Beijing has so much to offer. I’m sure it could keep a person busy for years and you still wouldn’t see it all. Beijing with kids can be easy! Even though there aren’t a lot of activities in Beijing for kids specifically, (other than the really expensive indoor playgrounds), there’s still lots to keep them entertained.
I also try to avoid a lot of the “kid-centered” activities, especially on a short visit, because I didn’t travel around the world to visit yet another amusement park/zoo/Kidzania! We spent 2 weeks in Beijing but our visit was relatively relaxed and we didn’t rush to fit in a ton of sightseeing. We enjoyed most of what we did in Beijing, but one thing wasn’t my favourite. It might surprise you!
1. Beihai Park
Beihai Park is a large park just north of the Forbidden City, right in the center of town. It’s made up almost entirely of a lake, with a little ring of land around it and an island beside the southern shore. It was reserved solely for the royal family “back in the day”. The best thing about this park (for the kids) was the electric paddle boats. The lake was jam-packed with them, but not to the point of it being ridiculous. The small ferry across to the “island” (which is connected by bridge to the southern edge of the park) was also a hit. We explored the Miaoying Temple hill area, caved and bought some bubbles for the girls to play with. We left through the South gate just as the sun was starting to set, and the light was amazing for pictures!
Metro line 6 stops at Beihei North, near the North gate of the park.
Cost: Park entrance 10 Yuan ($1.9 CAD)/person, kids free. Boat Ride 100 Yuan ($19 CAD) for 1 hour (plus 300 Yuan deposit that was returned)
2. Jingshan Park
This was our favourite park in town. The views of the Forbidden City, and the rest of Beijing, are incomparable (plus Beijing is a drone no-fly zone, so it’s the only aerial view we got!). There’s a lovely temple at the top, and a few smaller ones along the sides of the hill. These all have nice smooth “slides” down the side of each stair case, providing endless entertainment for the kids and everyone else watching! It’s a bit of a hike up the hill, but there are stairs the whole way and it’s not unmanageable.
There are no metro stops super close to Jingshan Park. The easiest is Line 5/6 at Dongsi (to the East) or Line 8 at Shichahai (to the North).
Cost: Park entrance is 2 Yuan ($0.40 CAD)/person, kids free
3. Indigo Playground
Beijing has an infinite number of “exercise park playgrounds”, but a serious lack of kid’s playgrounds. There’s a bunch of expensive indoor playgrounds, but not many outdoors. Indigo mall is a bit out of the way, but their outdoor playground is amazing! If you get a good-air/low-smog day, definitely head here. Exit the mall at the winter pavilion and you’ll see the playground ahead and slightly to the right. If you’re looking for food, skip the expensive restaurants and go straight upstairs to the “food court”. Load up a card and use it to buy from the various stalls.
What made this even better for us was that we met up with another family!!
The girls were THRILLED to play with some other kids that spoke English, and Randy and I were happy to have some social time with other adults.
Metro line 14 stop Jiangtai has an exit right in the basement of the mall.
Cost: the playground is free, and the metro stop is right in the basement of the mall.
Dinner at the food court, 107 Yuan ($21 CAD) for a few dim sum dishes and a large noodle dish.
4. The Beijing Zoo
I don’t love visiting zoos as I don’t like seeing animals caged up and living in an unnatural habitat. I’d rather find them in their natural habitat where they belong. However, I was in Las Vegas at a meeting! Som Randy took the girls to the zoo. Of course, the girls loved it! Their favourite was the Pandas, and it got them super excited for Chengdu! The Pandas are the most popular attraction and it gets pretty busy, so try to head there first when you visit.
Metro Line 4 gets you straight there. It gets busy, so it’s best to go early in the morning.
Cost: 19 Yuan ($3.75 CAD), kids were free.
5. Free Walking Tour with Beijing Walking Tours
Walking tours are one of the best ways to discover the city, and we love finding free walking tours when we’re traveling. They’re not really meant to be free, but work based on tips for the guide.
Beijing Walking Tours runs a free walking tour on Monday and Friday evenings (at the time of writing). They request that you “book” ahead so they know how many people to expect. It was a great way to explore some of the Hutongs, and we visited one of the courtyard houses to see a “cricket fighting” champion. (He doesn’t fight the crickets, the crickets fight each other and his usually win!). We’d wandered by these courtyard entrances many times, it was nice to have the opportunity to peek inside one without being creepy!
Meet up at Metro Nanluoguxiang, exit E.
Cost: Free, plus 2 Yuan ($0.40 CAD) entrance to Jinshan Park! We left a 100 Yuan ($19 CAD) tip and cut out a bit early since we’d already been to the top of Jinshan.
This is a massive shopping complex in the south of Beijing with everything you could possibly imagine. I think when we order something from eBay they come here to buy it and then ship it! Not everything’s a deal. We were told that stuff made to stay in China is really cheap and crappy, and the stuff made for export is expensive because an import tax is charged even if it doesn’t leave the country. I always thought China was the place to come for cheap shopping…apparently not (Thailand is)!!
7. Hutong Breakfast Walking Tour
Walking around the Hutongs of Beijing are like stepping back in time, but they can be a bit overwhelming to navigate. I figured a walking tour, combined with a food tour, would be the perfect way to explore these historical neighbourhoods.
We were pretty excited for our Food tour with Untour Food Tours. It had the potential to be great, but ours fell a little flat. We arrived at the appointed meeting place a few minutes early, along with a couple from Scotland. We waited, and waited, and waited some more. Finally, 30min after we were supposed to start, I went across the road to a coffee shop to use their wifi and email the company. Of course I didn’t get an immediate response, so I turned on my roaming and called the number we’d been given for the guide. She answered, half asleep, and when she realized what happened apologized profusely and said she’d get to us as quickly as possible.
She finally arrived at 9:30am (tour was supposed to start at 8am) and we started our tour. The food was good, but it all seemed a bit rushed and she was a bit flustery the whole time. We also had a pretty tight time-line for the day because we were checking out of the hostel and moving across town to an apartment, so we had to cut the end a bit short.
Untour more than made up for this however.
They refunded our money and offered us another food tour for free. We took them up on this and had a great tour in Chengdu.
We started at Metro line 2/5 Yonghegong (Llama Temple).
Cost: $58 US/adult, $29/child (ages 6-12), Kids 5 and under are free.
Beijing With Kids: The 1 Thing We Didn’t Love
You’re probably going to think we’re crazy for this, but we didn’t love the Forbidden City. It was big, busy and boiling hot…three “b” words that make for a less than perfect outing with kids. Big meant there was lots of walking, which would have been fine other than the fact that it was boiling hot!! Busy meant a lot of people wanting to stop and take pictures of and with our kids.
We visited the week school started, so thankfully it wasn’t as busy as it could’ve been. The center passage was always packed, but there were areas of calm off to the sides. We even managed to find a secluded little alcove to eat our ice cream. The thing is, even though the history is amazing, and the sheer size of the City is awe-inspiring, it all looks the same. Once you’ve seen the first building, you’ve seen them all.
Tips for visiting the Forbidden City
Buy your tickets in advance. You’ll need to have someone help because the website is in Chinese and doesn’t accept Visa or MasterCard. I used Google Translate on my phone to get me through the website, and then had someone at the front desk of our hostel pay for the tickets, and I paid them back. I took a picture of the confirmation, and brought it to the online pick-up desk. There was no wait! I like not waiting (especially when it’s boiling hot)!
If you buy your tickets at the gate, you’ll need your PASSPORT! The first day we went I didn’t have our passports, so we couldn’t visit. Also, look for the signs that say “Palace Museum”. I was super confused by this…I was looking for signs for the “Forbidden City”. Nope! It’s not the Forbidden City, apparently it’s the Palace Museum!
Take Metro Line 1 to Tianamen West, head out of the metro via Exit D, go through security, then head under the underpass to the craziness that is the entrance!
There’s so much to do in China beyond Beijing, and we barely scratched the surface. Shanghai didn’t make our list this trip, but there are so many amazing things to do in Shanghai, it’ll definitely make the cut next time! The other place I would’ve like to visit with the kiddos is Harbin, but we were in China the wrong time of year! The Harbin Ice Festival would be an incredible spectacle to witness, so maybe next time we’ll have to visit in the winter.
Where We Stayed
We based ourselves here for the first week of our stay. We wanted to be close to the center of town to easily access the sites, but didn’t want to break the bank. The location was great. We could walk to a lot of things, although distances in Beijing are longer than they initially look. It was close to a couple different metro lines to connect us with everything we couldn’t walk to.
Our room was comfortable, and the small bar/restaurant was a nice place to hang out once the kids went to sleep.
Cost: 398 Yuan ($78 CAD)/night for a family room
AirBnB near Sanyuanqiao
For the second week, and while I was away, we moved out of the city centre. I picked Sanyuanqiao because the metro was close, and ran directly to the airport so it was easy for me when I left for my quick trip to the US. The apartment was comfortable, and we really felt like we were living in a Beijing neighbourhood as opposed to being tourists.
Cost: $75 CAD/night for a 2-room apartment.
Where We Ate
Our first morning in Beijing the girls desperately wanted bacon and eggs. I popped onto google (via the VPN) and found a great “brunch” restaurant that looked reasonably close. It ended up being 3km, but gave us the chance to get our bearings in the city. The food was decent and the coffee was delicious. It was maybe a bit overpriced for what we got, but that seems to be a common theme with Western breakfasts. (Turns out our hostel also offered bacon and eggs and would’ve been 3 steps rather than 3km!)
Cost: 164 Yuan ($32 CAD) for bacon and eggs, sausage and eggs, a breakfast skillet, 2 coffee and a smoothie.
Peking Duck Restaurant
There are plenty of Peking Duck restaurants around town, and I don’t have any other comparison, but this one was good and well priced.
Cost: 232 Yuan ($45 CAD) for ½ duck, wrappers and “small things”, a delicious BBQ pork belly dish with steam buns, green peas and drinks.
Local Restaurant near Beihai
We stopped at this little place because as we walked by Calais said “mmm, that smells good, should we go in?” So we did! We had noodle soup and dumplings on the sidewalk. It seems like most of our best meals are on a sidewalk!
Cost: 38 Yuan ($7.50 CAD)
How We Got Around
Leo (from Beijing Walking Tours) told us everyone gets around by BMW…Bike, Metro, Walking!
There are a few different bike-share companies around town that can be easily rented with WeChat. Sadly we couldn’t really do this with the kids, but Randy did use one when he went to register at the police station with our AirBnB host.
The metro in Beijing covers the entire city, but it requires a lot of walking if you’re going to get around with metro only. It’s worth it to get a metro card and just top up. The card has a 20 Yuan ($3.90CAD) deposit that you get back when you return it. I’m not sure if you’ll receive any remaining balance because the line-up at the train station was ridiculous so we decided to forego our deposit and small balance for the sake of time (plus we might have been a bit rushed to get to our train to Chengdu!)
Cost: 3-5 Yuan ($0.60 – $1.00 CAD) per ride
We did a ton of walking in Beijing as it was the easiest way for us to get around. We used the offline map app maps.me and just followed it most of the time.
The buses were a bit daunting at first, but given the distance between the metro stops we eventually started using the buses. There was a stop right at our apartment so it was super convenient. We used Apple maps, plugged in our destination, and it told us exactly which buses to take and from where. We usually had the app pulled up while we were on the bus too, to make sure we got off at the right stop.
Cost: 2 Yuan ($0.40) per ride
The internet in China is a massive P.I.A. Google, FaceBook, Instagram, YouTube, etc are all blocked by the Chinese firewall and require a VPN to access. We used Express VPN for all our banking, and the most of our internet needs while in China. It slows things down a bit, but better slow than nothing!
We started with China Mobile in Kashgar as it was the only option, but we weren’t able to find anyone to help us out with it in Beijing. After asking some expats and other recent travelers, China Unicom was recommended. This was the best option for sure! It wasn’t quick to set up, but it was relatively painless. We paid 105 Yuan for 4.5GB of local data and 500MB of China-wide data, plus we got a 50 Yuan credit to use within 30 days. Doing it this way meant our SIM was free, and we were able to use the 50 Yuan credit to buy a further 1.5GB of China-wide data later on in Guilin.
Check out the “FUN” video when I left the fam behind to head to the US for meetings:
Or the Wrap-up Video of our time in Beijing:
Avg Cost per Day in Beijing: $172.07
(This includes our Tour to the Great Wall too. It’s been our most expensive city so far.)
Up Next: A Perfect Day at The Great Wall of China…stay tuned!
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