Spice up your family trip to Beijing with these off-the-beaten-path activities!
Packed with parks, theaters, cute cafés and museums, China’s big, bright and bustling capital is a top destination for families with a taste for culture or an appetite for adventure. But while there’s no denying the fun factor at Beijing’s big ticket amusement parks or the thrill of scaling a section of the Great Wall, families in Beijing are likely to find themselves jostling for elbow room and spending a lot of time waiting in line at the city’s biggest kid-friendly attractions. For more intrepid families visiting the Chinese metropolis, there are still plenty of under-the-radar experiences just waiting to be discovered! You might need to brush up on your Chinese, as you’re unlikely to hear much English spoken at these off-the-tourist track spots.
Get the Lay of the Land by Taking a Peek at Beijing in Miniature
At the Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall, mere steps from the tourist-packed Tiananmen Square, is a crowd-free spot where visitors can check out a teeny version of Beijing. A true-to-scale model of the entire metropolitan area is a fun way for families to get their bearings and check out the lay of the land–kids can try to spot their hotel among the landmarks. Visitors can see the entire city, the surrounding countryside and the magnificent Great Wall, and it’s a great way to plan how to get around the city. As well as the vast model of the city, visitors can check out interactive displays and interesting videos about Beijing’s past, present and future. The air-conditioning makes it well worth it, just to escape the swelter of the streets on a hot day!
Ready, Set, Ski!
Yes, you can ski in Beijing–or at least in the surrounding area. Families visiting Beijing in the winter can find slopes just 30-minutes’ drive from the city proper at Nanshen Ski Village. It’s not really known among foreign visitors to the city, but is in fact one of the best-equipped and most modern ski resorts in China. The area hosts dozens of runs for all abilities, as well as a kids’ play area and a snowboard park. Do you have nature-loving kids in tow? Check out these tips for nature-loving families in China!
Find a Hidden Cat Café
Coffee, cakes, cocktails…and cats. Cats, cats, cats! Beijing has caught on on to the Taiwanese trend for cafés that allow a cat-loving clientele to cuddle new-found furry friends as they nibble and sip their way through the menu. Cat cafés are increasingly popular in the Chinese capital, and while many are busy spots where you’ll need to battle your way through crowds of tourists to get a seat, others are hidden away in unassuming hutong (narrow street or alley) neighborhoods. One such spot is Cats44, where feline-loving families can pet rescue kitties, and kids can sit at special child-sized tables. It’s easy to miss this somewhat hidden spot, tucked away on a rather down-at-heel courtyard, but families in Beijing will find it well-worth seeking out for the delicious cat-shaped cakes and other yummy treats.
Get Buzzing at a Bee Museum
Beijing’s Botanical Garden is firmly established on the city’s tourist trail, but few visitors take the time to visit the somewhat hidden Bee Museum, a sweet little spot that will satisfy little visitors with a hankering for honey. Most of the information is in Mandarin, but the working bee hives and exhibitions of bee keeping gear need little translation. Visitors can discover all about honeybee habits and habitats, and even pick up jars of the golden goop to take away.
Explore Old Beijing
While much of Beijing has been modernized and gentrified (find tips to see the new luxurious side of China here), the real spirit of the city is best explored in the traditional hutong neighborhoods. These maze-like networks of ramshackle alleyways and courtyards are home to cafés, curiosity shops and clothing stores, and visitors can even visit family homes to try their hand at dumpling-making. To find a cooking class, be sure to plan in advance–don’t just knock on a door and expect people to throw open their kitchens! Another fun hutong experience for families in Beijing is to try a calligraphy class: kids will learn how to write their names in Chinese characters.
Eat This: Scorpions on a Stick
Adventurous eaters in Beijing may thrill at the site of fried scorpions on a stick, at such foodie hotspots as the famous Wangfujing Street in central Beijing. All manner of crawling, slithering and flying beasties are available as crunchy, protein-packed snacks, and even those who haven’t got the stomach to eat a roasted giant centipede will likely relish the spectacle. Candied fruits and savory dumplings are among the more kiddie-friendly street snacks on offer. If you’re looking for even more adventurous fun for your family’s trip to China, find more ideas here!
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