Think Beijing is out of bounds for a family trip? Surprise: kids get special attention in the Chinese capital, especially foreign kids, who are considered somewhat exotic curiosities. Beneath all the dust and noise after the Summer Olympics, you and your little emperors will find a fun, funky city with mind-blowing cultural treasures. Here’s where to go while you’re there:
Fun stuff for kids and parents
- Explore the 600-year-old Forbidden City (beijingtrip.com). Then cross the street to Tian’anmen Square to buy and fly cheap kites.
- Bargain hard at the toy market at Hongqiao in the Chongwen District. (Pay about one-third or less of the starting price.) Hit the main market next door to splurge on knockoff clothing, watches and bags, or follow the locals who shop the wholesale market in Xi Zhi Men (ask hotel staff for directions). The weekend market at Panjiayuan features antiques, pseudoantiques, trinkets and art. So fun, the kids won’t even realize it’s shopping!
- Get driven to the Great Wall (the beijingguide.com). Staff at your hotel can help you negotiate a day rate for a car and driver. Popular wall sections are Badaling and Mutianyu, with the added attractions of trolley cars and white-knuckle toboggan rides on cement tracks to the bottom. Strollers are a no-go, so bring the baby carrier or be ready to do some piggy-backing.
- Let ‘em loose at the giant indoor playground Fundazzle (Gongti Nanlu, Chaoyang District, near the Workers’ Stadium). Also, pop in next door to the Blue Zoo Beijing where brave or foolish adults can dive with sharks (blue-zoo.com).
Where to wander
- Cycle through old Beijing, a.k.a. Qianmen (cyclechina.com), just south of Tian’anmen Square. The quirkiest spot? The Underground City (64 Damochang Xijie), a network of tunnels, complete with hospitals and barber shops, built in the ’60s.
- Take a rickshaw tour of Houhai/Qianhai’s man-made lakes and narrow lanes. Restaurants and bars bustle on weekend evenings, with public dancing in open spaces (let kids shake the sillies out; the locals will love it) plus sidewalk massages for weary moms and dads.
- Get your destinations written in Chinese by hotel staff, as English-speaking taxi drivers are still not the norm. Taxis are plentiful and cheap.
- Anticipate Great Wall-worthy stairs ““ a challenge for little legs ““ in the otherwise excellent and inexpensive subway system.
- Go to either the Beijing International sos Clinic (86 10 6462 9112) or Beijing United Family Hospital (24-hour emergency hotline: 86 10 6433 2345).