Planning a family vacation to China can be a daunting task, so we’ve made it easier for you. Check out this short list of must-see places in Beijing, the modern capital of China. For an authentic and memorable experience, we’ve included insider tips to make your trip more enjoyable!
Kids will love exploring the immense Forbidden City, home to 24 emperors who reigned for over 500 years during the Ming and Qing dynasties. During that time, the complex was the heart of the Chinese government. It was not only home to emperors and their staff, but also the place for ceremony. Built between 1406 and 1420, this imperial palace complex includes almost 1,000 buildings and 10,000 rooms, occupying nearly 8 million square feet. Not long ago, it was closed to outsiders–including most Chinese.
- Eat beforehand or pack a lunch to bring inside, since food vendors are scarce.
- Bring a hat and drinking water–it gets very hot in the summer.
- Comfortable shoes are a must!
- Take advantage of a guided audio tour.
- Watch Bertolucci’s “The Last Emperor” before you visit to get a sense of its history.
- Download WildChina’s Forbbiden City Touch mobile app for visual and audio guides.
Metro: Tiananmen Xi or Tiananmen Dong
Hours: 8:30am – 4pm May – September, 8:30am – 3:30 pm October – April
Entrance Fee: November to March- RMB 40, April- October- RMB 60
Houhai (Back Lakes) Park
Beijing’s trendiest lake and park is located north of Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City. Nestled near many quaint boutiques and restaurants, the beautiful Houhai Park offers a nice mix of old Beijing and the West.
- Take a relaxing boat ride. We highly recommend the electric boats over the nostalgic-looking paddle boats. Don’t be fooled – unless you’re only 5 feet tall these boats will have you nursing bruises on your way home.
- Join the locals in some chair skating when the lake is frozen over during the winter. Yes, you read that correctly! Ice blades are attached to chairs and passengers use metal ice picks to guide themselves along. For the more conventional among you, ice skates are available to rent.
- Grab a bite to eat at the Hakka restaurant, Han Cing, opposite the Starbucks. It’s the best food on the lake!
Hours: 24 hours year-round
Entrance Fee: Free
Located in northwest Beijing, the Summer Palace was once a summer retreat for the royal families. Commissioned by Emperor Qianlong in 1750 in celebration of his mother’s 60th birthday, the Summer Palace became a favored place for the Empress Dowager Cixi, who retired there in 1889. Centered around an idyllic lake, Summer Palace is comprised of temples, pagodas, walking pavilions, bridges and residences.
- Visit on weekdays for the smallest crowds and start early. Summer Palace is almost always full of visitors–locals and tourists alike.
- Arrive by boat from the Millennium Monument in Xizhimen or near the Beijing Zoo.
- The Long Corridor walking pavilion is a favorite for kids to run along for almost half a mile! Note that every beam has a unique, colorful painting.
Metro: Beigonmen and Xiyuan
Hours: 6:30 am – 8:00 pm
Entrance Fee: Full Ticket RMB 50 (Winter), RMB 60 (Summer)
This public square, the largest in the world (about the size of 90 football fields), truly embodies modern Beijing. Tiananmen square is surrounded by the Forbidden City in the North, Monument to the People’s Heroes and Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum in the south, museums of Chinese History and Chinese Revolution to the east, and the Great Hall of the People in the west. The square is a place for parades and gatherings, with standing room for up to 300,000 people.
- Watch the flag-raising ceremony at sunrise or sunset. Soldiers come goose-stepping straight out of the Forbidden City.
- Fly a kite, literally! The plaza is so large you can purchase a kite and fly it too. Ask a local child to help you out, and practice your Mandarin at the same time!
- Enjoy an aerial view of Tiananmen Square.
- Use the pedestrian underpasses to get from Tiananmen Square to the Forbidden City via Chang’an Jie.
Metro: Tiananmen East
Admission Fees: Free
Tiananmen (Gate of Heavenly Peace): RMB 15
The Great Hall of the People: RMB 15
Chairman Mao’s Mausoleum: Free
The National Museum of China: RMB 15
Opening Hours: 24 hours year-round
aha!Chinese gives huge thanks to Jacqueline Renee Cohen (@lantaumama) who lived in Beijing with her husband and two kids for several years, for sharing her wealth of knowledge!
Parents, you can prepare yourself and your kids for the vacation, armed with some everyday Chinese words and phrases.
Do you have a favorite spot to visit in Beijing? Share a travel tip in the comments section.