Alongside a varied and delectable cuisine, thriving metropolitan cities and the breathtaking landscapes you’ll find in China, another reason to visit this diverse and exciting country is its fascinating history.

Visiting the stunning palaces in China during your trip is one of the best ways to learn about hundreds or even thousands of years of Imperial Chinese history. Incredible feats of architecture, these vast palaces will amaze you with their beauty, their sheer vastness, and the interesting stories they have to tell about their former residents. Here are four of the top ancient palaces in China you won’t want to miss.

summer palace china
Image by Marc-Olivier Jodoin

Summer Palace, near Beijing

Just 15 kilometres from Beijing, Summer Palace is the largest palace of its kind in China, and a day trip here will feel like you’re visiting somewhere a world away from the Chinese capital. First commisioned in 1750 by Emperor Qinglong, the palace had a tumultous history throughout the Qing Dynasty. The Old Summer Palace was destroyed in both 1860 and 1900 by the Allied Forces, and the version you see today was rebuilt in 1912.

Once where the imperial royalty holidayed during the summer, today Beijing’s Summer Palace is not only a tourist attraction but also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, thanks to its impressive gardens being deemed ‘a masterpiece of Chinese landscape garden design’. As well as the gardens, the palace complex is split into several other sections. There is therefore much to see and do here, but among the must-dos are taking a boat ride on the lake to see the island temple, watching traditional Chinese performance in the restored theatre, and climbing Longevity Hill, a hill dotted with temples and decorated gates. You can also admire the several palace buildings in the Court area, or enjoy some riverside shopping on Suzhou Market Street.

Potala Palace, Lhasa

Once the centre of Tibetan government, built by the fifth Dalai Lama in 1645, the Potala Palace, found towering 100 metres above the city of Lhasa, is the world’s highest ancient palace, based some 3750 metres above sea level.

An important reminder of Tibetan history, thousands visit the palace each year to learn about and pay homage to the Tibetan people. This vast palace spans over 1000 rooms, with the stone walls being on average a staggering three metres thick.

The Potala Palace is actually split into two palaces: The Red Palace and the White Palace. Made up of several chapels, the Red Palace was dedicated to the study of Buddhism, and is also home to several mausoleums of previous Dalai Lamas. The White Palace is home to the administrative buildings, as well as once being home to 10 Dalai Lamas. Throughout the two palaces, you’ll find beautiful statues and murals depicting the stories of the Tibetan people. Be sure to also look out for the golden roofs on the top of the Red Palace, made from gilded bronze.

Beijing China Forbidden City at dusk

Forbidden City, Beijing

Set at the very heart of Beijing is one of the city’s largest and best-known attractions, the enormous palace complex of the Forbidden City is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the world’s largest palace complex, surrounded by impressive citadel walls.

At the heart of this ancient palace are the Three Great Halls, with the first, the Hall of Supreme Harmony being the most important structure in the Forbidden City. Used for ceremonial occasions, inside the Hall you can admire the richly decorated Dragon Throne. The Hall of Central Harmony acted as the Emperor’s transit lounge, hosting two Qing Dynasty sedan chairs, and the Hall of Preserving Harmony is an impressive banquet hall, with a 250-tonne marble carriageway decorated with carved clouds and dragons.

Among the other highlights of the Forbidden City is the Treasure Gallery, where you can wander through countless pavilions, gardens, courtyard buildings, small museums and atmospheric halls. At the northern end you can also admire the Imperial Garden, a finely landscaped garden with 7000 square metres of rockeries, walkways and arboretums.

Shenyang Imperial Palace (Mukden Palace), Shenyang

In the midst of a residential district in the vast city of Shenyang, the Shenyang Imperial Palace, also known as the Mukden Palace, is the earliest preserved imperial palace in China. Designated a World Heritage Site in 2004, this elaborate palace was built in 1625, and was used by Qing emperors including Emperor Nurhaci during their tours of the country and excursions from Beijing.

This beautiful palace is one of the highlights of Shenyang, and visitors are sure to be wowed by its spectacular collection of precious artworks, ranging from ceramics to carvings, calligraphy and lacquerware. Among the stunning ancient relics you can see on display throughout the palace are the sword of Emperor Nurhaci and a chair made from antlers by Emperor Huang Taiji.

Discover the beautiful palaces of China

On our amazing escorted tour to China, you can discover the stunning palaces of Beijing, the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace, among a whole host of other remarkable places and landmarks. Meet giant pandas, sample authentic Chinese cuisine, explore the bustling city of Shanghai and much, much more – a whole host of unforgettable experiences await you on our curated tours of China.