Beijing, Winter '23, Day 4 - The Forbidden City

Published by Bill Glover on

This post is part of the Beijing Winter 2023 series.

Our eldest is old enough now that he remembers the places we take him. He loves making connections between things he sees in books and things he sees when out and about. One of the places that comes up often is The Forbidden City (故宫). We decided that winter would be a good time to take him based on a memory, now decades old, that it was quiet in winter.

As with The Temple of Heaven (see Day 2) booking is essential. We had to email someone the children’s passport details before arriving. It’s worth noting that the area around The Forbidden City is often restricted. You may end up having a fair walk to get to the gates.

As we got closer to the gates of the Forbidden City, we saw more people in costume.

As we got closer to the gates of the Forbidden City, we saw more people in costume.

As with any popular destination in China, you can expect to queue to get in. Thankfully these lines were moving and we didn’t have to stand around too long. I’m not sure our youngest would have put up with much more of a wait.

Even whilst queuing to enter The Forbidden CIty, you start to get a sense of how big it is.

Even whilst queuing to enter The Forbidden CIty, you start to get a sense of how big it is.

The City is home to an array of smaller rooms. Tradition says that there are 9,999.5 rooms, designed to be just short of 10,000. If these all existed, they haven’t survived until today. But, with well over 8,000 rooms you’ll have your work cut out to see them all. With children leading the way, we stuck to the outdoor courtyards. Many of these were still covered in snow.

No two roofs are the same. Each corner must tell its own story.

No two roofs are the same. Each corner must tell its own story.

I’m glad that work to clear the snow hasn’t completed. It was nice to see parts of the City still blanketed in white.

I’m glad that work to clear the snow hasn’t completed. It was nice to see parts of the City still blanketed in white.

A popular route through the City is to enter towards the south and exit at the north. We ruled this out as too far for our eldest to walk. I’m glad we changed our mind. The Imperial Garden towards the North of the city is well worth a visit.

One of the buildings in the Impreial Garden.

One of the buildings in the Impreial Garden.

For me, one of the most impressive scenes is not of the City at all. As you leave by the north gate, you can see Jingshan Park in all its glory. Some of the most iconic photos of The Forbidden City are views from the top of Jingshan Park looking south. The framing of the park in the north gate of the city sums up Beijing. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you realise there is always more to see.

Looking up at Jingshan Park from the north gate of the Forbidden City.

Looking up at Jingshan Park from the north gate of the Forbidden City.

It wasn’t long ago that you could find traditional snacks for sale on many street corners. This was especially true around popular tourist sights. These days, you are more likely to find them available at restaurants in one of the many shopping malls. I cannot get enough of the snacks made with hawthorn berries (山楂) and so I was happy to see this lady selling 冰糖葫芦 (sugar coated hawthorn berries).

冰糖葫芦 for sale.

冰糖葫芦 for sale.

As we walked west along the north edge of The Forbidden City, the crowds vanished. We had the street to ourselves. This view looking back from the northwest corner of the City gives you a sense of scale (panorama available here).

The view from the noorthwest corner.

The view from the noorthwest corner.

When travelling to a new city, my favourite way to explore is on foot. I love walking around, getting lost, only turning to a map when I need to get home. But Beijing is not a walkable city. It’s not walkable even in the best of weather. I missed the variety that comes from shops, cafes, offices, anything other than long grey walls.

Sheets of snow being removed on the back of a tricycle.

Sheets of snow being removed on the back of a tricycle.

With today’s high of -7ºC and a low of -16ºC the snow has had no chance to melt. Where it has been piled up to the side of footpaths, it has frozen into a solid mound. These mounds are slowly being removed on tricycles. Where they take it, I’m not sure.

A view from the bus as we headed west.

A view from the bus as we headed west.

As we took the bus home, we treated to a round of well meaning but unsolicited parenting advice. We shouldn’t have our youngest out in the cold. He should wear a mask to protect his face. He shouldn’t be able to see over the layers of warm blankets that covered him. Sometimes it’s easier to nod and pretend you don’t understand. Preventing a toddler from seeing, smelling or tasting the world is a losing battle.