Sit back, readers, and let me tell you the tale of a day of sightseeing in Beijing.
First we took the bus to Qianmen. “You can get good food there,” the guy at the travel desk of our hostel said. We found a tiny shop that was fairly popular and mimed “noodles” – to which the waitress said – “noodles?” So I guess that was unnecessary… anyway, we pointed to something in the noodle section and it turned out to be soup noodles with tomato and egg. Pretty good.
After that we walked towards what was probably Tiananmen Square, until we found a map that assured us it was the right direction. You know you’re entering Tiananmen Square because you have to go through some security.
First there’s a big gate. Next you can see the mausoleum that houses Mao, but unfortunately it was closed that day. You can’t take pictures in there anyway so maybe that was okay. If you keep walking north, you come to the big area of the Square – only there’s various things in it like statues and such that make it seem a bit less vast than it is. There’s a museum and a government building on the sides.
It is pretty large, the largest square in the world. It doesn’t seem vast enough to hold so many tanks when it’s full of tourists, but you can imagine it.
It was at this point that we thought this area reminded us of nothing so much as the National Mall in DC. Big area full of national monuments? Check. Slightly over-the-top devotion to past leaders? Check. Stalls selling t-shirts and hats? Check. I’ve never heard these areas compared, but as a former DC resident who worked at one of the museums on the Mall (and therefore, I saw it rather often), I can say there is a certain shared resonance.
Keep walking and you will see a big gate with a happy picture of Chairman Mao on it. Walk through there and you catch your first glimpse of the yellowish buildings of the Forbidden City. Get a ticket for 60 RMB and you’re in, finally.
Let’s take a moment to think about names. “Forbidden City” conjures up something exotic and magnificent and exciting, doesn’t it? After all, it’s a city – that’s vast and urban, and it’s ‘forbidden’ – how intriguing! I hate to tell you, but the Forbidden City is just a palace. Though that doesn’t give it the credit it deserves – it is a huge palace, and perhaps the best-preserved one anywhere in the world.
However, I just don’t think it deserves such an enchanting name. It’s cool, don’t get me wrong, but the Chinese name of “Palace Museum” is a much, much better moniker. Of course it was forbidden to the average person of the day – it was a freaking palace! All palaces are forbidden to non-important people. Nothing makes this particular palace more ‘forbidden’ or ‘city-like’ than other ones (except perhaps its size).
Anyway, I digress. The Forbidden City or Palace Museum is rather impressive. You can spend quite a few hours wandering around. The prettiest parts are in the back, like the garden where the concubines would lounge, while the front is full of giant imposing buildings to impress visitors. At the back they have also preserved the lovely moat around the whole thing.
All in all, this is a Beijing attraction not to be missed – and it’s rather easy to get to, so you’ve got very little excuse. You can easily do Tiananmen Square and the Palace Museum/Forbidden City in one day.
–Location: Right smack in the middle of Beijing,
–Hours: The Forbidden City is open 8:30 to 4:30 every day.
–Admission: Admission to Tiananmen Square is free. Basic admission to the Palace Museum is 60 RMB, but if you want to go into certain buildings like the part where they house all the stuff from the time period it was used, you have to pay extra.
Have you been to the Forbidden City/Palace Museum?