Great Activities for Kids Visiting China

  • 01 of 20

    Introduction: Entertaining Kids in China

    ••• Starting off our hike up the mountain from Le Passage to the top of Moganshan, Zhejiang Province. © 2012 Sara Naumann, licensed to

    While visiting with Micky and Minnie can be fun, you don't have to pack up and go to Disneyland to enjoy family travel. China has activities for kids of all ages and all you have to do is get a little creative, plan accordingly and make sure your expectations are set. I have found, in my many years of traveling with kids in China, that if I plan it right, we can all enjoy the more adult-centric activities and the kid-centric ones. In the following pages are some fun things for you to think about including in your family trip to China.

    Continue to 2 of 20 below.
  • 02 of 20

    Raft Down the Yulong River

    ••• Water fight between bamboo-raft-rivals, Yulong River. © 2012 Sara Naumann, licensed to

    Adults will enjoy a lazy float down the Yulong River in China's southern Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region amid a beautiful backdrop of karst mountains covered in green during the summer. Kids will enjoy arming themselves with water guns and squirting their parents and each other. Arm each boat and make it a battle as you head downriver. Just make sure you have your camera in a plastic bag!​

    Read all about water fighting and rafting down the Yulong River

    Continue to 3 of 20 below.
  • 03 of 20

    Climbing Rockeries in Suzhou Gardens

    ••• Kids climb on a rockery with lotus in the background, Humble Administrator's Garden, Suzhou. © 2012 Sara Naumann, licensed to

    Suzhou is one of China's most famous tourist destinations for domestic and foreign visitors alike. And while visiting Suzhou's UNESCO-listed gardens may not at first seem like a fun kids' activity, consider the possibility of climbing.

    Especially if your kids are of the younger variety, if there's one garden you choose, try the Humble Administrator's Garden. While adults can enjoy the aspects of a pristine classical Chinese garden, kids can explore, climb and play. The rockeries are especially fun for kids. They can climb up and through them - many are cave-like or have steps up to the top. You'll have plenty of time to take the photos you want and you'll probably end up having to drag your kids away!

    Continue to 4 of 20 below.
  • 04 of 20

    Chinese New Year Fun at Shanghai's Lantern Festival

    ••• Centerpiece lantern display at the Old City, Shanghai. © 2012 Sara Naumann, licensed to

    I'm skipping around China's seasons to show you there's plenty to do for kids in any weather. And in the winter, it's hard to motivate to be outside but if you're in Shanghai during Chinese New Year, then you must try to take your kids to see the amazing lantern display that is created every year at Yuyuan Gardens . Arranged around the theme of the zodiac animal, colorful lanterns are hung from nearly every building culminating around a giant figure of the zodiac animal of the year as well as an incredible display around the old tea house outside the garden.

    Aside from viewing the lanterns, the whole area is festive and fun. Kids can enjoy traditional forms of entertainment such as shadow puppets and trying different street snacks. The lanterns are typically up and viewable throughout the Chinese New Year holiday and the festival culminates with the night of the Lantern Festival on the 15th day of the first lunar month.

    More photos:

    Continue to 5 of 20 below.
  • 05 of 20

    Visit Shaolin Temple and See the Birthplace of Kung Fu (and Zen Buddhism)

    ••• Shaolin monks performing at Shaolin Temple, Henan Province. © Sara Naumann, licensed to

    Big and little boys and girls of all ages will enjoy a trip to the birthplace of Kung Fu. Even if you think you're not into Kung Fu fighting, when you visit Shaolin Temple and see what these incredible monks can do, you will be impressed. And even if a young man putting a needle through a sheet of glass isn't your thing, the grounds of the temple are impressive and beautiful and you may be surprised to learn the story of the founding monk, Boddhidharma and the birth of what is best-known today as Zen Buddhism.

    Read more:

    Continue to 6 of 20 below.
  • 06 of 20

    Visit the Clouds - Views from a Skyscraper

    ••• A view of Pudong's skyscrapers from Puxi, Shanghai. © Sara Naumann, licensed to

    At the time of this writing, there's a new building going up in Shanghai's Pudong that is slated to be the tallest building in Shanghai and the second tallest in the world. The Shanghai Tower will be completed in 2014 but until then, you can take your kids up to the top of other towers in China. In Shanghai, The Shanghai World Financial Center has a fabulous sky deck and various viewing options.

    The Jin Mao Tower is another great option. If you're don't like the idea of spending lots of money on a ticket up to the sky deck, you can enjoy the views from one of Shanghai's top luxury hotels: you can drink coffee in the Grand Hyatt lobby or have a cocktail in the Cloud 9 bar and enjoy the same view.

    See more:

    Continue to 7 of 20 below.
  • 07 of 20

    Ride the Silk Road - Camel Trekking on the Sand Dunes

    ••• Folks along for a camel ride, Mingsha Dunes. © 2012 Sara Naumann, licensed to

    Riding a camel among the sand dunes in Gansu Province has been one of the most memorable, fun adventures I've had in China so far. When I came back from my trip to the Silk Road and showed my kids they were livid. Months later, they are still asking when I can take them to the desert so they can ride camels.

    So if my family is any indication, camel trekking is fun for the whole family. I guess the only tip I'd have is that if your family includes really small babies or kids, then you might consider the heat when you visit. That said, I think babies in carriers would be perfectly OK (as long as you don't fall off your camel).

    Read more:

    Continue to 8 of 20 below.
  • 08 of 20

    Harbin Ice & Snow Festival

    ••• The Forbidden City in snow, Harbin Ice & Snow Festival. Photo by Kathryn Pauli. Used by permission.

    The only strike against going to Harbin in the dead of winter is the cold. But as long as you have the right clothes (don't worry, you don't have to pack all that, you can easily purchase warm clothes in any market), then a visit to Harbin's famous Ice & Snow Festival will be a fun winter adventure for the whole family.

    For a month from early January to early February, the northern city of Harbin becomes a snowy, icy paradise. Along the Songjiang River, amazing snow sculptures are created for the pleasure of visitors and in Zhaolin Park enormous ice sculptures presenting everything from the Forbidden City to the Palace of Versailles are lit up at night for visitors to tour. There are ice slides and ice playgrounds. And when you get cold, buildings are heated so well, you'll be peeling off the layers in order to enjoy some Russian-influenced black bread or borscht.

    Later, when you've had enough of the ice and snow, you can visit the Harbin Siberian Tiger...MORE Habitat and see these endangered large cats in action.​

    Read more:

    Continue to 9 of 20 below.
  • 09 of 20

    Give Them Pocket Money and Hit the Markets

    ••• A young shopper looks at different offerings on a hike in the Longji Rice Terraces, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region, China. © 2012 Sara Naumann, licensed to

    Trying to make the trip educational? Don't forget to put math skills in that equation. I learned on a trip to Xiamen when my son was three that the best way to ward off the "can I have?" and "will you buy me?" was to give him a certain amount of money and tell him he could buy whatever he wanted. He carried 20 rmb around with him for the better part of the day worrying about whether he could afford the popsicle and the toy. He really thought about what he wanted to have and calculated whether he had enough for certain items. It was fun for him and a relief for me and we've been using that tactic on every trip since. Now he's even gotten the hang of bargaining , an essential skill for shopping in China.

    Continue to 10 of 20 below.
  • 10 of 20

    Hugging Pandas

    ••• A Giant Panda spends most of his morning munching away on bamboo. © 2008 Sara Naumann, licensed to, Inc.

    No kids activities list would be complete without the Chinese Giant Panda. Beloved by all, the panda has a special place in the heart of Chinese people and visitors alike. And if you really want the perfect Christmas card photo, then get your family to Chengdu and snap photos of your kids cuddling Giant Pandas at the Giant Panda Breeding Research Base in the city's north.​​

    The fee will seem hefty at the time but photos and memories will last a lifetime. And the proceeds go to the facility to help them conserve this endangered species.

    Read more:

    Continue to 11 of 20 below.
  • 11 of 20

    Food Exploration: Beijing Duck to Beggar's Chicken

    ••• Beggar's Chicken - pre-smash. © 2011 Sara Naumann, licensed to

    If your kids aren't adventurous eaters, can they be bribed? Even if you don't want to take specifically a culinary tour, you can easily explore food with your kids in China.

    Beijing Duck is a perfect place to start. If you're going to have it, see if you can talk the restaurant into showing your kids the wood-fire ovens where the ducks are roasted and then ask the staff to show you how to eat it. Most restaurants assume you know what to do with each course, but many first-time visitors to China have no idea. Kids might really enjoy dipping the crispy skin in the sugar. And if that's not fun, maybe making their own "duck taco" using the pancakes and lean meat will be fun. Don't be shy about asking questions or even getting your hotel to help you set up a demonstration in advance.

    My kids' favorite restaurant in Shanghai is called Din Tai Fung. It serves a plethora of Chinese comfort food including, in my opinion, the best xiaolongbao dumplings in the land....MORE The great thing about this restaurant for visitors is their open dumpling-making windows where kids can watch the magic. Staff will give kids small balls of dough to play with at the table as well. Ask a staff to help your kids learn to shape the dough into the perfect dumpling.

    Beggar's Chicken is another fun one. This succulent dish usually comes encased in the clay in which it's baked. If it's a good restaurant, they ought to let you break the clay casing yourself with a mallet. What kid doesn't want to beat his or her food beforehand?

    These are just a few examples of fun food to explore with your kids but take the opportunity to check out street snacks and ask about local specialties. This might really get your kids interested (and fed).

    Continue to 12 of 20 below.
  • 12 of 20

    Hike in a Bamboo Forest

    ••• There are some steep parts to any Moganshan climb. © 2012 Sara Naumann, licensed to

    Sightseeing can mean a lot of walking but it can also mean a lot of time spent in transportation and sitting. A great way to get the whole family moving is to go for a hike. And while there are amazing mountains to trek, you might not have time to go too far off the beaten path or you may have small ones who won't be able to manage a tough hike.

    Moganshan offers the perfect mix of near-to-civilization (about 2 hours outside of Shanghai) and access to the outdoors. We had a beautiful weekend there with several families and all of us did a 3+-hour hike in the misty bamboo forests with few complaints from the wee ones.

    Continue to 13 of 20 below.
  • 13 of 20

    Trek in the Longji Rice Terrace Villages

    ••• Rice terraces along the trek to Ping An Village, Long Sheng. Photo by Denise Gilman. Used with permission.

    Along the same lines as hiking in Moganshan, albeit a little further afield, is trekking in the Longji Rice Terraces. This famous area is a 2+-hour drive north of Guilin and famous for its minority villages and incredible scenery. The mountains here are terraced from top to bottom and create a stunning landscape. The trek itself, while not terribly strenuous, can be arduous in the peak of summer. But we managed it with kids aged 2 to 9 and all it took was about 3 popsicle breaks, 4 lollipops, and loads of gummi-bears.​

    Continue to 14 of 20 below.
  • 14 of 20

    Sing! Intro to Karaoke (KTV)

    ••• A typical KTV (karaoke) set up in China. © 2012 Sara Naumann, licensed to

    If you've got older kids and are at a loss as to how to entertain them, surprise them with a booking at a karaoke club. Unlike karaoke bars in the US, clubs in China will offer private rooms where your family can embarrass themselves in privacy. Very likely the club will have English songs from all generations so you can sing your heart out to Abba while your kids find their favorite Katy Perry song. A bonus challenge to your kids will be to see if they can figure out how to program the machine!

    More: KTV Guide

    Continue to 15 of 20 below.
  • 15 of 20

    Harvest Tea

    ••• A professional tea picker makes her way through the plantation. © 2011 Sara Naumann, licensed to

    As you must know, tea is an essential part of Chinese culture. And while your kids may not appreciate tea, like tea or even be interested in tea, they might actually enjoy getting out into the tea fields and picking it. And if they don't enjoy picking it, they might enjoy tromping around the hillside while you pick tea. In any case, you all get a bit of fresh air and sun.​

    Suggestions for tea picking:

    Continue to 16 of 20 below.
  • 16 of 20

    Go Spelunking

    ••• Back-lit rock formations resemble a city-scape in front of a small underground lake inside the Reed Flute Cave near Guilin. © 2012 Sara Naumann, licensed to

    Down south, Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region is famous for its scenery dominated by the karst peaks that create some of the most famous landscape images of China. What you don't see in those photos are the hundreds of caves that go right along with the landscape (where there's a limestone mountain, there is a cave).​

    My kids really enjoyed exploring the famous Reed Flute Cave, just inside Guilin City but there are many to explore both within the city and outside. The area around Yangshuo has many caves for spelunking, some you wander through, some in which you can even enjoy a mud bath.​

    Continue to 17 of 20 below.
  • 17 of 20

    Exploration of Food 2 - Buy and Cook

    ••• Red chili peppers on sale at Xizhou market. © 2011 Sara Naumann, licensed to

    At some small, local hotels like the Linden Centre in Xizhou, Yunnan Province, kids can join a cooking class. Part of the class involves heading to the local market and buying produce for the day before cooking it. Your kids might really enjoy learning about new fruits and vegetables and experimenting with how to prepare them. In fact, it's a fun activity for the whole family. And if they don't enjoy it, you can always threaten them with it later: "Remember, if you keep complaining about our trip, we'll make you cook our meals from now on...".

    More: Market Fresh Produce in Xizhou

    Continue to 18 of 20 below.
  • 18 of 20

    Cuddle - Family Co-Sleeping on a Kang Bed

    ••• A large kang bed set up for daytime activities, Yide Hotel, Pingyao. © 2008 Sara Naumann, licensed to

    In northern China, traditionally families sleep on kang beds. These platforms are raised above the floor, heaped with mats and blankets and heated from below from a wood or coal oven. My kids love it when we end up in an inn with a kang bed. And I must say, it is a rather cozy way to sleep.

    More: You can sleep on kang beds in most guesthouses in Pingyao like the Yide Hotel.

    Continue to 19 of 20 below.
  • 19 of 20

    Hike the Great Wall of China

    ••• Snow on the Great Wall. China Photos/Getty Images

    This is really a no-brainer. Everybody loves the Great Wall. Little kids can climb and explore and pretend to be soldiers. So can big kids, for that matter. There are areas of the Great Wall that are rebuilt, renovated and hold masses of tourists. And there are other parts, way out west, that see hardly anyone at all. In some places, you can cable-car up and slide down and in others, you can hike on crumbling ramparts for hours without running into another soul.

    Visiting the Great Wall with Small Children
    The Great Wall Guide.

    Continue to 20 of 20 below.
  • 20 of 20

    Touring by Boat - the Huang Pu River Tour

    ••• © 2009 Sara Naumann, licensed to

    I'm not a huge fan of boats - just happen to be a land person I suppose. But I've always enjoyed being on boats with my kids. They love the feel of it, maybe it's the open air or the fact that they're on transportation that is less confined. It's a new and different experience and the water traffic can be delightful for little kids and big kids alike.

    One of the best ways to spend a few hours in Shanghai is to take a Huang Pu River Tour. The boats leave along the Bund all day long and you can book short or longer tours. They tour boats take you up and down the river and you'll see not only the fabulous architecture on either side of the river, you'll also get to enjoy the traffic along the river - a sign of an economy in motion.

    More: Taking the Huang Pu River Tour