China is a vast country with an equally vast population that can be hard to get a handle on as a visitor. Route one into the Chinese psyche and culture is visiting the number attraction in the capital of Beijing, the Forbidden City.

For five centuries the powerbase of Chinese power, the inner sanctum of the Chinese mind when the nation first came across the Western 'barbarians' and their gunships, the walled Forbidden City is today open as a lavish museum.

This city within a city was ornately fashioned back in the 15th century and consists of almost 1,000 buildings spread across a sprawling site in Beijing's epicentre. It is of architectural as well as historic importance, recognised by UNESCO as one of the world's best-preserved wooden structures.

Visiting today is an enthralling experience as you stroll amidst the ghosts of the Ming and Qing dynasties, through epic staterooms and tiny water laced gardens where the relentless buzz of modern China feels very far away indeed.

Where is it?
Beijing in the northwest interior of China, around 800 miles north of the country's largest city of Shanghai.

What is it?
A UNESCO World Heritage listed city within a city in the Chinese capital, for five centuries the elaborate powerbase of the Ming and Qing dynasties, now open as a museum.

Best time to visit?
The Forbidden City can be visited at all times of year, though Spring (March to May) and Autumn (September-November) are the most comfortable times to visit when temperatures are cooler. Summer days can bring high temperatures, while the Winter months can see the mercury drop below zero and snow come to Beijing. Despite recent attempts by the authorities to deal with the problem smog can still be an issue at any time of year.

Must see?
The mighty Meridian Gate is a fitting introduction to the Forbidden City, a foreboding, breathtakingly dramatic portal that rises like a giant leviathan above Tiananmen Square. Its five vast arches hint at the architectural and historic riches housed within.

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The Forbidden City, Beijing