Beijing, China’s bustling capital city and home to some of the most impressive historic sites in the world. From the sheer scale of Tiananmen Square to the majestic sprawl of the nearby Great Wall, no trip to China would be complete without a visit to the country’s seat of power. Not as cosmopolitan as Shanghai or Hong Kong, Beijing nevertheless provides a wealth of things for families to enjoy. Here are our top five!
5. Take a Beijing duck hunt in the hutongs
Most commonly associated with northern China, and particularly Beijing, hutongs are the narrow alleyways formed by the courtyards of traditional houses. In many areas, hutongs are used in place of streets to connect neighbourhoods and can vary between the width of a standard sidestreet to only a meagre few feet.
Qianmen, the area just south of Tiananmen Square boasts some excellent reconstructed hutongs in its cultural area and these are full of traditional roast duck restaurants and food vendors.
During our trip, our children loved exploring the hutongs, especially in the early evening when rival restauranteurs will hawk their dishes from the front step of the restaurant by bellowing into the street.
This area is also home to traditional sweet sellers who create amazing animals from clear, blown sugar and also sell the bright red, sugar coated fruit skewers common in many parts of China.
Despite being picky eaters, our children loved the food available in this area. Many of the restaurants are also used to western tourists and so are able to provide younger eaters with knives and forks to save the hassle (and mess) of using chopsticks. We were able to order all of the dishes below for less than GBP25!
4. Play with the locals in Tiananmen Square
As I noted in our Tiananmen Square post, our children loved it here!
Head to Tiananmen Square with children and you can be sure to attracted the attention of the local population as well as Chinese tourists.
We spent a happy 30 minutes soaking up the sun, allowing our children to play tag around the square and taking pictures with the many children and adults who wanted to say hello and take a snap or two.
Tiananmen Square is also home to the Tiananmen (Gate of Heavenly Peace) and the mausoleum of Chairman Mao which provide great photographs and a sense of history respectively.
3. Take the slideway at Mutianyu Great Wall
”That was better than the actual wall!” were my wife’s first words on exiting the Mutianyu Great Wall slideway. It really is that amazing.
The equivalent of a bobsleigh run, the slideway offers visitors to the Great Wall a thrilling and original alternative to the usual cable car when descending from the wall.
Sitting on a small, black sledge with wheels, users hurtle down a metal halfpipe similar to a bobsleigh track which snakes its way down the hillside. Complete with long, fast straight sections and curved corners (again, think ‘Cool Runnings’), the rider can control the speed of their descent using a lever between there legs (forward to go fast, backwards to slow down).
For those ascending on the cableway, you can hear the screams of those on the slideway below all the way up the hill although this really is false marketing as at no point did we feel that our 2 young children were either scared or in danger.
Parents riding with children place them between their legs in front of them and reach around them to control the speed of the sled (I achieved this through some sort of extremely painful yoga pose that left me with aching thighs after the short 5 minute journey).
Tickets are purchased as a pair with the cableway ticket and as an alternative to the more conventional (read ‘boring’) cable car, the cableway and slideway really is the only way to go when visiting Mutianyu.
From memory, the price of a return ticket (Cableway up, slideway down) was RMB120 per adult. Our children were free (although prices for children were shown, so I suspect their is an age/height limit).
2. Explore the Forbidden City & Buy Funny Hats
The sheer size of the Forbidden City should not put parents of younger children off when deciding to visit. Our two youngsters coped admirably with one or two breaks for photographs and ice cream and we managed to walk the length of the site with few complaints (albeit with the promise of a trip to McDonalds afterwards!).
The two most memorable parts of the day for me though were buying our kids hats (from a lady inside a toilet block no less!) for the bargain price of RMB10 and purchasing green pea flavoured ice cream at the half way point of our visit.
Bizarrely, we also found a strange set of benches at the bottom of a quiet set of stairs about halfway into the palace grounds that doubled as a free wifi hotspot. This made a great place to eat the pea flavoured ice cream, check emails and let the kids have a sit down after a lot of walking.
And again, everybody wanted to take photos with our kids or coerce their own children into playing with ours. One lovely old man (he must have been in his 70s at least) ambled straight over to our eldest and took his hat off before planting a kiss on the top of his hand and then shaking his hand. As strange as that sounds in hindsight, it really was a touching moment.
Our top tip though; the Forbidden City is strictly a one way trip. You enter from Tiananmen Square and emerged some distance away at the far end of the palace grounds. We walked back to Tiananmen along the west side of the city wall and the trip back to the square took more than 30 minutes (and here there were complaints, lots of them! Even mummy got involved!). However, there are also a wealth of tuk tuks, taxis, bikes and any number of small vehicles waiting to whisk the weary traveller back to the south entrance as soon as you exit. For tired feet, take one of these!
1. Visit the Great Wall of China
How could it not be our number 1 pick?
Now, I’m not foolish enough to think that our youngest will even remember the visit (she’s 3 years old, I’m not sure I remember anything about being this age myself!) but it sure does make for some fantastic pictures.
The section at Mutianyu is perfect for a young family. It isn’t as busy as Badaling, it’s still ‘close’ to Beijing at about 90 minutes drive and at the base there is what reminded us of a ‘ski village’ complete with tacky souvenir stalls, clean toilet facilities and places to buy food (including a Burger King and Subway for ‘fussy’ eaters).
Our five year old loved climbing the towers and both of them thought the uneven floor and stairs which bordered on the diagonal at times was hilarious. They also enjoyed the cableway/ski lift up to the wall itself, even if it’s rickety nature and lack of any secure harness gave us as parents a pretty white knuckle experience.
Can you tick something you don’t remember off your bucket list? Who knows. But they’ve been and we have some amazing photographs to prove it. Definitely worth a day out of anybodies trip; families with young children included!