The flowing grasslands and desert expanses of this exotic land are a far cry from the concrete jungle that is Beijing. While organized tours are available in and around the capital of Hohhot, families with older children may want to bust out of their safety zone and visit more remote towns and villages. Spend a night in a traditional nomadic yurt and visit the mausoleum of Genghis Khan. Culture-seekers can soak up traditional Mongolian singing and dancing, while adventurers can try horse and camel riding. The harsh winter climate in this part of the country makes summer the perfect time to plan a trip.
Kids over 7-years-old and families who like to rough it in the great outdoors.
The route: Experience Mongolia’s magnificent landscape from a four-wheel drive (4WD) vehicle. Drive north via Fengning, then past Duolun, where only 4WD vehicles can venture. The truly adventurous can continue north through the southern reaches of the Gobi desert.
Camping out: A pop-up tent that fits snugly on your 4WD roof is ideal, though a regular camping tent is also fine. Camping out may not suit those accustomed to comfort, but it does offer the breathtaking experience of sleeping under the stars.
What to eat: Local restaurants serve very basic fare, which includes mutton jiaozi and yak meat in strong and fibrous stews.
Sight to remember: The serenity of the landscape – with nothing but the breeze in your hair, the hills on your horizon and a happy kid running across the Mongolian plains, chasing meandering cattle as they go.
Getting there: A one-hour flight from Beijing.
A lush coastal city in southeastern China, Xiamen looks out towards Taiwan. In 1841, the British overtook the city during the First Opium War, but it was later opened by the Treaty of Nanking at the end of the war in 1842. This opened up the doors to many Protestant missionaries, who used it as an entry point into China. Its neighbor – the island of Gulangyu – has adopted a lot of Victorian-era style architecture as a result of the Europeans lured to Xiamen’s port. In both Xiamen and Gulangyu, the Hokkien dialect is still spoken.
Best for: Kids ages 5 and up who want a quaint island experience.
Spiritual sites: Light incense at Nanputuo Si (daily 5am-6pm, free), a thousand-year-old temple situated on the south side of Wulao Feng. It remains highly active and even has a vegetarian restaurant, where a meal will set you back around RMB 100 per person.
Nature: Walk among hanging orchids at Xiamen Botanical Gardens (RMB 40, RMB 20 kids). It is not ideal for strollers, as there are hills and hiking through stairs and narrow dirt paths.
Shopping: For interesting finds, try the pedestrian-only Zhongshan Lu. The bookstore called Apodon is well worth a visit. The second floor has a children’s section and a café.
Gulangyu: A quiet alternative to the bustling city of Xiamen, Gulangyu Island does not permit cars. To get there, hop on a five-minute ferry from Lundu Port (轮渡码头). Ferry admission is free going to Gulangyu and RMB 8 on the way back to Xiamen. A ferry leaves every hour and the last ferry leaves for Xiamen at midnight.
Attractions (Gulangyu): Kids will ove the Underwater Sea World (RMB 90, RMB 50 kids). Within the beautiful Shuzhuang Garden (RMB 30) lies Asia’s largest piano museum (厦门鼓浪屿钢琴博物馆). For additional tourist tips, contact Xiamen Tourism (400 881 2301, www.visitxm.com)
Getting there: A two-and-a-half-hour flight from Beijing.
Nestled in the Himalayan Mountains, Lhasa is one of the highest cities in the world. Its name means "place of the gods." Spiritual sites of interest include the sacred Potala Palace, Johkang (the holiest place in Tibet) and Norbulingka. Home of the Dalai Lamas, Potala Palace lies in the center of Kyichu Valley, which divides Lhasa’s new and old towns. Norbulingka, or Jewel Park, is a stunning palace that was once the summer home to the seventh and eighth Dalai Lamas. Its gardens are ideal for outdoor picnics and it plays host to various theater events and festivals. In August, people camp out for days in Norbulingka to celebrate Sho Dun, or the Yoghurt Festival. During the festival, tourists can expect to see traditional dancing and bonfires.
Best for: Kids over 7 years old and adventurous families looking for a cultural experience.
Where to stay: The Sheraton Hotel has friendly and helpful English-speaking staff. While there is no playground or pool, there is a nice outdoor patio. The central location is within walking distance of the old Tibetan part of town. Connecting rooms are a great option for large families and the hotel has special discounts on meals for children.
Kid-friendly site: Children will love the zoo at Norbulingka. It originally housed animals that were given to the Dalai Lama and is home to a snow leopard. Head to the Ganden Monastery, where guests can befriend locals and taste yak butter tea.
Travel tips: Having a bilingual guide is helpful and will enrich your trip. If you take the train, beware of mediocre food and leaking toilets.
Getting there: A 45-hour train ride from Beijing to Lhasa. Foreigners must contact a travel agency to obtain a Tibet Entry Permit before entering Tibet. When inside Tibet, families must travel with a guide and car which can be organized by a travel agent. Contact Beijing Office of Tibet China Travel Service (400 7116 100 toll free), www.tibet-tours.cn.
A major seaport, naval base and industrial center, this Shandong coastal city is a hot spot for anyone seeking a refreshing swim in the sweltering summer months. Qingdao was occupied by Germany from 1897 until 1914, whose traces are still visible in its European architecture and one of China’s staples: Tsingtao beer. Its main allure is a 580m expanse of yellow sand, named Number One Beach (第一浴场). This beach is often the most crowded, though, so consider one of the five other smaller beaches.
Best for: Kids ages 4 and up. Great for families looking for some sun and sand without the Sanya price tag.
Under the sea: Attractions for kids include the Qingdao Underwater World (also known as Qingdao Aquarium) and Polar Ocean World (RMB 150, half price for kids 1.2m-1.4m, free for kids under 1.2m) – which has polar bears, penguins, dolphins, sea lions and seals. For a fee, kids can feed the seals or have their picture taken with a dolphin.
Hiking: Between June and September, Laoshan is a must for hikers. It is home to the well-maintained Taiqing Palace Taoist Temple.
What to eat: Be sure to sample the city’s fresh seafood, available in abundance.
Where to stay: Book a room at family-friendly Zhan Qiao Prince Hotel (532 8288 8666) near the Number One Beach. In the center of town is Crowne Plaza Qingdao (532 85718888) with two indoor swimming pools, an outdoor tennis court, a bowling alley, table tennis, a spa and a gym.
Getting there: A 75-minute flight from Beijing.
Dali has a striking physical location and an interesting history. The Bai people have inhabited the area for thousands of years, and their cultural influence is immediately evident in the food and romantic legends of the region. History aficionados will find the Dali museum and its three main pagodas particularly interesting, while hikers can explore Mt. Cangshan – an exquisite mountain famous for strange cloud formations. The nearby Erhai Lake, one of the seven largest lakes in China, is surrounded by tiny villages – perfect for day trips. Avoid the tour buses and rent bikes instead.
Best for: Kids ages 5 and up, and families who can’t get enough of delightfully fresh Yunnan cuisine.
Minorities rule: Visit the Bai and Yi villages, where families can walk through rice fields, eat lunch on long boats, relax in a local courtyard, browse local markets or enjoy a ride on a horse-drawn carriage.
Where to stay: Jim’s Tibetan Hotel in the old town is a good choice for families. It’s decorated in the Tibetan style and has great Western breakfasts (0872 267 7824, www.jims-tibetan-hotel.com). For a guided tour, try China Minority Travel (www.china-travel.nl).
Travel tips: Having a local guide is priceless because you get the chance to see how people really live – see inside their houses, visit schools and discover local hangouts that you would never be able to find by yourself.
Getting there: A four-hour flight from Beijing to Kunming. Then catch a connecting flight or take a three-hour bus ride to Dali.
Only a stone’s throw from Beijing, Tianjin is a great nearby destination for the family. It is divided into two parts: the old city and the Binhai New Area – where many Fortune Global 500 company branches have set up shop. The city has a complex and fascinating history, including invasion by the Boxers and occupation by the Eight-Nation Alliance, then Japanese occupation during the Second Sino-Japanese War.
Best for: Kids ages 5 and up interested in history and European architecture.
Attractions: Kids can ride the 35-story-tall Eye of Tianjin ferris wheel (RMB 50, RMB 25 kids under 1.2m), ride a horse-drawn cart around the Five Roads (五大道) area, or take a boat trip down Haihe, passing the famous Jiefang Bridge (Liberation Bridge). Another kid-friendly destination is the Tianjin Binhai Aircraft Carrier Theme Park (www.binhaipark.cn, Chinese only). Located in Hangu District, it is a two-hour drive or a 30-minute train ride from Tianjin.
Shopping: Tianjin is slightly cheaper than in Beijing, so stock up at Old Cultural Street on Shuigao Dajie in Nankai District and the Golden Street shopping area. Kids will love exploring Isetan, a Japanese department store on Nanjing Lu. Also, Jinwan Plaza Shopping, a hub of shopping, food and entertainment, makes for a nice evening stroll along the river.
Where to stay: Make it a leisure weekend getaway at Hyatt Regency in Jing Jin city resort. With a pool, golf course, spa and bowling alley, the clan will never have to leave the grounds. The Hyatt also has an extensive range of kid-friendly outdoor activities, supervised by one of the Hyatt’s friendly staff members. Hyatt Regency, 8 Zhujiang Lu, Zhouliang Zhuang, Baodi, Tianjin (22 5921 1234, jingjin@email@example.com) 天津市, 宝坻区珠江路8号
Getting there: A 30-minute bullet train from Beijing South Railway Station (departs every 30 minutes). Purchase tickets at the station or in advance at www.chinatraintickets.net.
Although located in Guizhou, this river town is closer to Sichuan province in almost every sense. Stroll along on Hebin Lu where you can head straight to Sichuan by crossing the river, or take the kids to enjoy the rare exhilaration of being in two provinces at the same time, with a foot on either side at the middle of the bridge. The Communists’ legendary Long March also involved a notable adventure around this river: In an attempt to shake off the pursuing Guomindang, the Communists crossed and re-crossed the Chishui river as they battled hither and thither – each of the four fording spots are commemorated along the river.
Best for: Kids ages 6 and up, and families yet to see the bamboo forests for which the Middle Kingdom is famous.
Where to stay: Zhongyue Hotel (中悦大酒店) in Chishui City is a clean and comfortable four-star stalwart (0852 282 5999). For a rural experience, check out Chishui Electric Power Hotel (赤水电力宾馆), loctaed walking distance from Yanziyan National Park and Shizhangdong Waterfalls. It features villa-style lodgings and a riverside terrace (0852 299 5555).
What to eat: Chishui restaurants specialize in many delicious bamboo dishes, including fresh bamboo shoots stir-fried with bacon (zhusun chao laro), stewed dried bamboo (tongtong zhu), and a "Panda Feast" (xiongmao yan) – a bamboo-themed banquet perfect for larger parties.
Parks galore: The sala tree dates back to the time of the dinosaurs and is particularly numerous in the Shaluo National Preservation Area (赤水桫椤国家级自然保护区. RMB 25). Nearby is Chishui’s Bamboo Ocean (竹海, RMB 25), a protected forest where the world’s thickest and tallest bamboo species expands as far as the eye can see.
Site to remember: Wuzhufeng (五柱峰, RMB 30). The curious red rocks here are officially recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Getting there: A three-hour flight from Beijing to Luzhou, then a two-hour drive to Chishui.
Boasting yellow sandy beaches, convenience, and a colorful history as a retreat for backroom deals, Beidaihe is probably the most famous ocean resort town in China. Life in this once-quiet fishing village on Bohai Bay was forever altered by the arrival of laowai in the late 19th century seeking relief from the heat of Beijing and Tianjin. From boat and bike rentals to seafood and people-watching, Beidaihe has all the essential elements of a beach adventure. Be warned: Beidaihe is very crowded during the peak summer tourist season (June through August). If you need some respite from the crowds, Qinhuangdao City is a short bus ride away and offers plenty of other swimming locales.
Best for: Kids of any age and parents with limited vacation days.
Good to know: South of Beidaihe is the intuitively named town of Nandaihe. Compared to its neighbor, Nandaihe offers seaside views at marginally cheaper rates, with marginally less intense crowds.
What to see: Beidaihe is about an hour away by bus from Shanhaiguan (the eastern end of the Great Wall), making it possible to visit both places in one weekend.
Where to stay: Every single building is a hotel (some fancier than others). Families looking for last-minute deals can show up without a booking and try their luck. To reserve rooms in advance, visit www.chinahotelsreservation.com/Beidaihe or www.beidaihe.org (Chinese-only).
Getting there: Long-distance buses run directly to Beidaihe from Lizeqiao and Bawangfen bus stations. In the high season there are direct buses from Beijing Railway Station every hour. Fifteen trains connect Beijing Railway Station and Beijing West Railway Station to Beidaihe. Trains depart Beijing daily: the first train leaves at 4.32am, the last train is at 11pm. If traveling by car, take Jingshen Expressway to Beidaihe Exit.
Transport yourself to Shanghai – one of China’s fastest growing and most populous cities. One look at the French Quarter or the Bund’s European architecture and you’ll feel the foreign influence that has shaped China’s most developed city. You can spend days just shopping and eating. When you can shop no more, climb to the top of the Pearl Tower for a 360-degree of this metropolis. Shanghai is known for its beautiful textiles and exquisite tailoring; it’s well worth your time to scour the fabric markets and get some traditional qipaos made.
Best for: Kids ages 5 and families who want a glimpse of China’s colonial past.
Shopping: Try the famous Huaihai Lu by People’s Square.
Attractions: Highlights include the Shanghai Museum (full of Chinese classical art), a Huangpu River cruise to the Yangze River and back (RMB 120 for a three-hour journey), the Shanghai Ocean Aquarium (afterwards, ride the Bund Tourist Tunnel – also a fun adventure), the active Zen Buddhist monastery Jade Buddha Temple and the 400-year-old Yu Gardens, surrounded by shops full of toys and faux antiques.
What to eat: Stop by the hip cafes and restaurants, but be sure to dive into a Chinese restaurant to bite into a Shanghai xiaolong bao (steamed pork bun). Beware of the hot broth inside, though!
Where to stay: Try five-star Oriental Riverside Hotel (021 5037 0000), right on the Huangpu river facing the Bund. Its facilities include an indoor swimming pool, miniature golf and six-lane bowling alley. Rooms in June start at RMB 1,018 per night. Check-in is 24 hours, but a credit card is needed for late check-ins (after 6pm).
Getting there: A two-hour flight from Beijing.
A remote island, it is sometimes called Tianyahaijiao (天涯海角), which means "the end of the sky and ocean." A handful of prime ministers throughout various dynasties were exiled here. These days, it is referred to as China’s Hawaii. It has a wide array of beach resorts and the city is easy to navigate. There are two main beaches, but Yalong Bay usually has fewer tourists.
Best for: Kids ages 2 and up and families who want to treat themselves to a sandy vacation.
Nature trips: If adventure is what you’re after, there are plenty of opportunities to snorkel and hike. Ask at your hotel about day trips around the island. Check out the expansive Jianfengling Nature Reserve, which shows off the jungle that once covered Hainan.
Pure relaxation: Nantian Hot Spring Resort – where visitors can soak their troubles away in a hot spring or swing free in a garden hammock.
Attractions: Take the kids to Nanwan Monkey Island, the only tropical island reserve for macaque monkeys. Getting there is an adventure in itself; visitors have to ride a 2,138-meter ropeway – the longest in the world – to the island. Other attractions include the Yalong Bay Central Plaza and its Shell Museum, and the nearby Butterfly Valley.
What to eat: The must-try dish here is Hainan chicken rice.
Where to stay: An ocean-view room at the Sanya Marriott Resort & Spa (898 8856 8888, www.marriott.com) in Yalong Bay starts at RMB 1,999 per night. Visitors on a smaller budget can consider staying at Boao, where there are a few nice hotels, such as the cozy four-room Boao Inn B&B (138 7627 1007, www.hainan-letsgo.com). The family suite is RMB 600 per night.
Getting there: A four-hour flight from Beijing.
The giant panda is China’s most treasured animal and no stay in China is complete without a trip to Chengdu to see one. There are fewer than 2,500 mature giant pandas in the wild, so it is a treat to see one up close and personal. Although pandas are Chengdu’s biggest draw, the city itself has a lot to offer. A hub of Sichuan and the province’s capital, it is filled with charming side streets and restaurants serving delicious local cuisine. Numerous temple parks will impress with their green spaces, bamboo forests and Taoist pavilions.
Best for: Kids ages 5 and up who love pandas and spicy food.
Pandas: Educate yourself about the ongoing conservation of these endangered animals at the Giant Panda Museum of the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding (www.panda.org.cn).
Temples: Hikers can climb the steps of Qingcheng Mountain – a scenic hike that passes many beautiful Taoist temples. Try taking a ferry across the lake and then a cable car to get a bird’s eye view.
Daily 8am-6pm. RMB 90 (front section of the mountain), RMB 20 (back section), free (kids under 1.2m). Ferry RMB 5. Cable car RMB 35 (one-way), RMB 60 (return). (028 8713 6338, 400 1151 222) www.qcs.cn.
What to eat: Chengdu serves some of the country’s best hot pot. If you prefer less spice, be sure to let your server know beforehand.
Getting there: A two-hour-and-40-minute flight from Beijing.
Hangzhou has, for centuries, been praised as one of the most beautiful cities in China, and it still lives up to expectations. Lined with pagodas and gardens covered in a dreamy mist, Hangzhou’s West Lake is a perfect getaway for families. Boat rides are a great way for families to enjoy a water-side holiday, and younger children will also be enticed by the large aquarium and botanical gardens. A walk through the bamboo forests and tea fields in the mountains around Moganshan, originally a destination for well-to-do Shanghairen seeking respite from the summer heat, will refresh tired Beijingers.
Best for: Families with kids of any age who are looking for a slice of picture-perfect China.
Where to stay: The Shangri-La Hotel is located right on the lake and features a terrace restaurant with lake views, an indoor swimming pool and bicycle rentals with options for kids, including baby seats (0571 8797 7951, www.shangri-la.com/en/property/hangzhou/Shangrila). For a forest escape, rent a villa at The Moganshan Lodge (0572 8033 362, firstname.lastname@example.org).
On the lake: Take a boat ride on West Lake to the exact spot featured on the one yuan note – Three Pools Mirroring the Moon Island. The octagonal Six Harmonies Pagoda has fine views over the Qiantang River. Walk or cycle across the lake via the Su Causeway and explore the myriad restaurants and teahouses on the southeastern shore.
Getting there: A two-hour flight from Beijing.
Hong Kong (meaning "fragrant harbor") is a humid port city filled with parks and nature reserves. This densely populated island is home to seven million people. After the First Opium War in the 1940s, it became a colony of the British Empire and was briefly occupied by Japan during the Pacific War before the British resumed control. In 1997, the People’s Republic of China regained sovereignty, but much of the British influence remains. The city’s metro system, driving on the left side, and the prevalence of the English-language are testament to lingering ties.
Best for: Kids ages 4 and up who crave non-stop excitement and don’t mind the heat.
Must see: Families will love the view from the top of Victoria Peak (www.thepeak.com.hk). To get there, take the Peak Tram (7am to midnight daily; roundtrip HKD 40, HKD 18 for kids ages 3-11). At the top, pose with a wax version of Jackie Chan at Madame Tussauds wax museum (HKD160, HKD 90 for kids ages 3-11, www.madame-tussauds.com.hk). Ride on the Star Ferry from Central to Kowloon; stick around until 8pm to watch the nightly skyscraper light show from Kowloon’s boardwalk.
Theme parks: Younger children will enjoy Hong Kong Disneyland (Daily 10.30am-8.30pm, HKD 350, HKD 250 for kids ages 3-11, 852 1830 830). Everyone will love a trip to Ocean Park (HKD 250, HKD 125 kids ages 3-10, Mon-Sat 10am-7.30pm, Sun 9.30am-7.30pm, www.oceanpark.com.hk).
Museums: Take a trip to the Hong Kong Science Museum (Mon-Wed and Fri 1-9pm, Sat and Sun 10am-6pm, HKD 25, half price for students, free for kids under 4, 852 2732 3232, www.hk.science.museum) and the Museum of History (Mon, Wed-Sat 10am-6pm, Sun 10am-7pm. HKD 10, half price for students, free for kids under 4, free on Wed, 852 2724 9042).
What to eat: Get your dim sum fill at the inexpensive Tsui Hang Village Restaurant in TST’s Miramar Plaza (Daily 10.30am-11.30pm, 852 2376 2882) or Jade Garden Chinese Restaurant (Daily 11am-11.30pm, 852 2730 6888) in the Star Ferry terminal.
Where to stay: In the city center, consider the mid-range Holiday Inn Golden Mile (HKD 1,968 in June for two adults and one child, 852 2369 3111) on Kowloon Island.
Getting there: A three-and-a-half-hour flight from Beijing.