What: Explore the Great Wall
Ages: 3 and up
Cost: RMB 1,000 for family of four (includes parking, tickets, lunch). Overnight stay at The Schoolhouse at Mutianyu: RMB 1,800-5,000 per night.
Good to know: Not pram-friendly. Parking is no problem. Sturdy shoes are a must. For families staying overnight at The Schoolhouse who want to cook their own meals, it’s best to bring all of your food with you from Beijing.
Address: The Schoolhouse at Mutianyu. Daily 9am-9pm. Mutianyu Village, Huairou District 怀柔区慕田峪 (具体路线请查看网站信息)
Contact: 6162 6506, www.theschoolhouseatmutianyu.com
Getting There: Take the Chengde Expressway (京承高速公路) towards Chengde (承德). Take Exit 13, Beitai Lu (北台路), heading towards Kuangou (宽沟) and Qiaozi (桥梓). Follow the signs until you reach a T-intersection with a sign saying Mutianyu (慕田峪). Take a left. Follow the winding mountain road for about 8km. Bear right at the Mutianyu traffic island. Look out for the sign that says The Schoolhouse.
While Mutianyu is one of the more developed sections of the 50,000km-long Great Wall, it is not overrun with tourists. Getting there involves an easy 1.5-hour drive; just follow the signs. The village has many amenities, making it a fun day trip. We recommend that families take the cable car up to the Wall – it’s the fastest way to get to the great view. When you tire of walking along the top, ride a toboggan back down to the base. Mutianyu is very hot during the summer – don’t forget to bring hats, sunscreen and plenty of water. For a full weekend of fun, treat the family to an overnight stay at The Schoolhouse at Mutianyu. The Schoolhouse contains 11 rental homes, ranging in size from two to four bedrooms, and sleeping up to ten people. Originally locally owned houses, they’ve been renovated using salvaged materials wherever possible. The Schoolhouse has a great Italian restaurant where staff speak both English and Chinese. Attractions at The Schoolhouse include a glass-blowing studio that provides demonstrations throughout the day, a courtyard garden for kids to run around in, and friendly staff are happy to provide maps and offer advice on the best kid-friendly trails. Some rental homes come equipped with a kitchen so families can prepare their own meals. If staying overnight, bug repellent and board games are a must.
Agrilandia Organic Farm
What: Spend a day on the farm
Ages: 3 and up
Cost: RMB 800 for a family of four (includes lunch)
Good to know: Lunch starts at 11.30am. The farm is dog friendly.
Address: Daily 9am-late. Agrilandia Organic Farm, Baigezhuang, Mapozhen, Shunyi District 意大利农场, 顺义区马坡镇白各庄
Contact: 6940 7801/7780, firstname.lastname@example.org, www.agrilandia.cn (English and Chinese)
Getting there: Take Jingmi Lu (京密路). The restaurant is located on the west side of Jingmi Lu near Liuyuan Qiao (六元桥).
A little under an hour’s drive north of the city, Agrilandia is a pick-your-own-fruit-and-veggies destination with an Italian twist. Tomatoes, eggplants and corn stretch alongside numerous European varieties of apples and pears selected to suit Beijing’s climate. A surprisingly fancy on-site restaurant serves up a variety of Italian dishes, including delicious pizza. Ample, often-shaded resting places are scattered throughout the farm, along with a playground, small animal farm and picnic area replete with barbecue pits.
What: Get some fresh air
Ages: 4 and up
Cost: RMB 1,000 for a family of four (includes parking, tickets, lunch). RMB 40 (entry), RMB 60 (boat ride), half price (students), free (kids under 1.2m)
Good to know: Not pram-friendly. Longqing is usually a few degrees cooler than Beijing, so pack an extra layer.
Address: Daily 8am-9pm, Longqing Xia, Yanqing County 延庆县龙庆峡
Contact: 6919 1020, www.chinavista.com/travel/longqingxia/main.html (English)
Getting there: Take the Badaling Expressway（八达岭高速公路）to the Yangqing Exit (延庆出口) and follow the signs.
Longqing Gorge, a 1.5-hour drive north of Beijing, is an all-day outing for the family involving escalators, boats, cable cars and toboggans. Best of all, it’s a chance for everybody to enjoy the fresh mountain air. Families with young children should ditch the pram and opt for a baby sling or carrier. For those with teenagers, there are great hiking opportunities and the 30-second zip line is not to be missed. It’s worth noting that Baihua (Hundred Flowers) Cave is a bit of a letdown and is in fact filled with dusty plastic “flora.” If you have relatives in town, kill two birds with one stone and combine Longqing Gorge with a trip to the Badaling section of the Great Wall. We recommend visiting Badaling first while energy levels are high. After you’ve worn yourselves out with all the walking and sightseeing, head out of the Longqing Gorge parking lot to find some small restaurants that serve homestyle country dishes. No English menus, but the food is delicious.
What: Rough it in a 500-year-old Ming dynasty village
Ages: 6 and up
Cost: RMB 800 for a family of four (including accommodation and food)
Good to know: Expect public toilets and rustic accommodations. Basic spoken Chinese is necessary.
Address: Cuandixia Village, Zhaitang Town, Mentougou District 爨底下村, 门头沟区斋堂镇
Contact: 6981 9333 (Chinese-only)
Getting there: Head to Jinding Xijie (金顶西街) – keeping in mind the name of the road changes to National Road 109 (109国道) part of the way along – until you reach a fork intersection. Take a left, following the sign toward Hebei (河北). Follow this road for 90 minutes, past the Danli Tunnel (担礼隧道) and Yanchi Zhen (燕翅镇). When you reach the town of Zhaitang Zhen (斋堂镇), follow the signs for Cuandixia (爨底下).
This Ming dynasty village offers a snapshot of history. It contains some 70 courtyard homes, many of which have been converted into simple guesthouses. The local villagers are happy to open homes (and kitchens) to city-slickers looking to escape Beijing’s smog. Nightly accommodation can be found in any home that has enough room; the price averages RMB 60 per room, depending on your preference of kang bed, television reception and view. The food is wholesome and cheap, but some Beijing basics may be pricier due to limited availability. Once here, families will need to make their own fun. There are several hiking trails of various degrees of difficulty. The trail that circumnavigates the village is well maintained, not too physically exhausting and easily completed in a few hours. It offers idyllic views of the village, neighboring fields and temples. More arduous trails lead up through lush hills towards steep peaks.
Guyaju Cliff Dwellings
What: Explore a mysterious cave village
Ages: 4 and up
Cost: RMB 40, RMB 20 (students), free (kids under 1.2m).
Good to know: There aren’t any restaurants or vendors nearby, so pack a picnic and bring lots of water. There’s ample parking.
Address: Daily 8am-5.30pm. Dongmenying Village, Zhangshanying Town, Yanqing County 延庆县张山营镇东门营村
Contact: 6911 0333
Getting there: From Madian Qiao on North Third Ring Road, take Badaling Expressway (八达岭高速公路）to Yanqing (延庆), follow Jingzhang Lu (金盏路) to Dongmenying Village (东门营村), then follow signs for about 2km.
Gouged into the sides of stone hills lies China’s largest collection of ancient cave dwellings. Although the administrators of the site do a decent job describing the Guyaju site and its 147 caves, there is little information available about the inhabitants of this cliff village. What is known is that these dwellings are over 1,000 years old and were most likely built during the Tang dynasty (AD 618-907). Though visitor access is restricted to the lower caves, there is one typical three-room dwelling that is accessible. Along the pathways there are a few benches to sit on, and plenty of stairs too, if you need a rest or want to have a picnic. At the peak of the hike, there is a great view of the lake in the distance and the surrounding valley. Depending on your pace, it only takes an hour or two to visit the cliff dwellings, so you can easily combine this excursion with nearby Longqing Gorge.
What: Visit a historic pagoda forest
Ages: 4 and up
Cost: RMB 15 (Nov-Mar); RMB 25 (Apr-Oct), half-price (kids over 1.3m), free (kids under 1.3)
Transportation: Bus, car
Good to know: Parking is RMB 5 for cars and RMB 10 for larger vehicles
Address: Daily 8am-4pm. Xingshou Town, Changping District 银山塔林,昌平区,兴寿镇西湖村
Contact: 8972 6426, 8972 6425
Getting there: Take Anli Lu (安立路) from Anhui Qiao (安惠桥) on North Fourth Ring Road to Lishuiqiao (立水桥) and eventually merge onto Litang Lu (立汤路) heading north. Pass through the Daliushu Roundabout (大柳树环岛) in Xingshouzhen (兴寿镇), following the sign to Silver Mountain Pogoda Forest (银山塔林).
Only 60km from Beijing lies a tranquil forest escape. What is left of the seventy temples that once dominated the valley are a handful of very well-maintained pagodas. The local government has allocated RMB 1 million annually to restore the area, and it shows. The park is clean, even down to the public restrooms. The five Jin dynasty towers on the foundation of the Fahua Temple (also known as the Da Yan Sheng Temple) are the focus of the park and were once a place of Buddhist learning. Within, these towers contain the ashes of devoted monastic teachers of that time. For a good one-hour hike, take your kids to the peak of Silver Mountain itself, which offers a good view of the pagoda forest. While occasionally steep, the path is clearly marked and stairs replace difficult parts. At this isolated destination off the regular tourist radar, visitors to Silver Mountain can be assured a peaceful day in the country. If you’d like to make it an overnight stay, inquire in the nearby Humen Township, which lies at the foot of the mountain. Residents still maintain humble lives, unaffected by developing industries. These locals happily accommodate visitors.
What: Wake up next to Simatai Great Wall
Ages: 7 and up
Cost: Two standard double rooms (RMB 150), one family room with a traditional heated bed (kang) (RMB 230).
Transportation: Bus, car. Free pick up from public transportation stops in the area.
Good to know: Guests need to make an appointment at least ten days in advance.
Address: 250 meters north of Simatai Great Wall 东坡农家乐园, 司马台长城北侧100米
Contact: 136 1314 3252 (basic English spoken), http://dongpo.byways.asia (unofficial), www.simataiguesthouse.com (unofficial)
Getting there: Take the Jingcheng Expressway until it ends at the Shayugou (沙峪沟) exit in Miyun, then merge onto National Road 101. Stay on this road through Miyun, past Bailongtan Qiao (白龙潭桥), and then Sangyuan Intersection (桑园路口), following signs to Gubeikou (古北口) all the way to Zhujia Intersection (朱家路口). At Zhujia Intersection, turn off toward Simatai Great Wall, following the signs for another 10km.
Escape the air, light and noise pollution of the city and get a taste of Beijing’s countryside. The area around the wall is dotted with guesthouses, but try Dongpo Restaurant (sometimes known as Simatai Guesthouse). Run by a Chinese couple, it’s situated at the foot of the Great Wall. Although accommodation is simple, it is clean and maintains a certain charm. Also, its location is as close as you can get without sleeping on the Wall itself. The only downside here is the toilet. Let’s just say it’s in keeping with the rustic style of the guesthouse. In the morning, guests can enjoy a simple breakfast of bread, eggs and milk while taking in a view of the Wall at sunrise. All of the food served is homemade and organic (according to the owners). Currently, parts of the Wall at Simatai are under reconstruction, so ask Dongpo Restaurant to help organize your trip. Hikers can climb the wall around Simatai or follow it to Jinshanling Great Wall, which can take around five hours depending on pace. Families should note that there are some steep sections on this part of the Wall that are not suitable for young children.
Yizhou Fossil and Geology Park
What: Dig up a dinosaur bone and sleep under the stars
Ages: 5 and up
Cost: RMB 40, RMB 20 (kids), free (kids under 1.2m); RMB 1,888 per person for two days and one night (includes entrance fee, food, overnight accommodation, access to the museum’s cinema and a private guided tour of the museum)
Transportation: Car, train or plane
Good to know: The park provides overnight guests with sleeping bags.Address: Daily 9am-5pm. Hejiaxin Village, Toutai Town, Yi Country,Liaoning Province 中德地质公园, 宁省锦州市义县头台满族乡河夹心村
Contact: 041 6757 5088, www.liaoningdinosaurpark.com
Getting there: Take the Jinsheng Expressway (京沈高速公路) and after 470km, turn right onto Jinfu Expressway (锦阜高速). Or take a train to Jinzhou and a 45-minute taxi ride (RMB 180) to the museum. If flying, take a plane to Shenyang International Airport (a 2-and-half-hour drive to Yi Country) or the National Airport in Jinzhou.
Got a mini archeologist in the family? Head to Yizhou Fossil and Geology Park, where you’ll find an actual dinosaur quarry dig site. Here, little ones can explore rocks and fossils of plants, animals and dinosaurs. Inquisitive children can speak with French and American experts in the field. There are also hands-on workshops where kids can make plaster casts of dinosaur bones (some of which they can even take home) and another where they can dig up bones. Lucky diggers may uncover bones that date back 120 million years. If one day of dinosaurs isn’t enough, consider staying overnight. The Geology Park offers guests Mongolian yurts, perfect for a night of stargazing. Another overnight option is the nearby Yizhou Hotel (怡州宾馆). While there are no restaurants on site, there are plenty in nearby Yi County – a half-hour drive from the park. Alternatively, the staff will gladly place a delivery order for you. Expect local Chinese cuisine.