With winter’s gloom lifting, the Olympic “Green” may be a bit of a misnomer. But despite the lackluster color, this massive 1,135 hectare landscape is as lively as ever. Following the success of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games, the attractions set within the Green continue to draw crowds. Bundle up the troops, pack a picnic and journey north along the historic north-south central axis of Beijing, passing temples, parks, stadiums, chocolate villages and museums on your way. Don’t forget to pack a camera as there are plenty of interesting sculptures, signs, and statues for the kids to pose with.
Begin the day by taking a taxi to the south entrance of the Water Cube. You could also take Line 8 to the Olympic Sports Centre stop and walk north. From the Water Cube it should be easy to spot the Goddess Beiding Temple; a touch of tradition amidst modern marvels. The temple was built during the Ming Dynasty and was home to Taoist god, Bixia Yuanjun. What was once a grand five-story temple is now a shadow of its former self. Nevertheless, it is worth spending 20 minutes at the beginning of the day to walk through its various courtyards. The temple is open from Tuesday to Sunday and entrance is free. Peer over the tiled wall to catch a glimpse of your next stop, the Bird’s Nest, located east of the temple.
Exit the temple and walk north past the Water Cube (the water and Nanshantan Lu should be on your right), heading for the Bird’s Nest. The crowds tend to gather mid-afternoon, so avoid the tour buses by heading out earlier in the day. Collect your tickets from a ticket kiosk beneath ground level and walk towards the closest entrance. Once you are inside the USD 423 million stadium – inspired by the art of Chinese ceramics – climb your way to the upper level to appreciate the sheer enormity of the world’s largest steel structure (110,000 tons). Once you have finished admiring the architecture, walk back down the stairs and spend some time in the various museums and exhibitions (entry is free).
Meander the grounds between the Bird’s Nest and the Water Cube, posing for a few family shots among the many sculptures designed by Chinese artists. Keep a lookout for the inadvertently humorous signs displayed next to statues, “Beautiful art comes from your kind soul.” Compete to see who can find the most interesting signs and statues. If it’s not too cold, you can also pick up a few colorful plastic kites (around RMB 5 each) from hopeful vendors.
After a morning of walking, lunch is next on the list. There isn’t an overwhelming selection of food outlets, unless you want to treat the kids to McDonalds or KFC, or settle for instant noodles at one of the numerous food stands. If these options don’t appeal to you, pack a picnic instead. Follow red arrows pointing to the Southern Sunken Garden, located further north of the Bird’s Nest. Walk past the Fencing Hall on your left, and follow the dragon-shaped body of water. Find a bench within the traditional courtyard-style garden, or an interesting sculpture to perch on while you refuel. The “sunken” garden is aptly named, as it’s located below street level. It’s also worth seeing the near-by Drum Wall, a red-latticed structure with interwoven “drums.”
For dessert, walk upstairs, out of the Sunken Garden, and head south to the World Chocolate Dream Park in the Northern Plaza of the Bird’s Nest. You needn’t wake up from this dream; everything in this park is indeed made out of chocolate. However, the chocolate park won’t be here forever, and closes on April 10. This is a great place for children and parents to enjoy performances, candy and taste-tests. Drool over the world’s largest chocolate Great Wall, chocolate mahjong pieces, or life-size chocolate Terracotta Warriors. This 20,000sqm exhibition space is composed of five indoor areas and two outdoor activity areas: The Sweet Stage and The Sweet Business Street. The latter allows kids and grown-ups to create their own chocolate masterpiece.
Edible souvenirs ingested, burn off calories by walking north along North Central Axis Avenue, strolling along Dragon River until you reach Datun Beilu. Turn right here, and walk east until you reach Beisanhuan Zhonglu. Street names might not even matter, as the shiny dome of the Astro-vision Theater is visible from afar. You are now at the rubix cube-shaped China Science and Technology Museum. Here, kids can explore five floors of state-of-the-art technology. Interactive experiments and activities have been integrated into the museum including an incredible dinosaur exhibition, as well as robots, space exploration and plenty of other fun and educational gizmos. Don’t miss the “Happy Farm,” where kids can milk plastic cows and harvest their own vegetables.
After exploring the best the Olympic Green has to offer, an Olympic-sized dinner is a sound reward. If duck sounds good, walk east along Datun Beilu until you reach the Marco Polo shopping mall. Take a right and walk 100m to the Olympic Quan Ju De branch (Yayuncun). After feasting on duck with all the trimmings, it’s time to hail a cab and take your tired legs home.