Beijing is both an ancient city and an ultra modern metropolis. Traditional hutongs intertwine with futuristic skyscrapers. Whether you’re exploring iconic landmarks like the Forbidden City or enjoying one of the city’s family-friendly theme parks, visiting Beijing with kids can be an exciting adventure.
If you have a limited amount of time to explore this bustling city, you’ll want to be sure to hit the highlights.
This family travel guide to visiting Beijing with kids includes a one day Beijing itinerary to follow, the top things to see in the city, and tips for exploring Beijing for families.
Our personal experience visiting Beijing with kids
Have you ever gone somewhere solely to see one site that you’ve always wanted to visit? I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit it, but our trip to Beijing was one of those times. We traveled halfway across the world with the sole purpose of taking our toddler to the Great Wall of China.
Sure, there were other things we wanted to see and do in China, but since we were only in Beijing for 72 hours on a transit visit to China, our primary goal was to visit the Great Wall.
Visiting the Great Wall of China is a full day trip from Beijing, so after visiting this famous wonder of the world, we were left with basically one day in Beijing to explore the popular sites in this massive city.
How to get around Beijing with kids
Beijing – and China in general – is one of the more challenging places to visit with kids. The city is huge and chaotic. Renting a car in Beijing requires a Chinese driver’s license, so you’ll either need to take taxis, arrange guided tours, book private transfers, or explore Beijing by mass transit.
We recommended booking a guided tour to the Great Wall and a private transfer from the airport which takes the stress out of arriving in a new and unknown city, and gets you to and from China’s most famous attraction.
You can easily explore the main sites located in Beijing on your own. However, if you would be more comfortable having a guide with you, there are guided tours that take you to the top attractions in Beijing, as well.
Where to stay in Beijing with kids
Location is key if you only have one day in Beijing. The Wangfujing District is located within walking distance to the Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square. You’ll find plenty of well-known chain hotels in this area, including Hilton and Hyatt.
We stayed at Park Plaza Wangfujing. It was about a 10 minutes walk to Wangfujing Night Market and another 5-10 minutes to the Forbidden City.
The rooms at Park Place are a decent size. We were able to get a comfortable, king-size bed, which isn’t always an option in Asia, and they even provided luxurious baby bedding and a toy for our little one.
The restaurant in the hotel has a great breakfast buffet with a good mix of authentic Asian and western cuisine. So for your picky little eater, or your not-so-picky eater, there will be a variety of food to choose from.
How to spend one day in Beijing with kids
Beijing is one of the best places to visit on a family vacation to Asia. You can visit for up to 6 days on a transit visa – as long as you can show you are arriving from one country and transiting through Beijing to another country.
At the time of our family trip to Beijing, the transit visa only allowed us to stay in Beijing for 72 hours. So, logistically, we had one day to visit the Great Wall, half a day upon arrival, half a day spent at the airport upon departure, and just one day in Beijing to explore the city.
So, this one day Beijing itinerary hits the highlights: the Forbidden City, the hutongs, Summer Palace, Temple of Heaven, and the Wangfujing night market.
1 Day Beijing Itinerary for Families
Here is a quick overview of our itinerary for one day in Beijing with kids.
- 9 am – Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square
- 11 am – hutongs guided tour
- 12 pm – lunch
- 1 pm – Temple of Heaven
- 4 pm – Summer Palace
- 7 pm – Dinner in Wangfujing
- 8 pm – Walk through the DongHuaMen Night Market
Things to Do in Beijing with Kids in One Day
While the main attractions on this 1 day Beijing itinerary aren’t necessarily designed to entertain kids, there are ways to make them more engaging for children. And if you only have a day in this world renowned city, you won’t want to spend all of your time visiting parks and playgrounds.
For those who have more time in Beijing with kids, we provide some additional family-friendly attractions below. But, let’s first dive into the things you’ll see on this one day Beijing itinerary.
Tiananmen Square stands directly in front of the Forbidden City, making it an easy first stop before exploring the historical palace museum.
Spanning 100 acres, Tiananmen Square is one of the world’s largest public squares, hosting a myriad of historical events.
Bounded by the Tiananmen Gate to the north, the square is surrounded by monumental structures, including the Great Hall of the People and the National Museum of China. At its center lies the Monument to the People’s Heroes, commemorating those who sacrificed their lives for the country.
Tiananmen Square is perhaps most renowned for the image of Chairman Mao Zedong overlooking the square from the Gate of Heavenly Peace.
The Forbidden City is big! Seriously, you could spend hours exploring this historic attraction. You’ll walk through about 3-4 huge courtyards before you even get to the ticket booths.
Located in the heart of Beijing, the Forbidden City is a beacon of China’s imperial history and storied past.
This sprawling palace complex, also known as the Palace Museum, served as the imperial palace for Chinese emperors from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty. Enclosed within towering walls and guarded by statues of mythical creatures, the Forbidden City boasts numerous preserved halls, pavilions, and courtyards, each telling tales of power and opulence.
Spend some time taking family photos and learning about all the different sections of the attraction through your self-guided headset.
Tips for visiting the Forbidden City in Beijing with kids
Bring everyone’s passport and buy tickets in advance
The Forbidden City is the only attraction we have ever visited where we were required to bring our passports to enter. You will also need to buy your tickets online in advance.
The Forbidden City transitioned to online ticket sales only in 2017.
There are signs around the complex with instructions in English detailing how to purchase tickets from your smartphone, if you didn’t purchase them in advance. But you’ll need internet access to do so.
I recommend purchasing your tickets before your trip, or at the very least, purchase them at the hotel before you head out for the day.
Bring a stroller or child carrier
Touring the Forbidden City involves a lot of walking!
Visiting Beijing with kids doesn’t always afford you the luxury of strolling through any attraction at your own pace. Kids get bored easily.
While there are plenty of open courtyards for children to run around and burn some energy, you’ll want to bring a compact stroller, a travel baby carrier for little ones, or a child carrier for toddlers.
This will come in handy when your little ones get bored and don’t want to walk.
Explore the Hutongs
Hutongs are narrow streets or alleyways in older traditional parts of Beijing. Wandering through the hutongs gives you the feeling of an authentic, intimate experience, even when you only have a short amount of time in Beijing.
There are some beautiful hutongs in Beijing that are great to walk through and explore. Many are residential areas that will give you a glimpse into real life in Beijing.
Tip for visiting the hutongs:
Upon exiting the Forbidden City you will find a variety of companies offering tours of the hutongs. You can also pre-book a walking food tour through the hutongs or a rickshaw tour which is a fun way to explore the ancient alleyways of Beijing with kids.
Keep in mind, rickshaws can accommodate 2 adults and a toddler age 2 and under. So, if visiting with older children or multiple kids, your family will require more than one rickshaw.
Temple of Heaven
After your hutongs tour, catch a cab to the Temple of Heaven. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a place of both historical and cultural significance in China. Although commonly referred to as a temple it isn’t really a temple designated to any specific religion. It is moreso a place for ritualistic ceremonies.
Constructed in the early 15th century during the Ming Dynasty, this architectural marvel served as the sacred altar where emperors would perform elaborate ceremonies for bountiful harvests and divine favor.
The architectural layout and design of the Temple of Heaven are deeply rooted in Chinese cosmology and traditional beliefs, emphasizing the emperor’s role as the intermediary between heaven and earth.
The surrounding park, with its ancient cypress trees and serene pathways, offers a peaceful retreat and a great place to let little ones roam if visiting Beijing with kids.
After visiting the sites in central Beijing, you can catch a taxi, a bus, the subway, or continue on a guided tour to the Summer Palace.
Located on the outskirts of Beijing, getting to the Summer Palace will take at least 35-40 minutes by car.
The palace and its beautiful grounds are a tranquil oasis and escape from the busy city’s chaotic energy. This sprawling imperial retreat on Kunming Lake was originally built in the 18th century.
It served as a summer resort for the imperial family. Visitors can wander through the ornate halls, pavilions, and across the bridges that dot the landscape.
A highlight is the iconic Longevity Hill, crowned by the Tower of Buddhist Incense, which boasts panoramic views of the lake and surrounding area.
Wangfujing is a popular shopping district and pedestrian area in Beijing. It’s only about a 5-10 minute walk from the Forbidden City. It’s Beijing’s only pedestrian street, where tourists roam, shop, and eat street food.
At night, you’ll also find a popular hutong along Wangfujing where you can buy some of China’s more interesting cuisine items. Skewers of scorpions, silkworms, and snakeskin line the streets drawing crowds of curious, giggling tourists – similar to the novelties you’ll find at the Khao San Night Market in Bangkok.
Whether you decide to partake in the exotic cuisine or not, the street food hutong in Wangfujing is worth experiencing, if nothing else, for the novelty factor alone.
The DongHuaMen Night Market, as it’s called, is one of the more popular street food markets in Beijing, primarily for the shock value.
While some people in China may actually eat insects and spiders, this is not an ordinary culinary staple in the country. So, the market, and its questionable offerings are more of a tourist draw.
Don’t worry, if you don’t want to eat bugs or worms, you can still find plenty of “normal” Chinese food at the night market and along Wangfujing.
Other kid-friendly Beijing activities if you have more than one day
If you have more than a day in Beijing with kids, you will have more time to explore some of the city’s other great attractions for families. Here are a few other ideas of things to do in the capital city of the People’s Republic of China.
The Beijing Zoo is one of China’s oldest and most renowned zoological parks. Home to over 450 species and more than 5,000 animals, the Beijing Zoo offers an immersive journey into the animal kingdom.
Visitors can marvel at iconic residents like the giant pandas, whose playful antics never fail to delight.
Shijingshan Amusement Park
Shijingshan Amusement Park is located in the western suburbs of Beijing. This expansive amusement park boasts everything from heart-pounding roller coasters to whimsical carousels.
Its distinct zones, each with its unique theme, transport visitors to fantastical realms, whether it be the thrills of Adventure World or the enchanting Fairyland.
Beijing World Park
Located on the southwest outskirts of Beijing, the Beijing World Park is a unique and immersive destination that allows visitors to travel the globe in a single day. Similar to Mini Europe in Brussels, Belgium, this cute park features miniature replicas of iconic landmarks and architectural wonders from around the world.
Visitors can stroll through scaled-down replicas of famous sites such as the Eiffel Tower, the Taj Mahal, and the Statue of Liberty.
Beijing Happy Valley
An alternative to Shijingshan, Beijing Happy Valley is another amusement park situated in the eastern suburbs of Beijing.
Divided into six distinct areas, including Atlantis, Lost Maya, and Shangri-La, the park presents different family-fun experiences from gravity-defying roller coasters to gentle family rides.
The primary venue for the 2008 Summer Olympics, Beijing built a massive complex to host the games.
Dominating the skyline is the National Stadium, colloquially known as the “Bird’s Nest,” an eye-catching example of contemporary design. Adjacent to it, the National Aquatics Center, or the “Water Cube,” with its striking bubble-like façade, adds to the park’s architectural marvels.
Travel Tips and Things to Know before a trip to Beijing with kids
If you’re planning a trip to Beijing with kids, there are a few things to know that will help you cope with the inevitable culture shock and be more prepared for a positive experience.
The food in Beijing is different from that served at your typical Chinese restaurants in the USA. English menus are also not readily available.
We ate at a lot of restaurants with pictures on the menu where we could point to what we wanted. But aside from a few traditional noodle and fried rice dishes, the food was much different than what we had previously had. Not bad, necessarily, it was just different.
Still, there were western fast food chains like McDonalds and KFC where you could buy something a bit more familiar for picky eaters.
A shocking number of businesses in Beijing do not accept credit cards. Even McDonald’s in the tourist district of Wangfujing didn’t accept our Visa credit card.
Cash is definitely the most preferred form of payment in China. The Chinese currency is the Yuan. Not to worry though, we had no trouble finding ATMs to withdraw cash. You can find the current exchange rate here.
China probably had one of the most significant language barriers we’ve experienced during our travels. English is not widely spoken. But don’t let that discourage you from visiting. You can easily get by in a foreign country even if you don’t know the language.
Plan on pointing at things a lot to communicate. Or better yet, learn a few words in Cantonese or Mandarin Chinese. Chinese is one of the most useful languages you can learn for both travel and business.
Accessing the internet can be tricky in China. Remember, China is communist, unitary country.
For this reason, many websites are banned or are inaccessible in China. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and even Google and YouTube are blocked in China.
Don’t worry, if spending your entire trip without your favorite social media websites you rely on daily seems like too much to handle, all you need to do is use a VPN while you’re in China.
A VPN is relatively inexpensive, and will route you through a server outside of China so you can browse the internet freely.
One of the things I love most about the USA is its amazing diversity. Whatever your race, religion, or culture, you will see others who look, speak, or believe as you do. While the USA is a melting pot of cultures and color, diversity in China is not prevalent.
Our tiny blonde traveler was a bit of a tourist attraction herself.
The Chinese tourists and locals were constantly stopping to take her picture, talk to her, touch her hair, or have their children take a photo with her. They were always polite-ish in their requests and we graciously obliged.
This wasn’t the first time we’ve encountered this type of reaction, so we weren’t taken off guard.
Our blonde toddler received a lot of attention when we traveled to Guatemala, too. Personally, it doesn’t bother us at all, as long as it doesn’t bother her.
It isn’t uncommon to see people walking around Beijing wearing face masks. Even before the pandemic, it was common practice. The main reason for this is that the air quality in Beijing is quite poor.
We visited during a very rainy week, so we didn’t need to wear masks and didn’t seem to notice a big issue with the air quality. However, if you or your children have health issues, the pollution and smog may exacerbate health problems.
Public bathrooms in China rarely supply toilet paper, in our experience. So, you will want to be sure to bring some with you from your hotel room before you head out to sightsee.
Another bathroom note: There are a few western toilets inside tourist attractions, but most are squat toilets. Because we were traveling with a potty-training toddler, we preferred the western toilet, and brought a portable folding potty seat.
Squat toilets may be scary for children – even teenagers – simply because they are unfamiliar with them.
Account for jet lag
One of our biggest travel regrets was not getting to visit everything we wanted to see in Beijing. We ran out of time, partially because jet lag got the best of us.
Jet lag with a baby or toddler sucks. And on this trip it won. We laid our daughter down for a short nap, and ended up falling asleep ourselves. Not thinking of setting an alarm, we ended up sleeping for 7 hours! Around 8pm, we woke up just in time for dinner and basically nothing else. We’d wasted an entire afternoon asleep in the hotel when we only had 3 days to explore the city.
So while we didn’t get to see everything, at least we have a funny story to tell about that time we traveled across the globe to sleep in a hotel all day.
Final thoughts on visiting Beijing with kids
We didn’t get to see much of Beijing during our short time there, luckily we can always go back on another short layover thanks to the transit visa to China, which has expanded to 144 hours in the country.
If you aren’t traveling with a toddler, you’ll obviously be able to fit more into your one-day Beijing itinerary. But realistically, if you start your day early and plan to spend a full day of sightseeing, you can hit all of the attractions on our Beijing itinerary in just 24 hours.
Do you have a question about visiting Beijing with kids or about our 1 day Beijing itinerary? We’d love to hear from you! Leave your thoughts or questions in the comments below.
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This guide to the best way to spend 1 day in Beijing with kids was first written in November 2017 and was most recently updated in November 2023 for accuracy and current information.