China has become a hugely popular destination choice and our friends at luxury tour operator Lightfoot Travel are full of suggestions on where to go and what activities to do as a family. The best are those that enable parents to see the sites they want, while giving little extras that keep the kids happy and entertained.
While people often think historic sites when talking about China’s capital, there are a ton of options to make these places fun for kids, as well as opportunities to explore areas outside the city. The Great Wall at Mutianyu is recommended for those with younger kids, as the wall is restored and safer for them to walk on. The cable car up and toboggan slide down are huge hits, as is kite flying on top of the wall. For those with older kids, we recommend unrestored spots further out that really give visitors that intrepid explorer feel when clambering up walls and through crumbling turrets. Sites like the Forbidden City are made interesting with hidden symbol treasure hunts; traditional hutongs, or old Beijing alleyways, which can be brought to life with fun sidecar tours. The Olympic ‘Birds Nest’ stadium can be zipped through aboard a Segway; and kids of all ages love the Kung Fu or contortionist acrobat shows.
Like in Beijing, Shanghai sidecar tours are an excellent way for families to explore historic neighbourhoods and sites. Zooming through the city in these funky open air cars trumps walking tours in our opinion! Shanghai’s ERA show is a multimedia extravaganza which includes a circus with jugglers and acrobats, modern art with mirrors, water screens and an excellent musical score. The Huangpu River cruise is a magical journey in itself. Early morning visits to Fuxing Park in the former French Concession give a glimpse of local life with dancing groups, singers, card and chess players as well as people practicing Tai Chi. The variety of activities is truly fascinating.
One of Lightfoot’s most popular China destinations over the past few years, Yunnan, is truly stunning with charming old villages, fascinating Tibetan culture, stunning snow-capped peaks and vast plains and valleys. The province is large and diverse and is best experienced through a multi-stop tour. Take your family off the beaten path onto a new journey!
Lijiang is often people’s first stop on a greater Yunnan tour, with its quintessential old town and towering Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. Take the cable car to specific spots up the mountain, and then hike along the grassy trails looking out over the surrounding area. ‘Impression Lijiang’ is an incredible outdoor performance created by Chinese director Zhang Yimou, demonstrating the traditions and lifestyle of the local minority groups. Featuring around 400 ethnic Naxi, Bai and Yi people, the performance consists of singing, dancing, horse riding and drumming, which the kids will find mesmerizing.
Great for older kids, the Tiger Leaping Gorge is one of the deepest gorges in the world and provides an excellent hiking experience. It’s a 7-hour hike from the start of the gorge to Halfway Guesthouse, where guests can stay for the night before embarking on the 2-hour hike to the end. The guesthouse is extremely basic, but a lovely place to rest your legs after the long hike. An open air terrace overlooking the gorge provides magnificent views, and it is great fun to sit and chat to the other guests who hail from countries around the world. For those keen for something less strenuous, you can drive to a point halfway along and opt for a shorter 3-hour hike to the guesthouse.
The fabled Shangri-La is located up north near the Tibetan border, and is extremely Tibetan in culture. The mountain ranges are huge and snowy, the grasslands vast, and if you travel from May to June, grasslands are covered in a carpet of flowers. Horseback riding tours are a fun way to explore the countryside, and village visits provide interesting insight into the daily lives and culture of the local people. Wild mushroom picking can also be done in the hills during certain times of the year.
One of the most picturesque regions in China, Yangshuo’s karst mountains and rivers feature on just about every Chinese scroll and can also be found on the country’s RMB 20 notes. The area is dotted with rice paddies, lined with paved roads that are perfect for biking along. The area is also famous for its rock climbing; Beginner walls are available for children as well as more difficult routes for adults. Families can embark on the short hike up Moon Hill to look out over the valley as well as raft down the Li River (the bamboo variety, not the white water version!). Take a family cooking class and learn to prepare local dishes such as egg wrapped dumplings and beer fish. Exploring Yangshuo’s Reed Flute Cave is also a cool way to spend an afternoon looking at the cave’s stalactites and stalagmites, and creating light games across the cave walls with your flashlights.
Pandas are synonymous with Sichuan province, and a visit to the Bi Feng Xia Panda Centre outside Chengdu is an absolute must. A two hour drive outside the city centre, the facility has just under 100 pandas, and the kids will love seeing them rolling around, lazily gnawing their bamboo and interacting with their handlers. If you’re lucky, there will be baby pandas at the reserve, and the little red pandas are equally as adorable. A visit to the People’s Park enables you to observe and interact with the locals as they go about practicing Tai Chi, Kung Fu, sword dancing, meditation, gymnastics and even “ear cleaning” – quite possibly one of the most strange and unique things you will see. Chengdu is also famous for its street food, and kids will love going from stall to stall gaping at and hopefully sampling some of the stranger snacks on offer.
A visit to see the famed Terracotta Warriors is made more interesting for the little ones by letting them make their own statuettes after they’ve viewed the real soldiers. Embark on an early morning bike or cart tour to discover Xi’an without the crowds or traffic jams. The tandem bikes on offer are great for those with younger kids, and it’s a great way to get them to enjoy sites such as the unique city walls that were built during the Ming Dynasty. Take part in a calligraphy course, introducing kids to one of the bedrocks of Chinese culture, or head out on a day trip to nearby Mount Huashan, hiking to the summit for spectacular (albeit often crowded) views.
To book your next family getaway, contact Lightfoot Travel at +852 2815 0068 (HK) or +65 6438 4091 (SG), firstname.lastname@example.org. Lightfoot Travel is a luxury tour operator offering expert travel advice and inspiration, tailor-made itineraries & full booking services.