Ringed by a 52m-wide moat at the heart of Beijing, the Forbidden City is the largest, best-preserved, and most historically significant complex of ancient buildings. Named because it was off-limits to commoners for 500 years, the palace was the reclusive home to two dynasties of imperial rule until the last Qing Emperor.
Guides - many with barely passable English - mill about the entrance, but the automatic audio tours are cheaper and reliable. Restored in the 17th century, the Meridian Gate is a massive entrance that in former times was reserved for the use of the emperor. Across the Golden Stream towers the Gate of Supreme Harmony, overlooking a colossal courtyard that could hold audiences of up to 100,000 people. Proceed to the Hall of Supreme Harmony, where the Emperor would sit in the richly ornamented Dragon Throne and preside over trembling officials. Along with the Hall of Middle Harmony and Hall of Preserving Harmony beyond it, the three make up the Three Great Halls.
Past the halls is the 7000 sqm Imperial Garden, a classical Chinese arrangement of fine landscaping, where ancient cypresses grow among walkways and pavilions. The mesmerizing Clock Exhibition Hall contains a fascinating array of elaborate timepieces, many of which were gifts to the Qing Emperor from overseas. Time your arrival for 11am or 2pm and enjoy the performance in which choice timepieces strike the hour.
Admission: High Season - Y60, Low Season - Y40. Clock Exhibition Y10, Audio Tour Y40.
Opening Hours: 8.30am - 4.30pm
Getting There: Subway to Tiananmen Xi or Tiananmen Dong