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Exploring the Imperial Palaces of the Ming and Qing Dynasties

There are few better ways to get an insight into China’s rich and varied history than taking a trip to the Forbidden City in the heart of Beijing.

The Forbidden City, Beijing

The vast ancient complex was built some 580 years ago and has housed 24 emperors from the Ming and Qing dynasties. Until 1911 nobody could enter the Imperial Palace without the emperor’s permission, which is where its nickname the Forbidden City came from, however, tourists are now free to wander around the various buildings and grounds.

With a massive 720,000 square metres to cover, it’s the largest museum of cultural relics in the country – so we’d recommend setting aside a full day to do it justice.

The Forbidden City, Beijing. Seen from Tienanmen Square.

What to do 

The Forbidden City comprises a wide range of buildings from the impressive halls to smaller wooden developments. Walking around the walled area for a few hours will mean that you see many of the different varieties, however, you should ensure your route takes you past the central axis where the throne symbolising imperial power is positioned.

Other must-sees include the Hall of Supreme Harmony, which is the largest and most important of the main buildings and was only used for ceremonial purposes such as coronations and imperial weddings.

For culture vultures 

There are over a million valuable works of art stored in the permanent collection at the Palace Museum including 50,000 paintings, 340,000 pieces of ceramics and an array of sculptures and bronze wares.

As well as these valuable and rare artworks, the museum also houses a number of everyday items dating back to the Ming and Qing dynasties which give a valuable insight into how people lived throughout the ages.

Eating Chinese – yummy!

What to eat and drink

After a long day of exploring no doubt you’ll be ready for some food, and what better to fill up on than some traditional Beijing cuisine, or Jing, much of which dates back to the Qing period.

Peking duck pancakes, hot and sour soup or Peking dumplings are all dishes which many tourists will have tried back home, while the more adventurous may wish to sample cold pig’s ears in sauce or goat’s intestine.

Wash down with a flower infusion ‘tea’ for a real taste of China.

Moment you’ll never forget

Arguably the best view of the palace is from the watch towers which sit on all four corners of the city walls. End your day by gazing out over both the Forbidden City and the rest of Beijing beyond, including the famed Tienanmen Square.

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