Jingshan Park and the National Art Museum of China can be visited in one outing (which takes around four hours, depending on how slowly you stroll and allowing for a one-hour lunch stop) and can be enjoyed with a leisurely promenade of historic Wusi Dajie along the way. Though some of the cultural and historically significant attractions in the area are more suitable for older children, the scenery, pleasant park areas and lao Beijing ambience makes this outing feasible for families with kids of all ages – and yes, this even includes parents pushing strollers around all day.
Start in the late morning in Jingshan Gongyuan (井山公园), a 57-acre park that dates back to the Jin dynasty (1115–1234), once the private domain of Ming and Qing emperors, which wasn’t opened to the public until 1928. Within the vermilion walls lies its namesake, the 45.7-meter high Jingshan (Coal Hill) that was constructed during the Yongle period of the Ming dynasty (1402-1424) out of soil excavated from the Forbidden City moats. Featuring five peaks crowned with five pavilions, the hill is located on a north-south axis connecting Qianmen, Tiananmen, the Forbidden City and the Drum and Bell Towers (Gulou and Zhonglou) – on a sunny day it offers a breathtaking view of their shimmering roof tiles and the heart of lao Beijing. Jingshan is also one of the best spots in town to take in traditional Beijing culture – amateur opera enthusiasts, calligraphers, dog walkers, taiqi practitioners, kite flyers and local kids of all ages frequent the park and fill it with a traditional vitality that is fast disappearing. Many of the pavilions and structures within are still open to the public and often host historical exhibits and displays of traditional arts.
Walk out the east gate of the park and cross the street to Shatan Houjie – a vibrant alley filled with fruit stalls, small dives and hotels. At the mouth of the hutong is the Alley Coffee Bar (8404 7228) – an English-friendly joint serving food (a set meal of jiaozi – dumplings – and a beverage costs RMB 25), Wi-Fi, coffee, tea, cold beer, bike rentals, tickets and tours. Stop in here for a quick bite or a refreshing drink. Shatan Houjie runs east to Shatan Beijie – take a right here and pass the Industrial and Commercial Bank (with ATMs) until you reach the intersection of Wusi Dajie.
Named for China’s pivotal May 4th movement, this boulevard was once a hutong haven until the traditional alleyways were demolished to make room for the construction of the National Art Museum in 1958. Today the street is lined with small clothing boutiques, accessory stores and art supply shops, as well as the historically significant Hong Lou (Red House, 6612 8596, 9am-4pm), a four-story red brick building that dates back to 1918 and was once the campus of Beijing University. Here, the founder of China’s Communist Party, Li Dazhao, and a young Mao Zedong worked as librarians and administrators; the building still stands as a monument to their lives’ work and achievements. Admission is free and the classrooms inside house some exhibits of materials and publications dating back to the early years of the Chinese Communist Party. The displays (featuring a few English descriptions) may be lost on younger children, but the spot is worth checking out for its early 20th century European-style architecture, satisfyingly cool air-conditioning and super-clean bathrooms.
From Hong Lou, continue east along Wusi Dajie until you hit the intersection of Beiheyan Dajie. Huangchenggen Yizhi Park, one of the finest examples of urban planning in the city, runs perpendicular to this spot. This long stretch of urban greenery was built around a recreated portion of the Ming Dynasty City Wall (at its northern end), and offers an idyllic strolling opportunity for dog walkers, old folks, kids and dating couples alike. Hang a right at this intersection and you’ll end up on the western edge of Wangfujing, but for this outing we recommend continuing east until you reach the National Art Museum of China (NAMOC, 9am-5pm. 1 Wusi Dajie, Dongcheng District. RMB 20 admission. 8403 3500). The 2,000-sqm museum recently underwent a facelift and houses a permanent collection of traditional Chinese paintings, prints, sculptures, oils, watercolors, calligraphy, lacquerware, pottery, kites and traditional toys, along with regular visiting exhibitions in its 17 exhibition halls. The pieces are definitely suitable for all ages (as opposed to some of the edgier contemporary art galleries around town) and the facility is spacious enough for leisurely perusals with your tots in tow.