The Forbidden City and the Summer Palace are the worldwide recognized symbol of the grandeur of the Chinese imperial dynasties. Observing the splendid palaces, the characteristic portals and visiting the majestic gardens you will be impressed by how the combination of the emperors' grandiose ideas and an almost infinite workforce has generated artistic masterpieces with impressive dimensions.
La Città Proibita
The Forbidden City wins by right the first place among the attraction where I felt submerged by the crowd of tourists. Just to give you an idea, 80,000 tickets are sold online every day! You will however have the way to transform this visit into a less stressful experience: most visitors take part in organized visits that follow a classic route along the central street of the city, leaving out the side buildings, much less crowded and from our point of view, even more interesting.
Official access to the city takes place through the Meridian Gate. Once through this door, once for the exclusive use of the emperor, you will find yourself in a large courtyard, characterized by a stream crossed by five bridges. The next Gate of the Supreme Harmony will allow you to get to the heart of the city.
The part of the central buildings, although of an inestimable value, is the one I liked the least. Respecting the harmonies and proportions, the three main buildings the Hall of Supreme Harmony, the Hall of Central Harmony and the Hall of Preserving Harmony were built with exactly the same architectural model. The same pattern is then repeated in a reduced form in the three subsequent central buildings. In this central part, arm yourself with patience: you will have to share the visit with a crowd of tourists with umbrellas, selfie-sticks and mobile phones pointed everywhere. Once completed, I advise you to abandon this street to visit the side buildings too. Then continue north, wondering into the characteristic alleys and courtyards of the area to the east, where the Pavilion of Pleasant Sounds is worth a visit. This area, so heterogeneous and beautiful, is the one I liked the most and inside which you will have the opportunity to visit interesting temporary exhibitions. Also in the northern end but to the west, you will then find the Imperial Garden, a classic Chinese garden that is worth a visit before exiting the Gate of Divine Might.
Once out, I suggest you to walk at least for a stretch along the moat that surrounds the Forbidden City. The stretch that we particularly liked is the one that begins before the entrance to the main door and then continues east.
Finally, for its historical value, Tiananmen Square is also worth a visit. This immense concrete pavement is in fact the largest square in the world. Although it does not have a particular attracting appearance, it will allow you to see the two doors that mark the two cardinal points of the square: the Gate of Heavenly Peace, of an intense red color and dominated by the famous portrait of Mao and at the opposite end the Zhengyang Gate Tower, once the largest of the nine city gates. To access the square, it is necessary to check the documents and backpacks and sometimes the queues are quite long.
The Summer Palace was born as a summer residence of the emperors, in order to escape the suffocating heat of central Beijing. Like all Chinese works, it will leave you speechless for its majesty. Just to give you an idea, the Kunming lake that rises in its center was built with the work of over 100,000 workers to allow the emperor to assist the naval exercises of his fleet from the top of the hill. Another oddity, here you will find a marble boat, made by Empress Cixi, an idea that is certainly out of line.
If you want to visit it unhurriedly, it will take more than half a day. To avoid retracing your steps twice, we recommend that you access the north gate and exit the east gate. The first one is near the Beigongmen subway station, the second one near Xiyuan. Buy the cumulative ticket (50 ¥): you will have included access to several interesting sites. As soon as you cross the north entrance, visit the recostruction of the river city of Suzhou, where characteristic buildings and splendid bridges alternate in harmony.
Once the visit is completed, begin the climb to the Longevity Hill. Several architecturally beautiful temples with rather original names are distributed along its slope. Among those that most impressed us, certainly the Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha and the Hall that Dispels the Clouds.
Walk at least a section of the beautiful Long Corridor, before taking a boat to reach the South Lake island. From here you can enjoy a splendid panorama of the hill and the lake. If you still have time, also visit the buildings on the east coast, included in the cumulative ticket.
Before your trip
- Do I need to book tickets in advance? Avoid making our mistake: if you visit Beijing in the high season, let your hotel book the entrance to the Forbidden City as soon as you arrive. Tickets were sold out for 3 days when we were there and we only got to see it on the last day. For all other attractions, tickets can be purchased on site and there are never long queues. In addition, it is worth buying the cumulative tickets, which include visiting the courtyards and buildings