It is on everyone’s Asia bucket list. So much so, that when I hear that someone is off to Beijing, I inevitably assume they must be leaving Hong Kong soon! It is a must-do experience. That being said, it is not exactly a relaxing family holiday with the mind-numbing, bumper-to-bumper traffic and frenzied sight-seeing. It is a good one to put off until the kids are a bit older, if possible!
We traveled to Beijing for 3-nights with Cathay Holidays. If you have the time, it would be ideal to spend another night since you end up wasting one day traveling in each direction. With just three nights, we didn’t have time to squeeze in the Summer Palace and Temple of Heaven, unfortunately (although, honestly, the kids, ages 5- and 8-years-old, were a bit templed-out after the Forbidden City!).
Where to Stay:
Every major hotel chain seems to have a hotel in Beijing — there are no shortage of options across the spectrum. The most important factor may be location — the traffic is so hideous that it’s better to be as close as possible to the sights.
- We stayed at the Grand Hyatt Beijing for two reasons. One, it is a good location that is close to the Forbidden City and also has a subway station in the mall beneath the hotel. Two, there is an outstanding indoor pool that is the perfect antidote to a long day of sight-seeing or as a retreat from foul weather (or air!) Also, another bonus is that the Made in China restaurant in the hotel is famous for its Peking Duck.
What to Do:
- See the Great Wall, of course! The Mutianyu section is about 90 minutes from Beijing, depending on traffic (leave before 7:30 or after 9:30 am if possible). Hire a driver to whisk you there and back. The hotel can arrange a driver for a premium or there are tour companies and private drivers who offers this service (see below). There is a cable car that takes you up to Tower 14. Then, you can walk for about one hour (mostly downhill) to Tower 6 where you can take the Slideway (think toboggan without snow) down the mountain. Keep in mind that children must be 10 years old to ride on the Slideway alone. I tried to pass off my 8-year-old as a 10-year-old and they were not having it! After doing the slide, I can see why! The toboggans can be very dangerous if you don’t control your speed properly (done by joystick). After walking on the Wall, everyone will be hungry so make haste for The Brickyard for a tasty Western lunch.
- Soak up the history. Start at the Forbidden City in the morning and walk through the endless palaces. You can exit at the other end where you can hire a rickshaw for a tour around the Hutongs. Walk through Beihai Park for the atmosphere and then catch a taxi to Capital M for lunch. After lunch, walk through Tiananmen Square.
- Take in a show — or two! There is an Acrobatic Show and Kung Fu Show that both show two or three times nightly. The concierge can help you arrange tickets or you can book directly through the websites for discounted tickets. Be sure to inquire about the price for children since it is not listed on the website but is half-price for children between 1.2 and 1.5 meters. There is a confusing seating chart on the website with different ticket prices associated with each color. We booked the second-to-the cheapest tickets and they were fine.
- Challenge your taste buds. The night market near Wangfujing Dajie (a short walk from the Grand Hyatt) is a novelty food experience! Starfish kebabs?! Live scorpions! The kids will be shocked and intrigued!
Where to Eat:
- Made in China is one of the best Peking Duck restaurants in Beijing; recently renovated it is in the Grand Hyatt hotel.
- Capital M is the Beijing outpost of the M restaurant group. Near Tiananmen Square, it is beautiful inside with an atmospheric terrace overlooking the Square. The delicious menu features Modern European cuisine. There is an excellent kids menu as well.
- Brickyard is a 25-room boutique hotel featuring a restaurant where almost everything is made from scratch and most dishes use ingredients from their own farms and local sources. After a long walk on the Wall, it is a welcome retreat. There is a kids menu too!
- Din Tai Fung (two locations near the acrobat show) Arguably the best steamed dumplings with branches all over the world.
My Top Tips:
- Avoid travelling by car or taxi anytime between 8-9:30 am and 4:30-7:00 pm
- Cathay holidays offer a variety of packages that work out to be cheaper than booking separately.
- Stretch-a-Leg travel can organize custom tours to suit your guidelines. They are a bit more expensive than most but highly regarded.
- Catherine Lu tours was also recommended and offers reasonable guide and driver services.
- Taxis are cheap but they do not have seat belts…well, they they have the belts but no buckles which is not very helpful!
- Keep your bag stocked with hand sanitizer and snacks
- Charged-up devices come in handy for the long drive to the Great Wall and back
- Taxi drivers do not speak English; always bring your hotel card with you!
- Wear bright colored clothing for the day at the Great Wall for better pictures! (See photo gallery above!)
- Most importantly, do all of your research before you arrive since you will not have access to Google, Facebook (including Hong Kong Moms, gasp!!), Twitter, and Instagram!