We spent our last full day in Beijing exploring the Forbidden City. Epic in its sweeping palaces, intricate in its tiny decorative details, this ancient home of China’s emperors is a must-see in Beijing for a reason.
While Chinese nationals have to book tickets in advance, there is a dedicated window for the few foreign tourists that visit each day to buy tickets in person. Pro-tips: 1) arrive early in the morning, as the ticket window closes as early as 3:30pm in the winter months; 2) bring your passport because the ticket office links your entrance your passport number; 3) bring lunch or snacks as the food options were nearly non-existent… unless you enjoy eating pot noodles, sweet Chinese sausages on sticks, and instant coffee with artificial milk and sweetener. After queuing for two hours, making our way back through Tiananmen Square, and getting our tickets, we finally entered the incredible City and spent a joyful four hours exploring it until our feet and legs gave out.
Though the grandeur of the imperial palaces stunned us, we particularly enjoyed seeing the buildings up close to catch tiny, beautiful details hidden in the walls, doors, and rooves. Did the emperor, the empress, the palace staff, and the concubines stop to wonder at these delicate treasures too? Based on my cursory knowledge from watching the drama/period soap opera Empresses in the Palace, life in the Forbidden City was terrifying, dramatic, strictly managed through traditions and rituals, and deeply boring. There was likely lots of staring longingly into koi ponds while sitting under parasols or writing calligraphy while listening to zithers or walking slowly around in platform wooden shoes while discussing poetry. Perhaps they too enjoyed finding all the little nuances in the architecture while contemplating sabotage and poisonings.
I only ended up watching a couple episodes of the show, since it reminded me too much of the Hand Maid’s Tale but with pretty dresses and based on real history. And where did they go the bathroom? I always wonder this question when visiting old castles, palaces, forbidden cities, etcetera. The answer is usually horrifying.
I will let the pictures of the imperial palace, now a museum, speak for themselves and encourage you to visit in person as soon as you can: