Bringing the kids to Beijing? Whether in Beijing for the Olympics or simply on vacation, we've got kid-friendly tips for your China holiday.Here at ChinaTravel.net we've been bringing you inside info on what to do and see in China's Olympic city with our Beijing 2008 travel series. And now, we're pleased to present a new installment for those of you visiting Beijing with children in tow.
We'll focus on families with children between 4-12 and save our tips for what to do with your teenagers for later, and we'll limit this installment to parks, zoos and aquariums, with an emphasis on balancing kids' stuff with more grown-up activities so everyone can have a fun and fulfilling time in China's Olympic city.
At first glance, Beijing may not strike the casual traveler as the most kid-friendly place. This isn't because Beijingers aren't fond of children—on the contrary—but because the amount of walking required at most major Beijing tourist attractions can wear out little legs, not to mention stroller-pushing parents.
First on the agenda is the Beijing Zoo and Aquarium. Located in the northwest quadrant of the second-ring road, the zoo, conveniently situated near the Xizhimen Metro station, is possibly Beijing's most kid-friendly attraction. There is no question that the highlight of this unnatural habitat is the Giant Panda House, for which there is an additional charge. Aside from the lazy and loveable bears, the Beijing Zoo features animals from every continent: lions and tigers and rhinos and baboons and exotic birds and, my personal favorite, giraffes.
Even better than the zoo is the aquarium, a significantly newer building featuring all the aquatic life you could ever hope to see, save, perhaps, Shamu. Though you may have an aquarium and zoo in your hometown, Beijing's makes for a nice break from historical site, and you can always tell the kids that the animals in Beijing speak a different language than the ones back home (something that I am personally convinced of).
Another great thing about the Beijing Zoo: the boats. For a minimal charge (much less than a taxi), you and your family can hop on a boat that will take you all the way to the Summer Palace, allowing you to enjoy some fun and interesting sights on the way (including local Beijingers swimming and fishing in a canal of questionable cleanliness). If you arrive at the zoo early enough, you can spend half the day looking at the animals and then sail away (well, okay, they're motorboats, but the kid in me says "sail") to one of Beijing's most historic and interesting sights: One for the kids, and one for you.
If you'd rather skip the zoo but know the kids would appreciate a trip to a world-class aquarium, check out Blue Zoo Beijing, a remarkable walk-through aquarium that also, for a substantial fee, allows visitors to actually swim with the sea life. That "sea life" includes sharks, and the "swimming" part requires scuba training and gear, so you probably won't want to pitch the kids into the drink, though they would certainly get a kick out of seeing mom or dad swimming with Flipper and Jaws (the sharks are certified non-mankillers, to be sure).
Even without the thrill of the swim, kids will have a ball marveling at close-up marine life in this excellently designed aquarium. As a bonus, it's in central Beijing and can be combined with a visit to major attractions. It's also close to many of the city's better dining areas, with good restaurants available in the Workers Stadium area and the nearby Sanlitun Embassy Area.
Balance the inevitable trip to one of several Great Wall of China sites and historical sightseeing with a day for the kids. Though they're sure to get a kick out of the Great Wall's towers, battlements and sheer coolness, most 4-12 year-olds aren't likely to appreciate the Wall's overwhelming beauty and historical significance.
With that in mind, I recommend a day in Chaoyang Park. Located in northeast Beijing between the second and third ring roads, Chaoyang Park(quite conveniently located on Chaoyang Nan Lu) is one of Beijing's largest parks and is loaded with rides (including a roller coaster), games, prizes and ice cream stands, all in a distinctly Chinese environment.
The park also features lawns and lakes and occasionally holds music festivals and concerts, so a variety of entertainment--for both kids and parents--is available. And once you've had your fill of Chaoyang, head out the south entrance, then west to the first major intersection, turn right (north), and walk about ten minutes. You'll find a row of decently-priced restaurants at your disposal, perfect for an authentic Beijing family-style dinner or lunch.
If Chaoyang Park is too tame for your (and your children's) wild desires, the Disneyland knockoff Beijing Shijingshan Amusement Park contains the capital's largest concentration of roller coasters, ferris wheels, and other thrill-seeking rides and attractions. Located to the southeast of Tiantan Park near the first-ring road, the Beijing Amusement Park occupies 400,000 square-meters, with 115,000 specifically designated to water rides.
This will certainly be a hit for the young ones—just be prepared to handle serious lines and highway-robbery prices on food and memorabilia, not to mention an odd form of culture shock at seeing a suspiciously familiar cast of characters (park officials insist that you won't see Hello Kitty, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck or Doraemon—in fact, they're on record for insisting that the Mickey look-alike is actually "a big-eared cat," and that's that).
Finally, Zhongshan Park is a quiet and mellow place to relax after a day of wandering the Forbidden City (a sight almost guaranteed to prompt a few complaints from tired tots). Located west of the south entrance of Gugong (Forbidden City), Zhongshan park will not dazzle the kids like the Shijingshan or the zoo, but its lush gardens, lawns, pagodas, and, yes, rides (limited to bumper cars and a playground) should drain the kids of any remaining energy (the idea is to get them to sleep so you can finally rest right?) and help keep the "one for you, one for me" balance.
The above are just a few suggestions, of course. For more on Beijing's kid-friendly attractions, check out 10 Great Beijing Family Travel Ideas.