The Forbidden City should be fascinating for children. It’s a palace where princesses dreamed and schemed for love, emperors and courtiers plotted power plays in remote courtyards, and epic battles were fought in the shadow of the throne room. And dragons. Lots and lots of dragons. Dragons everywhere. You can’t walk two steps without coming face-to-face with this serpentine emblem of royal power. The Forbidden City is basically Game of Thrones minus the gratuitous nudity. (Although adult visitors will want to know that there was plenty of that going on within the palace walls as well …)
But let’s face it: The Forbidden City can be a test of endurance for most people, not just those young folks with shorter legs and even shorter attention spans. Making a three-hour walk through an old palace appealing to younger visitors is all about how you approach your Forbidden City trip.
Consider the Crowds
On peak days, the hordes of be-hatted, flag-following tour groups can be intimidating, especially from a child’s perspective. Popular sites like the Hall of Supreme Harmony (the main “throne room”) are often unavoidably crowded, but new sections of the palace which have recently been opened to the public offer routes through the Forbidden City which are still relatively untrammeled by the package tourists. As you enter the first major courtyard in the Forbidden City, you’ll see a river running from east to west. Follow the curve of the river to gates along either side of the courtyard. These gates will take you outside the main central route and to lovely garden paths which run parallel to the usual tourist trail in the center of the palace. (If you take the western gate and head right, there’s a lovely café about 200 meters north along the path that takes advantage of the old imperial ice storerooms.)
Count the Dragons
Kids love to count things, and the Forbidden City has a seemingly endless supply of dragon iconography. By one estimate, the central Hall of Supreme Harmony contains over 12,000 dragon icons alone. And that’s just one building, albeit the largest and most important building in the palace. If kids are bored of counting, try sketching. There is considerable dragon diversity in the Forbidden City. Take a sketchbook and pencils and when legs get tired, find a spot to sit and doodle a dragon. If scaly reptiles aren’t your children’s favorite thing, there are a number of other mythical beasts on display, as well as flowery patterns and decorations in almost every courtyard.
New Exhibits Designed for Kids
The Forbidden City staff is aware of the challenges of getting kids interested in the palace. Through October, a new exhibit uses bilingual interactive and multimedia exhibits to educate young visitors about what life was like in the palace during the 18th century. The exhibit is part of the “My Home is the Forbidden City” project launched in 2008 as an educational outreach for young people to learn about its history. The current exhibit is located in the Jingren Gong (Palace of Great Benevolence) located in the northeastern section of the Forbidden City.
Finally, remember that according to legend, the Forbidden City has 9,999 rooms. Even with some areas still under renovation, it’s not possible to see the whole palace in one day. See what you want to see at your own pace – and that of younger companions. The palace has stood for nearly 600 years; it’ll be there waiting for a repeat visit in the future, especially if kids are intrigued by what they see on their first trip.
Photos: Wikimedia Commons