China’s capital city is cool mix of ancient meets modern. to mention, the food is simply amazing, from homemade noodles to cheap dumpling shops. The city of extremes boasts its fair share of Beijing luxury hotels but signs of rural life become more prevalent as the ring roads grow wider–you’ll see what I mean when you head out to the Great Wall. While some don’t consider it a family travel destination, there are actually plenty of fun things to do in Beijing with kids. It’s actually one of my 7-year-old’s favorite cities and I might have to agree with her.
1. See the Great Wall of China
Perhaps this is the entire reason you planned a family vacation in Beijing. While there are a number of places to visit the Wall and you should do it however the opportunity presents itself, kids will enjoy visiting the Great Wall of China at Mutianyu the most.
Why? You can take a cable car up to the wall and ride a toboggan down, which may liven up the idea if you have kids that are skeptical about a car or bus ride to the outskirts of Beijing. Not to mention, the crowds are less. We hired a car and guide through Four Seasons Hotel Beijing and the journey took about 90 minutes. Western dining and toilets are available here, too.
2. Tour the Forbidden City
Think about how to structure your day if you have young kids that will need to walk because The Forbidden City requires a lot of it. In fact, just walking from Tiananmen Square to the Forbidden City takes probably 10 minutes.
Do your research and think about what your kids will enjoy seeing inside. The lion statues in front of the Gate of Supreme Harmony and other statues and stone carvings (like the Dragon pavement) appeal to younger kids. Perhaps devise a scavenger hunt of sorts to see who spots what first. Tweens and teens will likely enjoy the galleries full of jade, clocks, bronzes and other ancient treasures. Behei Park is nearby, too.
The Forbidden City is a must, but it’s the type of place that needs a bit of creative thinking to keep younger kids engaged for long enough to see it all.
3. Tiananmen Square
My then 6-year-old was pretty intrigued by visiting the Mausoleum of Chairman Mao Zedong which had no line right at opening. You’ll need your passport and won’t be able to take in a handbag (another reason why we were grateful for our private guide), but we were in and out within about 10 minutes. Our guide told us that the Chairman is taken off viewing for several weeks around February while he’s being re-infused with Chinese herbs and touched up cosmetically.
The National Museum of China is to the east of Tiananmen Square and its 48 exhibition halls would in reality take multiple days to explore. Study the offerings in advance and pick what you think are most interesting to your family (realize that the emphasis is on the triumphs of the Communist party). Highlights include the Simuwu Ding, the heaviest piece of bronzeware in the world, but there are artifacts dating back 1.7 million years.
4. Beijing Chaoyang Theater Acrobats
We’ve seen Chinese acrobat shows all over China but the one at Beijing’s Chaoyang Theater is particularly impressive. There’s a scene where performers drive motorcycles into a steel globe and circle around each other at high speeds. While this is common in these shows, these acrobats apparently hold a record for the most cyclists inside. It’s gut-wrenching to watch!
Not to mention the stunning costumes and feats of strength and focus are mind-boggling. Four Seasons Hotel Beijing can arrange for you to take a photo with the acrobats after the show, which is exactly what we did. Book through your concierge if possible.
5. Chaoyang Park
Things to do at Beijing’s Chaoyang Park (also referred to as Sun Park) change with the seasons. During the summer, it becomes a popular place for families to fly kites, rent boats and bikes, explore the gardens and play on the manmade beach, the former location of beach volleyball during the Beijing Olympics.
During the winter, it becomes a snow park complete with skiing and inner tubing. There is even a little amusement park inside.
6. 798 Art Zone
This former site of factories and warehouses has been revitalized into a hub of Chinese culture and art. The 798 Art Zone has a noticeably upbeat vibe and is lined with trendy cafes and boutiques. Funky, colorful art kids of any age will love is sprinkled in between–we’re told the pieces on display are ever-changing.
We happened to catch a South Korean performance art exhibit called Live Tank, a 3-D image museum that was incredible for all ages. People appeared to be interacting with whatever the art See what’s on tap during your stay or just go to walk around a bit.
7. Explore the Hutongs
Hutongs are the passageways between traditional Chinese residential compounds that some families have lived in for generations, often spanning centuries. These grey residential compounds are like mini villages within the sprawling city of Beijing. Most families can source basic essentials from within their hutongs. Exploring hutongs, which can be done via rickshaw, provides a quieter window into local life.
In the hutongs, you’ll find small cafes and shops. It’s thought that there are over 4000 hutongs in Beijing, so you’ll need some guidance regarding where to go. Wudaoying Hutong is a popular choice for families and hipsters. There’s a little cat cafe (yes, cats wander as you enjoy a snack) called Sirena and some trendy shops for small souvenirs.
8. Seasonal Activities: Boating/Ice Skating/Kite Flying
During the winter, the many lakes in Beijing freeze over to provide venues for ice skating on actual skates, manual sleds and even sleds powered by riding a bicycle.
When the lakes melt and weather warms up, boating amid the gorgeous scenery at Chaoyang Park and Kunming lake by the Summer Palace are excellent ways to enjoy a nice day out in Beijing. A variety of boats are available at Chaoyang Park, for example, ranging from pedal boats to speed boats.
You’ll also see plenty of families flying kites, too, in the spring and summer.
9. Visit a Snack Street
While snacks streets like Wangfujing are famous for fried insects on a stick, not quite normal bites for most Beijingers, they are fun to browse. Kids will enjoy the novelty of it and my daughter still talks about Chinese street food years later.
Plus, there are far more palatable choices. Candied haws and other sugar-coated fruit are sold on sticks. Roasted meat and dumplings are available, too.
10. Chill in a Family-Friendly Hotel
(In the interest of full disclosure I was hosted at Four Seasons Hotel Beijing for the purposes of another article but will definitely return on my own.) I was very grateful at the end of a long day of walking to be able to come back to a stunning indoor pool and Executive Club library filled with books dedicated to Chinese culture. Booking a hotel with enough resources inside or nearby helps when traveling with kids in Beijing and, especially if they are young, you’ll need some downtime between touring.
The weather was incredible during our visit–I couldn’t believe how lucky we were. But, just in case it’s not or the air quality isn’t ideal, it’s nice to have a base you don’t have to leave at all if you don’t want to.
What is your child’s favorite thing to do in Beijing?
Photo credit: Chaoyang Park, Flickr/drnantu, Creative Commons 2.0