more people could be fit in yet remember with ease if each passenger had paid for their tickets and not. So, the experience was not a culture shock to me as it was for my two friends.

We were not sure which stop we had to get down and we knew it was not so far away from the Forbidden City stop so we kept asking if it was the stop for Wangfujing at intervals. When we came past an area, where we saw a sign on one of the stores that said in English ‘Wangfujing road’, we immediately got out of the bus at the next stop and and walked along the main road till we came across a restaurant. We walked into it and found that the staff were undergoing a briefing and prep talk by their manager before the restaurant opened for the evening but they were courteous and asked us to come and sit inside and gave us the menu. Fortunately, there were English names printed under the Chinese names and we were able to order our dinner without problems.


After dinner, when we emerged from the restaurant, we saw the pedestrian street across the restaurant was lined with lighted stalls and crowded with people. We decided to walk across the street, which I later learnt was the Wangfujing snack street located in Dongcheng district. A place where commercial activity has taken place since Ming dynasty. Though we did not feel like eating, as we had just had a full dinner, we decided to try out one of the candied fruits.




I would recommend eating at Wangfujing snack street so you will need to time your visit there as it seems to come alive only after 6pm.

We decided to take the cab back to our hutong. This was the first time that we were taking a cab without a Chinese speaking friend in the cab with us but we felt ok as we did have the hotel card, written in Chinese, with us. We did find it difficult to get a cab to stop for us though and several of the cabs quoted an inflated price of 100 yuan for the ride back to our Hutong. After refusing a few cabs, we finally managed to negotiate the price down to 60 yuan. We were quite proud that we had managed to negotiate with a cab driver, who didn’t know English, using some basic Chinese words mainly numbers and short phrases that we had learnt during our stay.

This little half-day trip during our stay in Beijing was a memorable one.

[I am linking this post to:

*City Tripping #39, hosted by Wander Mum and Mummy Travels

**Monday Escapes, co-hosted by Extraordinary Chaos and Mini Travellers]

Wander Mum
Extraordinary Chaos

48 thoughts on “An afternoon in the Forbidden City

  1. I like the sound of that snack street! The Forbidden city sounds fascinating, the names of the structures are wonderful – supreme harmony, Palace of earthly tranquility..Do events and ceremonies still take place there or is it like a big museum? #citytripping

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a fantastic experience! I had no idea it was the most visited museum in the world. It’s a great tip suggesting people watch The Last Emperor first to get more of an insight before they visit. #citytripping

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had no idea it was the most visited museum in the world as well. Apparently it had around 14 million visitors in 2014, even more than Louvre. As this will vary year to year, I think it is better if I change it to ‘one of the most visited museums’ 🙂


    • Haha.. we had learnt how to say one to ten in Chinese during our travels and we used that as well as gestures to indicate the cost of the taxi and that we wanted it to be reduced etc. Thankfully, we had our guesthouse address written in Chinese on a card because that we wouldn’t have been able to convey otherwise 🙂


  3. What a great post! I haven’t seen such a thorough guide for the Forbidden City. It gives me a true feeling for being there! My parents went without me in 2006 because I was starting a new semester at Uni and I’m terribly sad they went without me! You can learn so much more from traveling than from a book. #CityTRipping

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your lovely comment, Lorelei! I am sorry to hear that you missed out on travelling to Beijing with your parents in 2006 but I hope you get to visit it soon!


  4. I remember being fascinated by the Forbidden City on my visit – such a different culture and a way of life that seems almost out of a fairytale. There reply is so much to see there. Thanks for bringing back happy memories of my trip #citytripping

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I visited the Forbidden City a few years ago and reading your insights reminded me of my time there. I didn’t see “The Last Emperor” until after my visit, but I agree with you that you should it before, if possible. I loved your photos of the market! The baos look delicious!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Brooke. The food at the Wangfujing snack street looked delicious and I was wishing we had stumbled onto it before we had our dinner at the restaurant 🙂


  6. Really interesting to see some of the Forbidden City – a place I have heard so much about. We still haven’t made it to China but I’m well aware of how tough it is to communicate…and get a cab! Well done you for negotiating! Not easy. I love the look of snack street. How wonderful to come across it. Thanks for linking to #citytripping

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I always search for movies which were set on the place that I’m about to visit beforehand, it gives me a preview of what I’m about to see. And then right after visiting it, I’ll watch it again. Lol.

    Did you ever find out why it’s called Forbidden City?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it is always a relief to see English on the menu card especially as I eat mostly vegetarian food so need to know there is no meat in the food. Besides the lovely snack street, Wangfujing is also considered the shopping district as it is full of shops and department stores.


  8. Loved this interesting post, Ahila! As an ethnic Chinese who’s never visited mainland China (but watched a number of period dramas about the various dynasties), the Forbidden City is a place I’d love to visit someday to see for myself. I feel like I got a small taste of it through your post! Also, I think it was incredibly brave of you to take the bus to Wangfujing without knowing where to get off! I hate the feeling of not knowing where to get off and potentially missing the stop, which is why I tend to stick to the subway in unfamiliar cities. Much respect!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much, Michelle! As for taking the bus to Wangfujing, I confess I took it only because I knew that Wangfujing was quite close to Forbidden city and because I was with a couple of friends. If I were traveling solo, I might not have done that. I hope you get to visit Beijing soon! Beijing is amazing but after visiting Yunnan province as well, I am a huge fan of Yunnan.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. What a wonderful, magical place Ahila. Thank you for sharing. I did watch The Last Emperor and it made a great impression on me.

    I would definitely have enjoyed the Wangfujing snack street too!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The Last Emperor made a huge impression on me too, which is why I wished that I had seen it before I visited the Forbidden City. I would have been better able to imagine the context of the structures I saw.

      And, yes, Mandy, you would definitely enjoy Wangfujing snack street. I also used to love the fried pancake breakfasts we used to get from street vendors in the Hutong neighbourhood where we stayed.


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