China makes for an interesting landscape when travelling with kids, especially when you have three of your own – people are curious about your large brood and very friendly. And since almost all families have just one child, they tend to indulge them in every way possible – which for visitors means there’s no shortage of fun and unique things to do with kids.
Beijing’s parks have playgrounds and rides for kids, there are boats to drive on the city lakes, and all the city’s historic ruins are playgrounds that kids can run around in. Noise is never an issue, as locals themselves make their fair share of it, and in fact kids open doors with the Chinese. Restaurants are welcoming, with waitresses often doting on kids to an almost ridiculous degree – recently, our 6-year-old daughter leaned back in her chair while our waitress fed her noodles one by one with chopsticks, waiting long enough for each one to cool.
Top 8 Beijing Attractions for Families
(8 being the luckiest number in China)
1/ Great Wall Hike, Toboggan-Sled Ride and Fishing
The Mutianyu section of the Great Wall has been reconstructed so is safe and easy to walk – take the cable-car up, hike on the wall for about an hour, then take a toboggan-sled track back down (with single and double sleds so adults can ride with their kids). After visiting the Wall, head for one of the many fish farm restaurants in the surrounding countryside, where kids can use poles to catch farmed trout, which the restaurant then cooks up for you.
2/ Sleeping on the Great Wall
Camping on the Great Wall is completely organized so you don't need to bring any gear; meals, transportation, a guide, and camping equipment are included. We usually do it once a year with friends, and the kids never get tired of waking up on the Great Wall to see the sunrise, while we sit and drink hot fresh coffee. We then take a hike on the wall before heading back into the city.
3/ Hutong Tour by Cycle Rickshaw and Making Chinese Dumplings
There’s nothing like having someone cycle you around the old parts of Beijing in a rickshaw, showing you some historic architecture then taking you to visit a family in a traditional courtyard-style home for tea or lunch, where you and your kids can make Chinese dumplings to eat along with other home-made dishes. Then go up the Drum Tower, which used to keep time for the Emperor and his court – if you arrive at the right time you can see the huge drums being played, and there are excellent views of the old town and Houhai Lake. A visit to a local kindergarden is also possible.
4/ Boating on Houhai Lake
This lake has low-speed electric boats that are easy and fun to drive, even for 3- or 4-year-olds; bring snacks and drinks and you can putter along in peace and quiet, enjoying the scenery and absence of crowds. If your kids happen to crash into a boatload of Chinese, no worries – everyone just laughs it off, and the boats move too slowly to do any damage. Go under the narrow bridge dividing the lake in two if you're feeling adventurous.
5/ Acrobat and Kungfu Shows
The Chaoyang Acrobat show, one of China's cultural specialties, never fails to impress both young and old, featuring acrobats trained from a young age. The Kungfu show is more of a Broadway-style production, with a storyline.
6/ Hongqiao Toy Market
Part of a larger market selling all sorts of goods to tourists and locals, the Toy Market has about 100 stalls selling a wide variety of goods, including soft toys, dolls, Wii consoles, sports equipment, remote-control toys, Lego, baby goods and much more. Bargaining is all part of the fun.
7/ Chaoyang Park Amusements
One of the largest public parks in Asia, Chaoyang was host to several Olympic events in 2008, including beach volleyball. Inside are a large number of amusement-park-style rides covering all age ranges from very young to teenagers, plus a Sony ExploraScience Museum excellent for older kids. Rent a cycle cart if you want to see the whole park.
8/ Fundazzle Indoor Playground
This is a monument to how the Chinese love to dote on their young ones, with a giant ball pool with slides going into it, a four-storey maze, and a special tots’ area.
Peter Danford, who lives in Beijing with his wife and three children, owns and manages The China Guide, a travel agency offering high-quality personalized tour services to visitors, including families. His children attend a Chinese school and are now fluent in Chinese.