China might not be the first place which springs to mind when choosing a family friendly holiday destination but it’s a firm Stubborn Mule favourite. Company founder, Liddy Pleasants, spent several years as a tour guide here before launching the business, so has extensive, first-hand experience of the best (and less well-known) places to visit.
Even primary school age children will have heard of The Great Wall, the ancient Terracotta Warriors, the art of Kung Fu and the utter gorgeousness that is the Giant Panda. These need little introduction and of course would feature in any itinerary for China [see our China itineraries].
But there is so much more to China than this. What about the activities that you haven’t necessarily heard of? Or the places that don’t feature in the guide books or on your average tour? Here we’ve selected 10 of our favourite child-friendly experiences which show you the many different sides to China, both rural and urban, ancient and modern.
From trekking through vast canyons and karst limestone scenery, to learning some ancient skills, find out what you could be doing in China with kids.
China with kids top 10
1 – Cycling in Yangshuo
The dramatic karst limestone scenery of Yangshuo is so picturesque as to appear on the 20-yuan banknote, and China has reason to be proud of this stunning location. Lofty jungle-clad peaks rise up sharply from the paddy fields and rivers meander slowly through the landscape. This is an area best explored by bike – like a local – enabling you to get away from the tour groups. When you’ve finished cycling, you can head to the river for a boat ride, find a small tributary and go ‘tubing’ or perhaps climb Moon Hill for stunning views.
2 – Fan-tastic Fuli
Known as the ‘home of the painted fan’, historic Fuli is one of the best preserved ancient towns in South East China. It is a gorgeous place to walk around, with its stone buildings, riverside location and way of life which has gone unchanged for centuries. Don’t be a bystander, though. Kids love learning how to paint their own fan, learning from the expert artists – and of course, it makes for a fan-tastic (sorry) souvenir.
3 – Look after Pandas
It’s one of the China with kids must–dos, and often the children’s favourite China experience; looking after pandas at the panda research centre outside Chengdu. The pandas are most active in the morning, feeding on bamboo and socialising and you’ll have plenty of time to watch them play before helping with the zoo-keeper jobs…. checking the panda poo to ensure they are feeding properly and helping clean the enclosures. If you’re lucky, you may be able to catch a glimpse of a baby panda, one of the cutest creatures on earth and testament to the centre’s breeding success.
4 – Go trekking in Tiger Leaping Gorge
If you’ve seen the film, ‘Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon’, you’ll already be acquainted with the jaw-dropping scenery that is Tiger Leaping Gorge. It’s a stunning place to walk but, given the dramatically steep terrain, definitely a trek for older children and teens. There is a 6-7 hour hike on day one and a 3-4 hour on day two but the views are some of the best in China. The first day brings you the notorious ’28 bends’ (a series of 28 switchbacks that climb the side of the mountain) but from here it is a more gently undulating walk with superb views of the Yangtse river far below. You’ll spend one night in a simple local Naxi guesthouse before continuing to the picture perfect town of Lijiang.
5 – Be wowed by Chinese acrobats
We can’t convey just how amazing the Flying Acrobatic Show in Beijing is. Stunning choreography, fabulous costumes and feats of jaw-dropping strength and balance, from contortionists to high-wire stunts, all make for what we think is one of the capital’s most amazing events. A must watch experience, quintessentially ‘Chinese’ and something which will thrill family members of every age.
6 – Walk the Great Wall
Arguably the best-known structure in China, there’s a reason The Great Wall is so popular. As you stare along its length, it’s almost impossible to comprehend just how massive this feat of ancient engineering is – but that’s China for you! Parts of the Great Wall close to Beijing are really crowded, so we prefer to travel just a little further and visit one of the less well known sections. Here you can hike along the Wall as it snakes across the hills, stopping in a watch tower to admire the view. Selfie, anyone?
7 – Learning how to cook Chinese in Sichuan province in Chengdu
Chinese food is a revelation for most visitors, bearing almost no resemblance to the food dished up in Chinese restaurants abroad. Enjoy steaming plates of fried dumplings dipped in soya sauce, bowls of hot spicy noodles flavoured with pork and moist roast Peking duck wrapped in wafer thin pancakes with hoi sin sauce.
Sichuan province is home to some of China’s most delicious – and spicy – cuisine, thanks to its almost lemon-tasting, fiery peppercorns. Just outside the regional capital (Chengdu) you can take a cooking lesson and discover how to make authentic dishes for yourselves. Fish-flavoured pork (or the vegetarian alternative) may sound awful but, against stiff competition, has our vote for most delicious Chinese dish. Get the kids on the case so that they can re-create the heat on a cold winter night!
8 – Visit China’s world-famous rice-terraces, ‘The Dragon’s Backbone’
What could be more quintessentially Chinese than a rice terrace? China’s most impressive terraces surround a village called Dazhai where they cascade down the mountain and are known as ‘The Dragon’s Backbone’. Here, over hundreds of years, the local farmers have carved the terraces out of the steep sided mountains. So successful were they that during the Cultural Revolution, Mao Zedong used the people of Dazhai as a shining example of how hard-working farmers can ‘tame nature’. Today the view of the emerald green paddy fields, forming giant steps leading to the mountain tops and dotted with traditional stilt houses, is one of China’s most enchanting.
9 – Learning the ancient art of calligraphy
Xi’an is best known for its vast army of terracotta warriors, created to protect the tomb of Qin Shi Huang, China’s first emperor some 2,000 years ago. It is a phenomenal place to visit but after a morning sightseeing, children may like something a bit more hands-on in the afternoon. In a little shop nestled in the shadow of the ancient city walls is a small calligraphy workshop where Mr Hu will give the children a lesson in the art of calligraphy. The children will enjoy learning a few rudimentary brush-strokes and can then create their own personalised scroll, with their name written in Chinese characters – a great souvenir.
10 – Get the best view of Hong Kong
Victoria Peak is renowned as Hong Kong’s most spectacular destination, affording as it does 360-degree views of the city’s skyscape. Getting there is fun, too, on board the world’s steepest funicular, a tram opened in 1888 servicing the governor and residents of the Peak. Today, it’s still used by Hong Kong’s residents, but tourists too. It operates from 7 am until midnight and it’s actually worth two trips – one in daylight and one when the neon skyline comes to life.
From the top, perhaps do the easy Peak Circular walk. This is just a couple of miles long but takes in some of the best views of the city and harbour. Stop at the end for ice cream at The Peak Tower before taking the tram back down again.
China with kids resources
We LOVE this 30 Cool China Facts compiled by National Geographic Kids.
If you’d like to know more about what there is to see and do in China, take a look at our sample itineraries, 3-week China Highlights and 2-week China Highlights, or explore our China family holiday section, where you’ll find details on when to go to China, places to visit and where to stay.
If you’d prefer to chat about holidays to China with your children, simply call us during office hours on 01728 752751. We’d love to hear from you.
Liddy Pleasants, MD Stubborn Mule Travel
We’d love to hear about your experiences holidaying in China with kids, so do send us your reviews and photos. Thank you – [email protected].