It might not be as sexy as Shanghai, but China’s capital city has a lot of history and culture to offer. For parents and children, walking around exploring the vast urban sprawl is a fascinating insight into the evolving monolith that is China. Here is the suitcases&strollers travel guide to Beijing with kids.
The impact of Chairman Mao’s reign still resonates in Beijing, not least because of the many monuments dedicated to him. Because of this Beijing is a great city for parents to teach their kids about the history and culture of China and what has made it the emerging super power it is today. If you are looking for a family holiday destination in China, Beijing is a good place to start.
Beijing is not a pretty city – but what it lacks in colour it more than makes up for in tourist attractions. Experiencing Beijing is about discovering China’s past, so while following the well-beaten path of the tour buses might not be terribly intrepid, but it will give you a solid and interesting history lesson.
Beijing is also only a day trip from (the busiest and most touristy parts of) the Great Wall of China. [For more on how to visit the Great Wall of China with children, read the suitcases&strollers story here.]
The critical must-see attraction in Beijing is Tiananmen Square. This huge public space is home to everything you need to see in Beijing Central – the amazing Forbidden City, the Monument to the People’s Heroes, the National Museum of China and the Great Hall of the People. The Mausoleum of Mao Zedong is also here but you will be queuing a very long time for your 3-second moving glance at him. (Inside they are extremely strict about noise and following instructions, so it is not appropriate for young children.)
Perhaps the lesser well known attraction near Tiananmen Square are the hutongs – the back alleyways and lanes where the locals live. Pick any of the side streets in the area, then enjoy getting lost. You’ll get peeps into open doorways of domestic life in China, discover hidden markets and unearth hole-in-the-wall dumpling and noodle restaurants. It’s a great way to have an authentic interaction with the city’s inhabitants on their own turf.
The Temple of Heaven is also a magnificent structure that gives insight into Chinese religious history.
The Summer Palace is well worth a visit if you have more than a couple of days in Beijing. If you can manage to get there at a quiet time the shimmering lake, striking pagodas and ancient architecture make it a peaceful place to wander and explore.
For a change of scenery, it is worth devoting at least half a day to the 798 Art District. Here you will see some of China’s most avant garde (and delightfully bizarre) contemporary art (which is often so cartoonish children might enjoy it more than you’d expect).
Exploring some of the antique markets such as the famous Panjiayuan Antiques Market is an interesting way to acquire vintage pop culture mementos (think Mao caps, imitation Maoist propaganda), artworks and porcelain.
While street food is relatively safe for adults, it is not recommended for young children. Instead, eat in established restaurants or hotels.
It seems an unlikely kids’ meal, but the famed Peking Duck is an ideal way for children to sample the local cuisine. The pancake-wrapped duck is supposed to be eaten with the fingers so it’s the perfect excuse to ignore the messy chopsticks.
[For more tips on teaching kids to eat foreign foods, see the suitcases&strollers interview with celebrity chef Emmanuel Stroobant here.]
The pollution in Beijing can
be literally breathtaking. The start of the working week tends to be clearer,
but towards the end of the week the smog is so bad that blowing your nose can
become a colourful experience. This is certainly something to consider when
planning the timing of your trip with extremely young children.
It also gets very crowded, especially in tourist areas. Keep a tight hold on your kids as they can disappear into a sea of people very quickly.
Stroller access is relatively good especially around Tiananmen Square. While you might have to leave your stroller outside some of the buildings inside sites such as The Forbidden City, it is still worth taking your wheels as it can be a long walk carrying a child.
Beijing has many accommodation choices, but Hotel Novotel Beijing Peace is attractive because of their Family Novotel offering. Up to two kids can sleep in the room free with complimentary breakfast. Online they also have the Kids’ Voyage guidebook which goes through all the city’s tourist sites in an educational and child-friendly way. Plus it is located within walking distance of Tiananmen Square.
For more on travelling in China with kids, see the suitcases&strollers story Shanghai.