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 out toddler to the Great Wall of China. Sure, there were other things we wanted to see and do in Beijing, but since we were only in China for 72 hours, our primary goal was to visit the Great Wall. Visiting the Great Wall of China takes the better part of the day, which left us with only one day in Beijing.

How to spend one day in Beijing with kids

With just one day in Beijing you’ll probably only be able to tour a few things, so make sure you hit the highlights: the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, Wangfujing, the hutongs, and/or the Summer Palace.

Forbidden city

Parenthood and Passports - One Day in Beijing with kidsThe Forbidden City is big! Seriously, you could spend hours exploring, taking awesome Instagram photos, and learning about all the different sections of the attraction through your self-guided headset. You’ll walk through about 3-4 huge courtyards before you even get to the ticket booths. Of course, touring the Forbidden City with kids doesn’t always afford you the luxury of strolling through at your own pace. Kids get bored easily. And while there are plenty of open courtyards for children to run around and burn some energy, a compact stroller or child carrier will come in handy when they get bored and don’t want to walk.
Parenthood and Passports - One Day in Beijing with kids

Tips for visiting the Forbidden City in Beijing with kids

Bring everyone’s passport. Even the kids’.

Buy tickets online in advance. As of October 2017, there were only three stalls for ticket sales, and they weren’t easy to find. This is because the Forbidden City is transitioning to online ticket sales only. According to this article, the full transition happened the day after our visit. There are signs around the complex with instructions in English detailing how to purchase tickets from your smartphone. But you’ll need internet access to do so. I recommend purchasing them before your trip, or at the hotel before you head out for the day.

Bring a stroller, child carrier, or a soft body baby carrier. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a lot of walking!

Bring your own toilet paper. Public bathrooms in China rarely supply it in our experience.

Another bathroom note: There are a few western toilets inside the Forbidden City, 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.

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.Parenthood and Passports - One Day in Beijing with kids
Tip for visiting the hutongs:

Upon exiting the Forbidden City you will find a variety of companies offering tours of the hutongs. If your kids are tired of walking (or you’re tired of carrying them), you can hop on one of these tours and explore the hutongs on a rickshaw.

Summer Palace

If you choose to skip the hutongs, catch a taxi, bus, the subway, or join a tour group and head to the Summer Palace. There are tours that take you to the Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven and Summer Palace all in one day, so it can be done, but that’s a lot to cram into your day, especially if traveling with a baby or toddler.
the summer palace beijing with a toddler

Wangfujing

Wangfujing is a popular shopping district in Beijing, and it’s only about 5-10 minutes from the Forbidden City. It’s Beijing’s only pedestrian street, where tourist roam, shop, and eat street food. I’ve never been a big shopper, but I️ did end up buying a rain coat along Wangfujing because I didn’t want to wear a glorified trash bag again, like I️ had to at the Great Wall.
You’ll also find a popular hutong along Wangfujing where you can buy some of China’s more interesting cuisine items. Skewers of scorpions, silk worms, and snake skin line the streets drawing crowds of curious, giggling tourists. 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.
Parenthood and Passports - One Day in Beijing with kids
Tip for visiting Wangfujing:
The atmosphere is best at night!

Temple of Heaven

My one biggest travel regret from this trip is not visiting the Temple of Heaven. It isn’t that we ran out of time. We didn’t. We had plenty of time to see this amazing site, except 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 to set 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. So while we didn’t get to see this famous UNESCO World Heritage site, at least we have a funny story to tell about that time we traveled across the globe to sleep in a hotel all day.
Beijing with kids 1-day itinerary - temple of heaven

Where to stay in Beijing with kids

Speaking of hotels, location is key if you only have one day in Beijing. We stayed at Park Plaza Wangfujing. It was about a 10 minutes walk to Wangfujing and another 5-10 minutes to the Forbidden City. We probably would have taken a short cab ride to the Temple of Heaven, had we gone, but if you are really ambitious, and wearing a great pair of walking shoes, you could get there on foot from the hotel. The room was 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. 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 variety of food to choose from.Parenthood and Passports - Where to stay in Beijing with kids

Things to know before visiting Beijing with kids

Food

Parenthood and Passports - Where to stay in Beijing with kidsThe food 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.

Currency

A shocking number of businesses 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.

Language

China probably had one of the most significant language barriers we’ve experienced during our travels. English is not widely spoken. Plan on pointing at things a lot to communicate. Or better yet, learn a few words in Cantonese or Mandarin. We always try to learn a little of the native language when we travel.

Internet

Accessing the internet can be tricky in China. So many websites are banned or are inaccessible in China. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and even Google and YouTube are blocked in China. But don’t worry, if spending your entire trip without the 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.

Diversity

One of the things I️ love most about the USA is it’s 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. For this reason, 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 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 last year when we traveled to Guatemala, too. Personally, it doesn’t bother us at all, as long as it doesn’t bother her. I️ actually like that others find our daughter as adorable as we do.

Parenthood and Passports - One Day in Beijing with kids
While 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 72 hour transit visa to China.
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 above in just 24 hours.

Air quality

It isn’t uncommon to see people walking around Beijing wearing face masks. 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 exasperate health problems.

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Have you been to Beijing? Leave us a comment and let us know your favorite attraction there.

21 thoughts on “One day in Beijing with kids”

  1. Wow you packed a lot into your day in Beijing! Great tip about buying tickets online in advance for the Forbidden City. As for sleeping the afternoon off, we’ve probably all done it at some point on a travel with or without a child ?

  2. Thanks for the tips on Forbidden city, especially about carrying your passports and booking in advance. You seemed to have had a VERY busy day, there’s so much you got done, and that too with a kid, it’s amazing!

  3. Your little girl’s precious, I can see why she was an attraction for the locals! Wow, I never knew about the credit cards not being accepted, or no toilet paper in the forbidden city, great tips! Still haven’t been to Beijing, but now I feel better!

    1. The credit card issue was a bit surprising to us, too. We typically use our credit card for everything when we travel, but on this particular trip we paid for almost everything in cash.

  4. every time i see ur post i go awwww..ur kiddo. ..and omg u do a lot considering u r with kids..u give me hope that things dont change evn after having kids… <3

  5. Hey, 72 hours in China is better than nothing at all! And you managed to really take advantage of your time. The Great Wall is super high up on my bucket list as well, so I hope to get there soon. If I get to Beijing, not sure I want to try the scorpion though! 🙂 Although, as you say, it sure is a novelty! 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

    1. I couldn’t eat the scorpion either. I tried to psych myself up for it, but any kind of bug or insect grosses me out. Maybe if it was ground up and covered in chocolate, I would have done it. 😉

  6. Nothing wrong with wanting to go to China just to see the Great Wall. It is awesome and epic! You did exceptionally well to cram as much as you did in to 24 hours – great work! That photo of your daughter and her new Chinese friend 🙂

    1. That picture of my daughter is one of my favorites from the trip. It’s funny how when you travel with kids, an ordinary picture of her tops a million pictures of iconic landmarks. 🙂

  7. I totally went to Peru just to see Machu Picchu – and went for three wonderful weeks. Like you, I found SO many other things to do. It looks like you guys had a great time and I am impressed that your daughter ate the food I am guessing she wasn’t used to.

  8. I don’t think I’ve ever traveled to a country just for one specific thing but hats off you for doing just that. However in saying that you seemed to have covered quite a bit for the short amount of time you were there 😀 – I haven’t been to China yet but I would love to walk across the great wall of China 😀 – You have some good tips that are useful for solo travelers like me like places not accepting credit cards. Having spent a lot of time In south East Asia, I became quite used to ordering food from pictures haha.

    1. There were other things we wanted to see in China, but mainly our trip to Asia was to go to Japan, and we just made a quick stop over in China to see the Great Wall. It is incredible though, and I would love to go back an experience more of China, especially some of the more rural parts.

  9. I always buy tickets online in advance, I don’t understand why some people don’t do this. It saves you time when travelling as you no longer have to queue up and more time to actually sightsee! And yes, always bring your passport, actually not just in China, but everywhere you go.

  10. I loved the tip of buying tickets online. I have wasted a lot of time once getting into Anne Frank’s House in Amsterdam as I didn’t have online ticket. They get booked real early. Anyways, it seems you had a lot of fun in Beijing with your family. Great times!

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