Beijing is a fun city for kids of all ages, from 8 to 80, give or take a few years either way.
China’s capital truly offers something for all youngsters, from playing in parks to climbing the Great Wall to going eye-to-eye with marine life at the Beijing Aquarium.
Taking your kids to a park is a good way for them to meet and play with Chinese children. It also is an opportunity for their parents to interact with each other. More Beijingers than ever speak English due to the city hosting the 2008 Summer Olympics. But even if you don’t understand each other’s language, smiles and laughter are wonderful ice-breakers.
Beihai Park, Beijing’s most popular park, is a veritable smorgasbord of entertainment on weekend mornings. Chinese will be doing their exercises, practicing their ballroom dancing and playing games. Watch an artist using a huge calligraphy brush write Chinese characters on the sidewalk with water. Listen to a string quartet play classical music. Further down, young people will be singing Chinese pop hits. The park also provides a good place for the family to dress up in Chinese costumes and get their pictures taken for next year’s Christmas card.
The Beijing Zoo has a nice exhibit of giant pandas. Living quarters for the rest of the animals aren’t up to par with other world-class zoos, however, so it’s OK to breeze by them on your way to the Beijing Aquarium. The world’s largest inland aquarium is located in the northwest corner of the zoo. Your kids can get up close and personal with giant turtles, which splash right up to the pond’s ledge. The aquarium also hosts two shows daily starring performing seals and dolphins. You can easily spend several hours here.
And you’ll want to eat at least one meal at McDonald’s. Chinese menus are a little different, and may not have the latest in the fast-food chain’s offerings at home. Menus are in Chinese, but picture menus are available to help you order. Plus the tray placemats make wonderful souvenirs; just be sure to remove them from the tray before you eat lest they get dirty.
Be sure to take it easy the first few days. Afternoon naps may be a necessity for a few days while bodies adjust to different foods, a different time zone and a different culture. The language barrier makes travel more difficult, so always have your hotel’s front desk write your destination in characters to show to the taxi driver. And never leave the hotel without a business card you can show to taxi drivers to take you back there.
Parents need to know that seatbelts may not be available for all passengers in taxis. Taxis generally only carry three passengers – one in front with the driver and two in the back seat. If your family is larger than this and you don’t want to take two taxis, you might consider renting a van for the day or getting around on public transportation. Beijing has very efficient and inexpensive bus and subway systems. Pickpockets also operate very efficiently on buses and subways during crowded rush hours, so do be on the alert.
Parents of very young children or those with respiratory problems should check with the family pediatrician before taking the kids to China. Beijing can be very polluted, plus Chinese standards of cleanliness are not as high as ours. Despite this, Beijing remains a wonderful place to vacation with your children.
Chinese bathrooms may present other problems. Most toilets are of the squat variety; some may not be enclosed. If you or your children can’t handle squat toilets, look for handicapped toilets which will have Western sit-down toilets. These are frequently locked, but an attendant will let you in; they may also not be located near other toilet facilities. If you are in central Beijing, it is perfectly acceptable to use Western-style public restrooms at 4- and 5-star hotels.
Parents with babies need to be aware diaper-changing facilities are a rarity. That’s because Chinese babies and toddlers traditionally do not wear diapers. Their clothing bottoms have open, split crotches so they can squat wherever they happen to be. Some Beijing parents are starting to use disposable diapers for their little ones, but finding them could be difficult. Stores and markets which cater to foreigners are more likely to have them on hand; ask your hotel desk for markets in your neighborhood.
And, lastly, tuck in a package of disposable plastic forks because little fingers can tire easily when using chopsticks.
Cheryl offers links to more tips on traveling to China with kids: