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. Luckily, it’s easy to explore Beijing by mass transit.
The 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Things to know before visiting Beijing with kids
The 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.
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.
China probably had one of the most significant language barriers we’ve experienced during our travels. English is not widely spoken. But you can 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. We always try to learn a little of the native language when we travel.
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.
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.
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.
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.