Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City Museum

When visiting Beijing, Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City Museum are two must-see attractions.

Conveniently, the Forbidden City is located directly behind Tiananmen Square, so most tourists choose to explore both in one trip, starting with a photo session at Tiananmen Square before entering the Forbidden City through the Meridian Gate.

Tiananmen Square served as the main entrance to the imperial city during the Ming and Qing dynasties and has been the site of significant events such as the founding ceremony of the People’s Republic of China and various military parades, endowing it with profound historical and political significance.

While there’s not much to do at Tiananmen itself, it’s worth taking photos in front of the square, and if time allows, you can witness the flag-raising ceremony at dawn.

The Forbidden City is divided into two main parts: the Outer Court and the Inner Court. The first half, entered through the Meridian Gate and located along the central axis, is the Outer Court, where the emperor conducted state affairs and met with his ministers.

The second half, along with the six eastern and western palaces, comprises the Inner Court, where the emperor resided. The Hall of Supreme Harmony in the Outer Court is especially worth visiting; it is the largest hall within the Forbidden City, also known as the “Hall of Golden Chimes.”

In the Inner Court, the Palace of Gathering Elegance, where Empress Dowager Cixi once lived, is also a highlight.

The season in which you visit the Forbidden City can greatly impact your experience. Autumn and winter are recommended for their crisp air, comfortable temperatures, and fewer tourists compared to the summer and National Day holidays.

More palaces and cultural and creative shops are open during these seasons, offering a richer experience. Moreover, visiting after a snowfall in winter is a must, as the snow-covered Forbidden City is a truly enchanting sight.

Taking in the views and snapping photos against the backdrop of red walls and white snow offers a unique charm.

Transportation:

Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City Museum are located in the Dongcheng District of Beijing, with convenient surrounding public transportation options. You can reach these destinations via Subway Line 1 or Bus No. 5, among others.

It’s important to note that neither Tiananmen Square nor the Forbidden City Museum has parking facilities. The nearest public parking is on Jingshan Back Street, where parking can be quite challenging. Therefore, it is recommended to use public transport.

If you plan to watch the flag-raising ceremony at Tiananmen Square in the early morning, it’s best to take a taxi. Keep in mind that taxis must drop passengers off nearby, due to strict traffic control in the area, and allocate approximately 20 minutes for walking.

Time & Costs:

A brief visit to Tiananmen Square can take just a few minutes, but as the Forbidden City is quite expansive, you might choose to tour only the main palaces if you’re short on time, which could take about two to three hours or half a day.

For an in-depth exploration, you’ll need to dedicate an entire day.Admission to Tiananmen Square is free.

Tickets for the Forbidden City are 60 CNY per person during peak season and 40 CNY per person during the off-season. Tickets to the Treasure Gallery and the Clock Exhibition are an additional 10 CNY each.

Tips and Tricks

Tiananmen Square

  1. Advance reservations are required for both Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City Museum! Book your visit one day ahead through the “Tiananmen Square Reservation” and “Forbidden City Museum” mini-programs on WeChat. Same-day reservations are not accepted.
  2. Ticket Rush Guide:
    a. Reserve tickets via the “Tiananmen Square Reservation” mini-program on WeChat, up to 9 days in advance, with tickets released daily at 5:00 PM.
    b. Four time slots are available each day, including “Flag-raising,” “Morning,” “Afternoon,” and “Flag-lowering.” Choose according to your preferred viewing time.
    c. After selecting a time slot, you can fill in personal information. Each reservation can include up to 4 adults and 3 children.
    d. During the summer holidays and National Day, tickets tend to sell out as soon as they’re released, so be sure to reserve 9 days in advance! It’s best to book about 7 days ahead even during the off-season or on weekdays.
  3. Viewing Guide:
    a. Once you’ve successfully booked your ticket, you can send “Flag-raising time” to the “Beijing Local Treasures” official WeChat account to get the flag-raising schedule for the day of your visit.
    b. On weekdays, queue up around 2:00 AM; on weekends, it’s best to get in line before midnight; during National Day and other holidays, you can head over right after dinner.
    c. Apart from your phone, ID, and a small flag, it’s best to bring nothing else. Security checks are stringent. Breeze through security and dash out quickly – you must run to secure a spot at the front.
  4. Beijing’s security checks are extremely stringent; always carry your ID with you and avoid bringing flammable or explosive items such as lighters and alcohol. Large objects like tennis rackets and scooters are also prohibited.
  5. When faced with long queue times, refrain from bringing unnecessary items such as mats or stools, as these are not permitted inside. During autumn and winter (including the National Holiday), it’s essential to dress warmly since it can be very cold in the early morning. If you get hot, you can always take off layers to sit on the ground. In the summer, consider bringing a light jacket that can be used as a seat or worn.
  6. Tiananmen Square has four time slots for activities: flag raising, morning, afternoon, and flag lowering. Entry is granted upon presenting your ID for a security check. If the flag-raising slots are fully booked, try for a morning slot; the security checks are less strict, allowing for entry.
  7. Do not cross the demarcation lines at Tiananmen Square. Soldiers patrol and stand guard in front of the square. Stick to the standard sightseeing route for photos and memories, and do not wander or step beyond the designated lines to take pictures.

The Forbidden City

  1. The Palace Museum is closed on Mondays! It usually clears out by 5 p.m.! Music will play at 4:30 p.m. as a reminder for visitors to leave, so it’s important to manage your visit time wisely.
  2. The Forbidden City does not sell same-day tickets; you must book at least one day in advance!
  3. Ticket Grabbing Guide:
    a. Reserve your tickets through the WeChat Official Account “The Palace Museum” under the “Ticket Purchase and Exhibition Reservation” section.
    b. You can book up to 7 days in advance, with tickets released at 8 p.m. each night. Be sure to reserve 7 days ahead during the summer vacation, weekends, and holidays!
    c. Before booking, fill in the basic information of all visitors in the “Personal” center.
    d. Choose the date of your visit according to your schedule. Then, purchase the appropriate ticket type, such as standard tickets or senior tickets. Make sure the information is accurate to avoid verification issues later.
    e. Each order is limited to a maximum of 5 tickets.
  4. Separate reservations are required for the Treasure Gallery, the Clock Gallery, and temporary exhibitions within the Palace Museum. Make these reservations along with your entrance tickets, also 7 days in advance at 8 p.m., using the mini-program.
  5. The cobblestones of the Forbidden City are ancient and some areas are uneven, which can pose a tripping hazard. Please watch your step.
  6. During the off-season or due to renovations, the Palace Museum may temporarily close certain areas. We recommend checking the latest updates on the WeChat Official Account “The Palace Museum” or calling the official customer service to plan your visit accordingly and avoid any disappointment.

Itinerary

Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City Museum are open for visits all year round. The summer season, being the peak tourist season, tends to be very crowded and the hot weather can detract from the overall experience.

It is advisable to avoid the busy season and opt for a visit during the autumn or winter months. You could start your visit at Tiananmen Square for some photo opportunities before entering the Forbidden City through the Meridian Gate.

The Forbidden City offers various tour routes, including two-hour tours, half-day tours, and full-day tours.

Additionally, the “Forbidden City Museum” app provides a selection of routes such as the East Route, West Route, Court Life History Route, Autumn Ginkgo Route, and a Summer Cooling Route. Visitors can choose a route that best fits their schedule and interests.

Detailed Guide

Tiananmen Square

  1. To enter Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, a valid ID must be presented, and one must undergo strict security checks. Travelers with backpacks are required to open their bags for a thorough inspection before being allowed to pass.
  2. The “Beijing Local Treasure” WeChat public account and the “Flag of the People’s Republic of China” website provide daily flag-raising and lowering schedules. Those interested in the ceremony can check the timings for the flag-raising and lowering on the day of their visit on the aforementioned website.
  3. Reservations for visiting Tiananmen Square are divided into four time slots: flag-raising, morning, afternoon, and flag-lowering. Visitors can book each time slot once per day. The flag-raising slot begins one hour before the square opens (one hour before the flag-raising ceremony) and ends when the ceremony concludes; the morning slot is from the end of the flag-raising ceremony until 12 PM; the afternoon slot is from 12 PM until the square’s evening closure; the flag-lowering slot starts one hour before the flag-lowering ceremony until the square closes for the night.
  4. Viewing spots: There are three spots to watch from. The South Square is the most crowded but also the closest and most direct view of the flag, making it the ideal spot for photography. Here, the sound is powerful, enhancing the experience of the flag-raising. The East and West Squares offer a less intense sound experience. The view isn’t as clear as from the South Square, but you can still see the ceremony and the honor guard, with far fewer people around.
  5. To witness the flag-raising, you’ll need to go through the steps of securing a reservation, queuing up in the early hours, snagging a good spot, and staying up late. After four to five hours of anticipation for a five-minute ceremony, you’ll feel it was worth it.
  6. Essential items to bring include your phone and ID card. You may also bring a portable charger, a small flag, a selfie stick (which is handy if you’re not tall enough to get a good view from the back), and some light snacks.

The Forbidden City

Hall of Supreme Harmony

The Hall of Supreme Harmony is the most prestigious ancient palace structure still standing in China, commonly known as the “Hall of Golden Chimes.” It served as the venue for the emperor’s enthronement and grand wedding ceremonies.

Palace of Heavenly Purity

This area was the daily living and working space for Ming and Qing emperors. However, after Emperor Kangxi, the emperor’s sleeping quarters were moved to the Hall of Mental Cultivation.

The Palace of Heavenly Purity houses the “Supreme Principle” plaque, considered the foremost in the land, which was the secret location where the emperor placed edicts for the appointment of successors.

Palace of Gathering Elegance

This was the residence of Empress Dowager Cixi, where scenes from her life have been recreated. Visitors can explore the Buddhist hall, a pagoda carved from ivory, and a dressing table crafted from gold, all reflecting the utmost opulence of the Empress Dowager’s lifestyle.

Palace of Earthly Tranquility

The empress’s sleeping quarters were here, but during the Qing Dynasty, the Palace of Earthly Tranquility was primarily used as the bridal chamber for the emperor’s wedding. The empress only slept here on her wedding night and did not reside in the palace regularly. It was mainly used for shamanistic rituals.

Hall of Mental Cultivation

Starting from the reign of Emperor Yongzheng, this became the regular residential and administrative space for the emperor, where he would review and approve state documents.

The Clock Gallery

Located near the Hall of Ancestral Worship, in the vicinity of the Eastern Six Palaces, the Clock Gallery showcases mechanical clocks and watches introduced from Europe during the Qing Dynasty, as well as those made by Chinese craftsmen.

Treasure Gallery

Located in the Huangji Hall within the Ningshou Palace, the gallery showcases the Qing Dynasty’s court treasures from the Forbidden City’s collection. These artifacts, which include ritual objects and everyday items, represent the pinnacle of craftsmanship from that era.

Special Notes

  1. Visitors must enter the Forbidden City through the Meridian Gate; the Shenwu Gate and the East Glorious Gate are exits only.
  2. Whether you have a morning or afternoon ticket, it can be used throughout the entire day.
  3. The Forbidden City has onsite restaurants primarily offering light meals and snacks which are relatively pricey. For longer visits, it is advisable to bring your own snacks. There are many corridors and benches throughout the Forbidden City where you can rest.
  4. Many visitors enjoy partaking in the Forbidden City’s afternoon tea for its aesthetic appeal and photo opportunities. Offerings include the Palace’s mythical creature popsicles and various specialty beverages.
  5. The Forbidden City is renowned for its cultural and creative products, which make for meaningful gifts or keepsakes. Be sure to stop by and take a look.
  6. You can collect unique stamps as souvenirs at various cultural and creative shops scattered around the premises, which offer free and purchase-required stamps. Each shop has different stamp designs, and to obtain a purchase-required stamp, you must first buy a themed booklet. It’s up to the visitors to decide whether they’d like to make a purchase based on their interests.
  7. The architectural style of the Forbidden City is grand and majestic, providing an atmospheric backdrop for visitors dressed in Hanfu, traditional Chinese clothing, to take photos.
  8. It’s highly recommended to have a guide when visiting the Forbidden City. Consider using the “Palace Museum” mini-program for audio guidance, which offers free explanations for some of the main palaces, or rent an audio guide at the entrance, which charges per use: 20 yuan for Mandarin and 40 yuan for other languages.

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