As China's present and the old capital of five Dynasties, Beijing is a must-visit destination, not only for adult travellers, but for families with kids. Although language can be a barrier, I've found the people of Beijing to be very friendly to families with children. A family trip to Beijing is both educational and fun, even for young children who are not ready to explore Beijing's massive historical attractions. They will still gain an understanding of China's history and rich culture by exploring the following family-friendly attractions.
1. Cable car and toboggan ride at the Mutianyu Great Wall
Beijing is only an hour away from what is undoubtedly one of the world's most famous pieces of historic architecture - the Great Wall of China. With a total length of 21,196 kilometres, which section of the Great Wall would be best for you to tour with young children?
The Mutianyu Great Wall is one of the best-preserved sections of the Great Wall. It has breathtaking scenery but fewer tourists than the more popular sections such as Badaling, making it a good destination for travelling families. And its close proximity to downtown Beijing–just a one-and-a-half-hour drive in normal traffic–means it's more than possible to visit the Mutianyu Great Wall in the morning or afternoon. Just the thing for travelling families who need a more relaxed schedule.
The Mutianyu section spans over a mile and contains a total of 23 watchtowers. It is possible to hike along the entire Mutianyu Great Wall, but taking a cable car up and down is a great way to save time and energy when you travel with young children. Two riding options are available from the entrances to the hillside Great Wall: the covered cable car goes to Tower 14, and the chairlift reaches Tower 6. In addition, travellers can take a Toboggan ride down to the entrance at Tower 6. Both towers afford great panoramic views of the whole length of the Mutianyu Great Wall. Some travellers take the covered cable car to Tower 14, walk to Tower 6, and take a chairlift or gondola down from the great wall, but the climb is steep and challenging for children under 12 years of age. Thus, the chairlift and toboggan ride options at Tower 6 are more suited for families with young children.
2. Join a walking tour around the Hutongs of Beijing
Hutongs are the traditional courtyard residences and alleyways that connect with other hutongs to form a neighbourhood of wonderful passageways. They once covered all of Beijing, but many of Beijing's hutongs have been demolished to make way for modern Beijing. Fortunately, some hutongs are well-preserved and welcome visitors to take a trip back in time to the old, traditional Beijing.
The best way to enjoy a glimpse into these authentic Chinese neighbourhoods is to join a walking or bike tour. There are many organized paid and free tours available. The hutongs areas near Houhai Lake, the Bell and Drum Towers, Nanluoguxiang, Lama Temple, and Qianmen are popular among tourists and locals. It would be an unforgettable memory for the kids to tour through the hutongs on a Beijing-style tricycle and meet some of the people who live there.
3. Got kids who love animals? Try the Beijing Zoo and Beijing Aquarium.
Founded in 1906 during the late Qing dynasty, Beijing Zoo is the oldest zoo in China and the oldest public park in northern China. The Beijing Zoo is well-known for its collection of rare animals endemic to China, including the giant panda, the golden snub-nosed monkey, the South China tiger, and the Chinese alligator. Like many of Beijing's parks, the zoo is ornate with classical Chinese gardens, lotus ponds, pavilions, and historical buildings. Unless you are planning to visit the Giant Panda Research Base in Chengdu, the Beijing Zoo is the place to go if your children love pandas–and frankly, who doesn't?!
Beijing Aquarium is conveniently located also inside the Beijing Zoo complex. It is the largest and most advanced aquarium in China, covering a total area of 30 acres. Beijing Aquarium has seven beautiful halls and live aquatic animal shows. It is a great place to go when the weather is not the greatest, and when you want to spend a relaxing day looking at the beautiful land and sea creatures.
4. Take a relaxing stroll at Beihai Park
Beihai Park, also known as the Winter Palace, is a large historical park located near the Forbidden City and a place where you can enjoy a break from all the city hustle and bustle. First built in the 11th century, Beihai Park is among the largest of the imperial gardens, with numerous works of historical architecture and a lake that covers more than half of the 170 acres. Since 1925, it has been open to the public as a park.
Beihai Park is beautiful in all seasons. Taking a boat ride on Beihai Lake is a great way to enjoy the gorgeous area. The best time for flying kites in Beijing is spring and autumn. You and your kids can fly a kite on a pleasant day together with the locals. Skating on the beautiful Beihai lake is a classic Beijing winter highlight.
5. Watch an Acrobat or Kung Fu show
Looking for some evening entertainment after a day of sightseeing? The Acrobat Show at Beijing’s Chaoyang Theater and the Red Theatre Kung Fu show are two signature performances that no one should miss.
The Legend of Kung Fu Show at the Red Theatre is a spectacular fusion of modern dance with Chinese traditional martial and acrobatic arts. It tells an inspiring story of a young boy who dreams of becoming a Kung Fu master. He takes the path of a monk, in which he must face many obstacles in order to overcome his fears, attain enlightenment, and become a true master of Kung Fu. Since its debut in 2004, it has received many awards and international recognition as the most beloved Kung Fu show in China.
Besides martial arts, China's acrobatic performance is well known internationally. Watching an acrobatic show at the Chaoyang Theatre is a fantastic evening activity for your family after a day of sightseeing. The hour-long show is packed with breathtaking acts, from bicycling and fire stunts to contortions and lion dancing. Although the 40-year-old Chaoyang Theatre is a bit outdated, the acrobatic show is of top-notch quality; one of the best in China.
6. Olympic Park
Head to the Olympic Park where Beijing hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics to check out the famous Bird's Nest stadium and the Water Cube Park, which was converted into an indoor waterpark after the Olympics. You will be mesmerized by the gigantic scale architectures, especially at night, when some of the structures are illuminated.
General travel tips for families with young children:
- Bring your stroller everywhere because there is a lot of walking to be done.
- Prepare for pollution in China, and bring masks on high pollution days.
- Language can be a pretty big barrier in Beijing, so make sure to have Google Translate, with offline Mandarin downloaded.
- Be sure to take taxis that have and use meters, to avoid being ripped off.