Air miles can expire! Who would’ve thought that? Faced with the choice of a) letting them expire, b) exchange them for some useless products I don’t need or c) travelling somewhere alone leaving wife and children at home I decided to go for the latter. Beijing – baby.
The last time I was in Beijing was in October 2017, during the National Holiday. Back then, we went with the family including our two children (two and three at the time). We had a good time (and even went to the Great Wall), but the Forbidden City (top on my list) was out of the question with two little children.
But on a cold February day I was back!
I won’t go into the detail of the Forbidden City’s History or why it should be on your list of things to do in Beijing (you can just read the Wikipedia post).
The last time I visited the Forbidden City was in 2007. Back then, the most important sights, the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Hall of Middle Harmony and the Hall of Preserving Harmony were closed. Beijing got itself ready for the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the halls, together with other parts of the Forbidden City, were under renovation.
Needless to say I had to come back. Visiting the Forbidden City and the Palace Museum is not really something you want to do with a two and a three year old, they just get bored to death. So I welcomed the opportunity to visit alone.
One change to twelve years ago is that you have to purchase your ticket online and pay via Alipay or a Chinese domestic bank card. The website is only available in Chinese so if you can’t read Chinese, you need to ask a Chinese friend to help you or find a travel agent who offers this services (Google helps).
Tickets are limited to 80,000 per day. That sounds like a big number, but will be exhausted soon, particularly in summer and during Chinese national holidays.
I was lucky with the weather and enjoyed blue sky and sunshine at 15C during the day.
Most visitors to the Forbidden City enter at the Main Gate and just walk straight through, passing the three big halls, the garden and then leave. If you do that, you’ll be done in one hour. However you’ll miss a lot.
I followed the plan shown in the Lonely Planet and explored the different sections to the East and West of the main halls.
For some areas within the Forbidden City you need to pay extra (RMB 10 per person). Lonely Planet was emphasising the fabulous clock collection, however I was somewhat not too impressed. Maybe I’m just not too much into clocks.
In total I spent around three to four hours inside, also taking countless photos.
If you visit on a day with blue sky, make sure that you visit the part that is situated just opposite the road at the northern exit. This part charges entrance (10 RMB or so), hence it’s usually not that crowded. Climb up the stairs to the pavilion, from there you will experience an amazing view over the Forbidden City (if the sky is clear).
I had one peculiar experience. One Chinese guy chatted to me and asked me whether it’s my first time in China. I told him that I’ve been living here for 12 years so we switched to Mandarin. Upon hearing that I’m originally from Bavaria he started speaking to me in German with a Bavarian accent. I was flabbergasted…