Beijing with kids: it can be done

Of all the places on our big trip this year, China’s the one that made us most nervous. We’ve been there before, but 12 years ago pre-kids, and we were with people who spoke the language. This time, it’d be just us in most places, and we just weren’t sure we could hack it.

The big cities, like Beijing, felt like the biggest threats to our travel prowess—huge throngs of people, pollution, unpredictable driving on sidewalks… it’s enough to make a parent of a curious four-year-old fraught with stress. Turns out that Beijing is pleasantly easier than we thought.

We were only there a week, mostly serving as a landing spot for jetlag recovery—but while we’re there, we might as well see some stuff. Beijing is surprisingly expensive, a change from our time there in 2002. We found cheap street food and noodle shops, of course, but it quickly added up.

Here are the things we’re glad we did with our one week in Beijing, the capital of one of the world’s biggest powers, home to 21 million (twenty-one!) people.

1. The Temple of Heaven

A little slice of green space for the kids, the Temple of Heaven was great because it’s a peaceful greenspace, for the most part, a welcome spot in the hubbub of the concrete Beijing metropolis. It’s still unavoidably touristy, but at least it’s lovely on the eyes.

The Temple of Heaven in Beijing

If you go, do a little reading about the temple’s history before you arrive and skip the audio tour—it wasn’t worth the money and didn’t work half the time. Bring water, since the temple itself is planted in unshaded sun, but you can find little stands selling cheap bottles if you need to refuel.

Beijing with kids: it can be done! (Shown here: the Temple of Heaven)

The Temple of Heaven is actually an entire park that includes the main temple and a few other surrounding buildings, but there’s also walking paths nestled in the threes (albeit still on concrete—Beijingers aren’t big on walking on grass). The rose garden is lovely.

2. The Great Wall

Ask the kids about their favorite Beijing adventure, and they’ll tell you the Great Wall. It’s mine, too, mostly because it’s outside the city (I crave green and smaller towns, having now lived in Bend the previous three years). It was a literal breath of fresh air to get outside the hub of high-rises and walk among green.

Beijing with kids: it can be done! (Shown here: the Great Wall)

There are throngs of tourists, of course, but a Great Wall visit can be customized easily—a traveler can stay an hour or stay all day (or overnight—camping is allowed on some spots). As for us, we visited the Mutianyu base, trekking up via ‘cable car’ (though ours was a ski lift) and venturing down via toboggan slide. Our kids loved this. So did us grownups.

Beijing with kids: it can be done! (Shown here: the Great Wall)

I’m a bit height-averse, so it was admittedly stressful with a wandering four-year-old on the Wall. There’s actually very little risk, but with all the old stairs, watchtowers, peepholes, and little nooks and crannies, I didn’t let him wander far. Two hours was plenty for us.

Beijing with kids: it can be done! (Shown here: the Great Wall)Beijing with kids: it can be done! (Shown here: the Great Wall)

Beijing with kids: it can be done! (Shown here: the Great Wall)

We chased our morning with lunch at the nearby Schoolhouse, a newish hotel-restaurant-ecotourism combo. Sitting on the Wall’s same mountain, we dined on their patio and enjoyed the green. The Schoolhouse offers both western and eastern dishes; charming desserts and coffees.

Beijing with kids: it can be done! (Shown here: the Schoolhouse restaurant)

Beijing with kids: it can be done! (Shown here: the Schoolhouse restaurant)

3. Wangfungjing Snack Street

After an afternoon wandering our neighborhood, playing a family tournament of UNO in our tiny studio apartment, and quiet solo reading time, we felt the need to venture out one last time before flying to Xi’an the next day. Our youngest, Finn, was still crashing around 6:30 p.m., and we needed him to power through the jetlag.

So, to Wangfungjing Snack Street we went, home of fried almost-anything-on-a-stick.

Beijing with kids: it can be done! (Shown here: Wangfungjing Snack Street)

Crowded, pungent, and chaotic, remind the kids to stay near and to watch where you step. it’s worth the cacophony, and as cheap as you make it.

Beijing with kids: it can be done! (Shown here: Wangfungjing Snack Street)

Beijing with kids: it can be done! (Shown here: Wangfungjing Snack Street)

Beijing with kids: it can be done! (Shown here: Wangfungjing Snack Street)

Beijing with kids: it can be done! (Shown here: Wangfungjing Snack Street)

Beijing with kids: it can be done! (Shown here: Wangfungjing Snack Street)

We’re admittedly biased against Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City, since that was the day our oldest got sick and threw up all over line 2 of the Beijing Metro, but it just felt overwhelming for kids.

Beijing with kids: it can be done! (Shown here: Tienanmen Square)

She even looks like she’s about to throw up… poor girl.

It was fine when Kyle and I explored it on our own 12 years ago, but it was chockablock with tourists. Blinding light bouncing off concrete, throngs of vendors shouting their wares, packs of people pushing with no clear signage of where, exactly, to go… it wasn’t our favorite.

Chinese breakfasts are the meat-veggie-rice variety, and our kids just weren’t in the mood at 7 a.m. Their parents were gracious and sought out a western-style breakfast, since it was our first week in Asia. Hotel restaurants are reliable bets, but we happily unearthed a gem named The Rug, thanks to a follower’s tip via Twitter.

Beijing with kids: it can be done! (Shown here: The Rug)

Respectable kids’ play area, tranquil aesthetics, puffy pancakes fit for kings—we mistakenly ordered one dish per person, but four would have sufficed for the five of us (dishes are served family-style).

As is our custom in exploring big cities, we don’t stress seeing everything possible—we’d rather enjoy few things well. We stuck to one outing a day, padding our slower mornings with school and work, walks around the neighborhood; movie and game nights in the evenings.

We’re satisfyingly surprised by Beijing’s friendliness and ease in mobility. Even with kids.

Beijing with kids: it can be done!

9 months, 5 backpacks, 4 continents, 3 kids,
1 husband.

(It was worth it.)

9 months, 5 backpacks, 4 continents, 3 kids, 1 husband.

(It was worth it.)

10 Comments

  1. se7en

    This is so brilliant… I fear you are going to great a long list of “We really need to visit there” spots on the planet, for us. And Beijing is right up there!!!

    Actually we met a young person last week and her family were also doing a round the world in a year trip and we had a few minutes to chat, but my kids clammed up and it was really awkward. It was a bit of a “show and tell” event and I know if they were all left to just play it would have been fun for everyone… so as travelers what is the one thing that puts your kids at ease as they venture from spot to spot – you don’t have to answer straight away, you have 51-ish weeks to think about it. Really we just want to be better able to interact with young world travelers, so that they can feel at home when visiting and enjoy the sites to see, rather than feeling uncomfortable.

  2. Amanda Kendle

    Oh your poor daughter! Being sick definitely doesn’t make for the best memory of a place.

    I was really interested to read this – since my son was born I haven’t travelled to the kind of places I would have before – I’ve been much “safer” – so it’s interesting to see how you and your kids are handling it. (By the looks of things, very well!). Happy travels.

  3. Marla Taviano

    Love the Great Wall pics! Excited for the next leg of your journey!

  4. Aimee @ Simple Bites

    Are these Kyle’s photos! Absolutely breathtaking. Good times!

  5. Laura Krause

    I lived in Beijing, near Peking University, for 10 months…with my DH, 3 year old son, and 1 year old daughter…and 10 months is also apparently long enough to have a baby there also…our youngest was 2 weeks old when we flew back to the states. I loved doing it with kids, and the stories are still fun to tell. I could go on and on, but I am excited to follow along on your trip! Have fun!!!

  6. HomeschoolDad

    Thanks for sharing! After we are done Europe (this year)….maybe we’ll join you in Asia???

  7. Colleen Higgs

    Yes! “Enjoying big cities… we’d rather enjoy a few things well.”

    Our daughter’s highlight in each big city we visited was chasing pigeons. More recently, their highlight of NYC was a splash pad in Central Park. There are cheaper ways to find splash pads and pigeons!

    Kids just aren’t impressed by big and shiny and too much information but they can enjoy and learn and remember a few things very well. Your kids will not forget the Wall!

  8. Dee

    Loved reading this!

  9. Deb

    This is so fun to read. Your oldest getting sick reminded me of when I was 11 and traveling around Asia with my folks. Jet lag got the best of me too, and I threw up right in the middle of a very busy Manila airport…. What great adventures for your family! I know I will never forget the traveling that we did when I was a kid.

  10. Emily Keller

    HI, we are traveling to Beijing this Fall (2016) and I was wondering if you had more info on how you got to the Wall, specifically the tram up and ride down? Thanks

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