A Little Exploring…Find an Interest, and Indulge It!

I find myself frequently fighting a nonchalance that creeps into my travels – like a spider building a web, the thoughts spiral: “Is this worth my time? Could I be eating food right now? I mean really, how is this different than the 25 other palaces I’ve seen in the past two and a half years?”

Then I feel the guilt. I’m in CHINA. Of course I need to see the Forbidden City. The thing is, I have to cop to knowing very little about it prior to my visit, and this lack of information only contributed to these wayward musings.

Just love the way these trees look on the bare winter days at the Forbidden City in Beijing, China.

Bare trees on a winter days at the Forbidden City in Beijing, China.

Alas though, there was actually no question about it – I was going on a full day of sightseeing around Beijing with my friends visiting from the US. I donned layer after layer after layer of cold-weather gear to face the cold, whipping March winds that surge through the wide open courtyards in Beijing’s Forbidden City.

We had a bit of a miss for the first hour – we got lost, which is par for the course here on A Little Adrift – and had some hilarious back and forth discussions when we all admitted that the Forbidden City was smaller and altogether less than we had anticipated.

Turns out we were in the workers section. The actual Forbidden City was just next door. Which we realized when we saw a pretty glittering temple just over the wall that completely outshone the handful of woefully unadorned buildings we had just photographed for an hour.

Looking over at the Forbidden City in Beijing, China as it glints in the morning sunshine.

Lost, we were happy to spot a Forbidden City Palace glinting in the morning sunshine just over the wall from where we were!


With a quick exit from the workers section, we made our way inside the actual Forbidden City along with the hordes of other tourists, shuffling along through the doorways, queuing for tickets, and we soon found ourselves thrust the huge square crowned by The Hall of Supreme Harmony.

The Forbidden City in Beijing, China.

The iconic Hall of Supreme Harmony at the Forbidden City in Beijing, China.

Here in front of me was the iconic Forbidden City I had curiously studied as I perused the pages of my National Geographic magazines growing up.

We began a slow and methodical study of the buildings and architecture throughout the City. The deeper we dove into the city, the more intrigued I was by the tiny details on every building. The Palaces themselves, as structures, are quite similar. But those little details, colors, and designs are precisely what make the Forbidden City worth a wander – and that’s what I remember most about all of these amazing sites. The colorful flakes of marble detailed into the Taj Mahal and the nearly snubbed out faces of dancing figures at Angkor Wat–that’s what I find intriguing.

Detailed artwork on the walls of the Forbidden City in Beijing, China.Dragon adornments and carvings on the walls of  the Forbidden City in Beijing, China.

Mother holding down her cub as she guards the entrance to the Forbidden City in Beijing, China.Details on the huge red doors of the Forbidden City in Beijing, China.

I’ve found that embracing my own interests, and not just caving to the prescribed traditional tourist experiences, continually defines my travels. So as we looked, I took notice of the fine cracks in the carvings near the Palace of Tranquil Longevity. I may have been at one of the top tourist attractions in Beijing, but I could spend my time looking at and learning about whatever jives over here in Shannonland.

Elaborate and ornate decorations on the cisterns in the Forbidden City in Beijing, China.A cistern of sorts for keeping liquid water nearby during the frozen winter months at the Forbidden City in Beijing, China.

These large decorative bronze vats flank the major palace buildings and were used for extinguishing palace fires in bygone days. The Chinese actually feared fire in previous centuries, and rightly so! According to UNESCO, the Forbidden City houses the world’s largest collection of wooden structures – so these vats stored water and throughout the freezing winters the Chinese maintained a fire under the vats to keep the water liquid, in case of fires that would have ravaged the city in minutes.

After endless minutes studying the water cisterns and the detailed artwork on the buildings,  we hit the palace gardens – a little wonderland and a fun surprise to happen upon after several hours of museums and endless architecture. We instead moved into an aesthetic wonderland of flowers, trees, rock gardens and small pagodas.

The red buildings of the Forbidden City in Beijing, China offset by the winter trees and rock garden.Pink cherry blossoms bloom against the temples and rocks in the Forbidden City in Beijing, China.

The cherry blossoms were about two weeks from full bloom but we managed to glimpse and experience a small slice of China’s colorful beauty once spring fully arrives.

This is the point in the post where I just have to give a shout-out to some other buildings and spots within the Forbidden City because the Chinese may, in fact, possess the most gorgeous and lyrical naming system in the world. The buildings in the Forbidden City include:

  • The Palace of Heavenly Purity
  • The Hall of Mental Cultivation
  • The Gate of Divine Might
  • The Hall of Literary Glory

I was really torn about which ones to leave off of our itinerary (because the Forbidden City is enormous and even the most ardent and enthusiastic palace lovers will, eventually, hit Palace fatigue).

The Forbidden City in Beijing, China from Jingshan Park

Panoramic views of the Forbidden City in Beijing from the top of nearby Jingshan Park

With very little energy left, we spied a tall hilltop viewpoint at the park crowning the Forbidden City and that’s when it was time for a quick bite of chewy steamed corn from a street food vendor (not the tastiest foodie choice in Beijing, for the record). The corn worked to fortify us for the easy hike up the nearby hill in Jingshan Park for panoramic views over Beijing and a gorgeous aerial view of the tourist madness down below.

The stunning Temple of Heaven standing out against the blue sky in Beijing, China.

The stunning Temple of Heaven standing out against the blue sky in Beijing, China.

Exhausted and hungry (questionably-tasty corn can really only go so far in satiating hunger) we hunted down some delicious, steaming dumplings and made our way to the Temple of Heaven –an easy side-trip addition to a half-day of exploring China’s Forbidden City.

Through it all, even with the iconic shots of the Temple of Heaven, and the Palace of Supreme Harmony, I’m glad I took five extra minutes to revel in my geek-tasticness and enjoy the little details on the water cisterns – for some strange reason I found them supremely interesting :)

Quick Tips: Visiting the Forbidden City, Beijing

Where: Enter via the front entrance – you can enter from the back, but you want to start at the front gate, the Meridian Gate, so you can exit through the Gate of Divine Might and walk across the street to Jingshan Park for panoramic views.
When: Check the hours, but generally the Forbidden City opens around 8:30am – go early and you can avoid some of the tour buses that drop off the hordes all day long. Or late afternoon (last entrance around 4:00p I think), but for the sake of your photos, and your sanity, go early, or go late.
How: The Forbidden City is right off of the Red Line 1 on Beijing’s highly effective metro system. Use the Tiananmen East or West  stop on the metro line and you can’t miss the entrance.  The entrance fee is currently ¥40 in the winter and ¥60 in the summer.

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21 Responses to A Little Exploring…Find an Interest, and Indulge It!

  1. The Travel Chica June 3, 2011 at 7:45 pm #

    Gorgeous photos!  I especially like the one of the tree. 

    Sounds like you’ll have to return and see more of Beijing.

    • Anonymous June 6, 2011 at 7:28 am #

      Thanks so much! Appreciate the support :)

  2. Lauraine lee May 13, 2011 at 3:22 am #

    Such a wonderful information about China. I will keep all of this in mind when I travel and will make sure it’s on my tour list. Thanks for sharing Shannon!

  3. Oliver May 11, 2011 at 11:48 am #

    i had seen a documentary on the forbidden city on discovery , amazing history… great pics btw…

    • Anonymous May 11, 2011 at 11:51 am #

      Thanks Oliver! It’s worth a visit if you’re in the city :)

  4. Megan April 25, 2011 at 10:40 pm #

    I enjoyed the Forbidden City but I liked the views from Jingshan Park more – and they only cost 2RMB :)

    Beijing is such a fun place to be, and you could spend weeks there (I was there for two) and still not see everything. Did you find it really big? The concrete is just endless…if a subway station looks close to a sight on the map, it’s still probably a good twenty minute walk away!

    • Anonymous April 28, 2011 at 1:29 pm #

      Very good point Megan – the views from Jingshan was a highlight, and actually one I almost missed out on because I hadn’t done any research, but luckily we saw it there in the distance and decided to investigate :)

      You no doubt saw more in your two weeks there than I managed (just three days!) but you’re right…our hostel was “just near the Tienanmen Square metro stop” – that meant a 15 minute walk!

  5. TristanH April 25, 2011 at 2:58 pm #

    This was a lot of fun for me to read. I lived in Beijing for three years, so it was good to see these pictures and read your musings on a place that has been a huge part of my life.

    I personally always thought the Forbidden City was a bit overrated. You have to go there once just to tick it off your list and say you’ve been there, but I felt like it’s all kind of the same. There are some touristy places in Beijing that I went to multiple times. I think I went to the Forbiden City once.

    Tourists can jam pack their day in the same area by visiting Tiananmen Square and it’s accompanying sights (the south gate, Mao’s tomb, whatever the museum is called that’s right there).

    I do love the Temple of Heaven, though. It’s one of the coolest structures I’ve ever seen. And for those interested in shopping, the Peal Market (which sells much, much more than pearls) is right across from the east side of the Temple of Heaven park.

    Some of my favorite slightly more obscure things to see on Beijing were the Military Museum and the Beijing International Sculpture Park. There’s also a PLR shooting range to the northwest of the city, where you can shoot uzis, AK-47s, M16s, etc. That’s one of my favorite Beijing memories :)

    • Anonymous April 28, 2011 at 2:34 pm #

      Thanks for weighing in Tristan and sharing tips! You definitely have a much deeper understanding of Beijing, having lived there for so long – and I can’t help but agree that the F.C. is a bit of a list ticker. I managed to find some areas and details that were intriguing, but on the whole, there are more amazing places in the city.

      I did make it to the Pearl Market and had a fun time bargaining down the vendors for my US friends so they could by some souvenirs :)

      If I make it back to Beijing I’ll definitely take your recommendations and check out those other spots (is it wrong to admit I’ve always *kinda* wondered what it’s like to shoot an AK-47 ;-)

  6. Jeannie April 25, 2011 at 5:53 pm #

    Some great information on how to get there and what it costs. More importantly, you shed some light on something we tend to miss as long-term travelers. You can flood a monument a million times by a million people, but no matter what, each person will see it differently. And love the new picture format!

    • Anonymous April 28, 2011 at 1:30 pm #

      Thanks Jeannie! You’re right about the perspective differences – traveling is so personal, and we bring ourselves to it, so that plays into everything we report on as travel bloggers :)

  7. Jeff April 25, 2011 at 5:42 pm #

    Hey Shannon,

    Sweet pictures as always.

    And nice site revamp. :-)

    And is it just me, or did “sexy bookmarks” plugin get an upgrade, too? (like the little numbers showing retweets, etc)


    • Anonymous April 28, 2011 at 1:26 pm #

      Cheers and thanks Jeff! I can breathe a sigh of relief when I have to look at my own site now, whew. As for “Sexy Bookmarks” – your eyes do not lie, they now possess even more sexy! ;-)

  8. Anonymous April 25, 2011 at 3:19 pm #

    I love the names of those palaces. I’d visit just for the names alone!

    • Anonymous April 28, 2011 at 1:25 pm #

      That’s precisely how I felt too Joanna! The naming just so lyrical and pretty :)

  9. Ayngelina April 25, 2011 at 1:18 pm #

    I am digging your new design, very nice Shannon!

    • Anonymous April 25, 2011 at 1:38 pm #

      Thanks Ayngelina! I like to call it ALA: now with less teal. :-)

  10. Bluegreen Kirk April 25, 2011 at 1:17 pm #

    I’m with Anthony I have always wanted to visit the Forbidden city. But my travels have been a bit on the slow side lately so I dont know if I will get to take photos of my own or if I will have to continue to learn about this place from sites like yours. Thanks for the great article and photos.

    • Anonymous April 25, 2011 at 1:41 pm #

      Glad you enjoyed the post – and part of traveling is having those things on your bucket list to dream about! Crossing my fingers you get there soon :)

  11. Anthony April 25, 2011 at 1:14 pm #

    It has been a dream of mine to go to the forbidden city. Not sure if it will come true one day but we will be going back through Asia on our way back home to Oz. Guess we can live through this post for the time being. Cheers ;)

    • Anonymous April 25, 2011 at 1:46 pm #

      Hopefully you can add China onto the itinerary before Oz – or at least it’s a fairly close flight if you make a vacation in the future! Glad you enjoyed the post and pictures, it’ll be even better once you make it there too :)

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