5 days in Beijing with kids
Beijing is a truly beautiful city with many interesting and historical sites to see. The people are warm and friendly. But be prepared to do quite a bit of walking regardless of whether you use the subway or not.
As we are from the UK we have noticed the subtle glances and outright, stand-still gawping as we walk by. They are very inquistive, but also very polite. We have been approached on many occassions for our photograph, but it’s the kids who have drawn the most attention.
Jasper with his blond streaks & Ethan for his striking blue eyes! You have to learn to say “No” quite quickly.
Arriving in Beijing
We arrived in July, the height of summer and boy did we know it. From the minute we stepped off the plane late at night we could feel the heat. In our bid to avoid the cooler winter months we didn’t quite anticipate the impact that heat would have on our time here.
The preferred months for travel around china are either April to May or September to October . If you are planning to travel to Beijing, it’s worth considering the cooler months purely to avoid heart exhaustion.
Our Emirates flight took us from Johannesburg, up to Dubai for a brief layover and then onwards to Beijing. We flew across 7 times zones and so it takes time for your body to adjust. There is lots of advice for trying to beat jetlag but overall it just takes time. And as the saying goes East is a beast and they weren’t kidding!
Our plans to get up and out early in the morning to avoid the midday sun was kaiboshed when we couldn’t get to sleep until 2am! So I’d recommended you add a couple of extra days if you just for recovery.
Things to do do around Beijing
We had plans to take in more sights than we actually saw, the reason for this was the heat and also jetlag:
Tiannanmen Square is the largest Public open space in the world?! Crowds flock here to gaze at Chairman Maos portait on the Main Gate into the Forbidden City.
It was our first day and having looked at the map in our Rough Guide, we decided that we could walk over to Tiannanmen Square… after all it was only 40 minutes. But 40 minutes in 34 degree heat (feeling more like 41) was very tiring!
We found ourselves jumping into the malls at Wangfunling to just cool down! We even jumped into Hamleys Toy store which the kids loved and were not keen to leave!
When we arrived at the gate there were queues – there were ALWAYS queues in Beijing! This one was a security check for both your bag and your ID before entering Tiannanmen. Ah! we didn’t bring any ID – in fairness the guide said you ‘might’ have to how ID.
We soon found out that we would need ID throughout all Beijing sites and also have your bag checked. So, BRING YOUR PASSPORT!
We returned a few days later during late morning, as we were in the area, and it was seeringly hot with no cover at all. Not surprising the square was quite empty and we only stopped for around half an hour.
Next to the square is the National Museum of China, which is free, but had HUGE queues. It’s recommended to spend half a day here. We didn’t go in due to time constraints but it would be a cooler option to Tiannanmen if in the area.
The next day we decided to return to the area to visit the Forbidden City. We were armed with plenty of water and ID and instead of walking we hit the subway. Follow the link for how to travel the subway in Beijing.
After exiting the subway, we joined a long (but fast moving) queue to arrive at the ‘first’ security gate. We had our ID and bags checked and followed the crowds. There is only 1 gate in which you can enter the Forbidden city, which is through the gate with Chairman Mao’s Portrait.
**Do not be duped by the touts in the area to take a quicker side gate (like we did! I blame jetlag!!). Instead the side gates lead to a garden at the side of the forbidden city of which you then have to rejoin the main route and pay again to go into the the real site! Arghh, frustrating to fall for this as we knew there was only one gate in!!
Once we were back on track our first task was to get an ice lolly. The heat was overwhelming, however, we were blessed with a rare blue sky day so I shouldn’t complain!
After another security, ID & ticket check we were through to the main area. The forbidden city follows a pathway directly through the middle, however, there are lots of side avenues and rooms to look into. ** Note you cannot go back, it is purely a one way system – one way in and one way out.
However, today was not the day for wandering and if anything we just wanted to take a few pictures and move on. There are a few places with shade but for the most part we (and most other people) had an umbrella to keep out of the fierce sun & topped up with cold water when we could.
Whilst you do wander through the forbidden city make sure you look up and all around as the attention to detail and statues are just incredible. It’s such a shame we couldn’t enjoy more time there as it’s huge and could take a whole day exploring.
Great Wall of China
Make sure you do your research before you arrive in China. We thought there might be more information once you got here but majority of tours focus only on Badaling and Mutianyu. Out of the two Mutianyu is the least touristy and the one we selected as our preferred route of Jinshanling to Simatai was closed.
However, I would suggest that Mutianyu is still very touristy and if you are adventurous then still head to Jinshanling or Simatai but you will need to double back on yourself. An alternative to this is Huanghua but it’s a bit more adventerous.
We arranged a driver from 6am in a bid to miss the crowds and the heat. We booked a driver for RMB 750 (for all 4 of us) with Mark at www.best-our.com . He offers a number of options and was very efficient in his replies. I found his details when researching on Trip Advisor!
We arrived and purchased our tickets RMB 200 (2 adults and 2 children) as well as the shuttle bus RMB 15 each. As we walked to the shuttle there were a number of stalls and shops, but none were really open yet. We boarded a bus immediately and headed further up the mountain.
Oh my goodness I had such a sweat on and we were only halfway up! We finally reached our first watchtower (no 6) after around 30 minutes of walking straight up. You just need to take lots of rest stops and drink lots of water!
Don’t worry there are a couple of toilet stops if you need, but *remember to bring your own toilet paper as they don’t have any.
Once we were on the wall, we wandered up and down the hillside following the Great Wall of China to each of the watchtowers, taking in the awesome views and amazing architecture!
No wonder this is one of the new 7 wonders of the world! At times the steps were very steep for the most part they were manageable and the boys were loving it!
We walked for around 2 ½ hours before tired (and shaky) legs started to kick in. We headed back down the path at Gate 10 towards the shuttle buses. We were actually pleased we arrived early as when we left the wall at 11am there were long queues!!
Wanfunjing pedestrian street
Although not a tourist site, this is a popular pedestrian area with air conditioned shopping malls. It has all the modern shops, but mainly jewellery and watches! It was conveniently located in the city centre and easily accessible from our hostel.
Plus the shopping malls all had food halls.
This is still a working temple with monks in and around the grounds. However, they weren’t wearing traditional robes and instead had red suits on.
First, you walk through a small tree-lined park area before collecting your free insence sticks.
These are for worship and you should only light 3 at a time. A sign later suggested it was disrespectful to light any more, although we saw several people lighting the whole set. At the front of the steps you see many people bowing with the incense sticks in their hands. Once finished the sticks are placed in metal tubs.
You then wander through the building which usual houses one of the gods of worship. There was one, Meitreya Buddha, which was in the guiness book of records for it’s carving from a single sandalwood tree! It was massive!
The place itself had similarities to the forbidden city with the delicately painted buildings, but on a which smaller scale.
However, once again our time was shortened due to the heat and we soon retreated in search of an air conditioned building!
Built for the 2008 Olympics the area is really only visited by tourists. As you wander around you notice that in the short time since it’s use there are signs of wear and tear and does not have the wow factor it once had. There is a Shopping Mall, Water centre and science museum, as well as the famous birds nest.
We decided to visit the Science Museum as an afternoon ‘air-conditioned’ activity. Unfortunately it took us longer than anticipated to get there and when we did we had some huge queues so didn’t end up getting in until 3.30pm! You definitely need longer than 1 and half hours. However, if I’m completely honest – I wouldn’t waste my time.
A lot of the activities were broken and with it being summer holidays the place was absolutely packed. It isn’t great. I can say this with confidence as we visited the Nemo Museum in Amsterdam during summer holidays and it wasn’t a patch on this! My advice is to avoid.
I was initially tempted by the aqautics centre at the cube – however, after reading reviews it sounds like this too has had it’s day and at RMB 200, RMB 160 for kids, so for us, it was too expensive for what it was. But the boys enjoyed having freedom & open space to run and be crazy!
The best time to visit the Olympic park is early evening, at dusk. The park comes alive as each of the olympic structures (including the two towers) light up.
There are big ‘wows’ from the crowd as the lights are turned on (which was at 8pm at the end of July). However, it’s not a light show so don’t go expecting fireworks. It was pretty to see the lights change colour and a nice way to spend an evening.
There are plenty of other places to visit if you have the energy and time, such as:
- Temple of Heaven
- The Summer Palace
- Jingshan Park
- Bell & Drum towers
Eating in Beijing
I have to admit this was our biggest difficulty while here. However, I refuse to select the westernised option (although we did have a lunch at Mcdonalds!)
So we gave it a go! Having read the Rough guide we found a small local restaurant around the corner which specialised in Beef dishes. Winner when your family prefer this! We started by looking at the menu with waiter hanging over you. (You’ll find this is common practice!)
So all of a sudden you feel pressured to order something but have no idea what it says!! arghhh, the stress!!! We tried using Google translate but it just wasn’t up to the job and would only identify one or two words! But this cheat sheet can’t in handy for some words!
We eventually resorted to pointed at the board above our heads and were pleased when 4 massive platefuls so food: 2 beef with noodles & 2 beef with rice arrived; and they were delicious! whoo hoo.
Unfortunately not all were this straight forward and even when there were pictures it was difficult to decipher what was in it! However, as long as we ordered rice and noodles we knew we would eat something! We used these pages to help with some translation but in all honesty the wording on the menus are sometimes elaborated to make them sound fancier, which made it more difficult!
We ventured out to the recommended ghost Street, but it didn’t live up to the hype. The street was just a wide busy road with local restaurants lining each side. Some do busy there were queues outside! It wasn’t the quaint hutong with lanterns that I had pictured in my head. But it was also difficult to find somewhere to eat in the madness. It’s not somewhere I would recommend!
We did fall lucky when we arrived at the Olympic Park – Food Hall in the Shopping centre as they handed up a menu in English!
But for the most part we are just winging it and hoping for the best! ha ha. If all else fails we can always buy bread and crisps from our favoured ‘Seven Eleven’ shops!
Do your research beforehand and know where you want to go to & where they are. I’d also recommend you download a number of apps prior to travelling to China in order to aid your travel. I’ll create a blog post of the ones we found useful.
Also don’t forget to take your passport with you. You need this to buy tickets!
Beijing is a fantastic place. This is my second visit, but last time we travelled in October and so the heat and sure volume of people were much more manageable! Time your trip wisely to get the best out of it.