Are you traveling to Beijing with kids? Looking for amazing cultural experiences, fabulous sights to visit, and hands-on opportunities? Here is how we enjoyed Beijing with kids, with our 10 favorite activities.
1. Temple of Heaven
The Temple of Heaven is in a huge 675 acre park in the southern part of Beijing. It is a great place for kids to run around! The Temple of Heaven was built in 1420 A.D. during the Ming Dynasty (and used throughout the Qing dynasty also) so the emperors could offer sacrifices to Heaven for a prosperous harvest on the Winter Solstice every year. The southern area is a square, to represent the earth, and the northern area is semi-circular to represent the heavens. There are 3 main groups of buildings: the circular mound altar, where the emperors would place the sacrificial oxen, sheep, pigs, rabbits, etc; the imperial heavenly vault; and the Temple. Kids are free to explore, climb the stairs and peek inside the temple: and please do just that! The bold paintings inside the temple are incredible!
2. Visit a Silk Museum & Factory
Yes, it’s a store. BUT you don’t have to buy anything to enjoy the museum! My kids absolutely loved seeing the live silk worms munching on the mulberry leaves, and then being able to test the strength of the silk. The tour of the process was about 30 minutes long, just enough time to understand how silk is made, but not too long for kids’ attention spans.
3. Tiananmen Square
Built in 1651, Tiananmen Square is one of the largest public squares in the world. (It can accommodate you and 999,999 other people at the same time!) Teeming with local people and tourists alike, the square is bordered by the Monument of the People’s Heroes, Mao Zedong Memorial Hall, the Tiananmen Tower, and the National Museum of China. There were SO MANY people everywhere- countless tour groups swarming around guides holding red flags. The line that was quickly moving to view Chairman Mao’s body was fed by an endless stream of people.
4. Forbidden City
For some, Tiananmen Square is the symbol of contemporary Beijing, while the Forbidden City represents historical China. You’ll pass through Tiananmen Gate to enter the Forbidden City. This 250-acre city within a city is the world’s largest and most complete ancient imperial palace. Consisting of more than 800 buildings and 9,000 rooms, the complex served as home to emperors, their families and all those who served them for almost 500 years.
“The Forbidden City” is Gu Gong in Mandarin. The name is because this imperial palace (used during Ming and Qing dynasties) was only for royal family members. The emperors lived here and no workers or common people could enter. This holds another superlative title, being the world’s “largest palace complex.”
The Forbidden City is divided into two parts: Outer Court (in the south) was where the emperor exercised his supreme power over the nation and held many ceremonies, and the Inner Court (north) where he lived with his royal family and held his daily activities. There used to be 9999 1/2 rooms in the Forbidden Palace, because the emperor believed he was the son of heaven, and heaven had 10,000 rooms, and he wouldn’t have more rooms than heaven. 14 Ming emperors and 10 Qing emperors reigned here until 1924 when the last emperor of China was driven from the Inner Court.
They say it took over 1 million workers 14 years to build it- from 1406 to 1420. (There is a great movie called “Curse of the Golden Flower” that has many scenes filmed here. I think it is by the same director of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”) Walking through the foggy Forbidden City, the red and gold buildings were never-ending. There were a lot of decorative gold-leaf dragons and lions, and so many tourists (99% were Chinese) we got separated from the group frequently. Hold on to your kids’ hands and watch them lest they be guided away to be photographed (this happened frequently to my kids!).
5. Take a Tai Chi Class
Tai chi (taiji), short for Tai ji quan 太极拳, is an internal Chinese martial art practiced for both its defense training and its health benefits. The essential principles has the mind integrating with the body; control of movements and breathing; generating internal energy, mindfulness, song (loosening 松) and jing (serenity 静). The ultimate purpose of tai chi is cultivate the qi or life energy within us to flow smoothly and powerfully throughout the body. Once you integrate mind and body, you have a healthy qi and total harmony. Tai chi is often practiced in parks in the early morning and our kids thought it was a cool thing to try!
6. Hutong Tour
Years ago, Beijing was filled with hutongs, alleyways with courtyard style homes and small businesses. Today only a few hutongs remain, each bustling with activity. You getto observe this while riding in a bicycle rickshaw, a popular form of transportation in the 19th Century. A local family hosted us in their traditional style home for lunch, which was super cool.
There used to be over 6000 of these alleys, but now many have been replaced by modern buildings. Our guide told us that the hutongs were built during the Ming (1368-1628) and Qing(1644-1908) dynasties. During these eras, the emperors planned the city so that the center of Beijing was the royal palace (the Forbidden City), in order to establish supreme power for themselves. The hutongs to the east and west of the palace were from noblemen and aristocrats, and the north and the south hutongs were for merchants and ordinary people. Usually a hutong was/is a square courtyard surrounded by 4 houses. It was a great experience to see what was behind the walls and ornate doors!
7. The Great Wall
It’s not a trip to Beijing with kids without a trip to the Great Wall. The Great Wall(aka Wan-Li Qang-Qeng) meanders up and down the Chinese countryside like a giant three dimensional time line. If stones could talk, you’d hear quite the story while traversing the wall. Dating back over 2000 years, China feels particularly real as you climb a portion of the Great Wall. Be sure to stop along the way and take in the breathtaking views. It’s really impossible not to be awestruck at this amazing man-made structure–its very essence symbolizes China.
The Chinese name means 10,000 Li Long Wall, where 10,000 Li= 5000 km. It was built (actually part of it was built but just to connect several old walls) during the Qin Dynasty (221 BC – 206 BC) under the emperor Qin Shi Huangdi. Although that sounds old, the truth is there were older walls in the north of China from 700 BC (2500 years ago!) that this emperor connected and expanded. Armies lived on these walls to defend against those darn Huns (the invading nomads who in the 400’s BC fought under Attila the Hun).
It is constructed of masonry, rocks and packed-earth. Its thickness ranged from about 4.5 to 9 meters (15 to 30 feet) and was up to 7.5 meters (25 feet) tall. During the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the Great Wall was enlarged to 6,400 kilometers (4,000 miles) and renovated over a 200 year period, with watch-towers and cannons added. The towers could observe the enemy, and below they would store grain and military equipment. Every 400 meters or so is a watchtower, from which they would send smoke signals to warn of attacks. Our visit was to the Juyongguan/ Juyon Pass, which was a very important pass due to its strategic location leading to Inner Mongolia and northwen Beijing.
8. Learn about (and Taste!) Tea
Chinese have enjoyed tea for millenia, and often use it to heal ailments from insomnia to overeating to infertility. If you go into any tea shop and ask for a tasting, they will happily share tastes of different teas and explain what medicinal properties they have (the shop we went in was called Yi Xin Cha Yi, but our guide said there are literally hundreds). We loved how fruity some teas were, and the others that had whole flowers that blossomed as you poured hot water over them. Tea tasting was really fun!
9. Acrobat Show
Supposedly, a couple of thousand years ago peasants would take wooden grain dividers, remove the mesh, and use them in performances. Farmers would spin bowls on their feet and balance on a tower of chairs, or juggle. When the annual harvest was celebrated, the new acrobats would show off their skills. In the Han Dynasty (221 BC – AD 220), they called these dexterities the ‘Hundred Plays.’ But it was really only in recent history that these acrobats would perform in theatres for such large audiences.
They must pass these tricks along in their blood, so they can exponentially expand their skills because the contortionists and acrobats we saw were really out of this world. There were 3 year old little boys climbing up these poles and then they would dive down head-first only to catch themselves by grabbing the pole with their legs with their faces inches above a 2 inch mat (that would not have done much had they fallen!). Somersaults through hoops, throwing and balancing each other on their feet along with drums, and flexibility beyond gumby.
10. Night Market
We took several walks down to pedestrian night markets. Lots of meat on sticks, squid, shish-ka-worms, and chicken livers.
The fresh fruit-ka-bobs glazed with a hardened-brown sugar were delicious! Lots of cool souvenirs too: masks, paper cut into intricate designs, and a couple of very cool magicians selling little tricks to the kids. Night markets were a favorite in Beijing with kids! Ask at your hotel for the nearest one.
What fun! We went to similar places on both of our trips to China: one with a 3.5 year old, and our most recent trip was with our kids ages 8-11. Did we miss anything? What did you love about Beijing with kids?