Expat families reveal: Ten top activities in Beijing

Expat families reveal their must-do activity in Beijing

Beijing's expat families reveal their must-do activity this summer so you can get out and start exploring. What are you waiting for?

1. Go to Chaoyang Park in the morning


Anna Denisova, mum, House of Knowledge Kindergarten

It’s hot and humid in the summer in Beijing, so my family likes to get up very early on weekends and go to Chaoyang Park before the crowds arrive. We find a quiet spot where I can practise yoga while my husband and our five-year-old daughter Dasha read. Afterwards, we like to visit our favourite restaurant, Hatsune, and fill up on unique sushi rolls (right) and sweet baked codfish.

Secret tip Enter from the north gate at about 7.30am for some unbelievable views. It’s so tranquil that you feel transported far away from the bustle of Beijing. You’ll see great wildlife around the lake, such as kingfishers, water turtles, herons and wild ducks.

Time Out Family says Chaoyang Park is almost unique in allowing people to kick a ball about or picnic on the grass in the summer. There’s plenty of tree cover as well as some wonderful public sports facilities, including dozens of basketball and football pitches. The amusement park and boating lake are great for outdoor fun, too.

2. Spend a weekend at the Great Wall


Jack Hsu, dad, Daystar Academy and Ivy Schools

We like to take our five-year-old son Evan for an energetic weekend at the Mutianyu Great Wall, where we rent a house at [boutique hotel] The Brickyard. On the first day, we recommend doing an hour’s hike on unmarked paths up to the Great Wall, spending another hour trekking along it and finally taking the toboggan down. After a good night’s rest, on day two visit nearby Hongluo Temple and take the thousand steps up the mountain where a surprise awaits that will be sure to delight the children.

Secret tip Double the fun by getting other families in on the action and making a real staycation of it!

Time Out Family says The Brickyard is a former glazed tile factory where every room has a one-and-a-half story window wall and private terrace to view the Great Wall by day and the stars by night. You’ll be greeted with a smile from staff, who often come from the local villages; the gardens you pass may provide your next meal. To relax, sit back in the sauna and jacuzzi or enjoy a massage treatment in the Spa. No televisions or phones to disturb the peace, but you’ll have wireless internet.

3. Go sailing

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Isaac Chan, year 6, Dulwich College Beijing

Over the summer I’ve had a great experience with the Aofan Sailing Club, whose holiday site are staffed with highly experienced professionals and have newly upgrated boats and boards.

Secret tip If your birthday is coming up, book a special session with Aofan, like I did last summer, and you’re guaranteed a great water experience with your family and friends.

Time Out Family says Pitching itself somewhere between a yacht club and a nautical-themed crèche, Aofan Sailing Club in Shunyi is aimed squarely at families. You can rock up on any day and commandeer anything from dinghies to the mighty five-person WETA sail catamaran.

Xaqira Turner-O’malley, Grade 4, Beijing BISS International School

Over the summer, I really love taking sailing lessons with my sister. I’ve now learned how to sail a boat all by myself without anyone helping me. And when I accidentally sailed out of range, a rescue boat pulled me back – that was actually really fun, too!

Secret tip If the weather is really hot, it’s fun pretending to fall off the boat, so you can go swimming in the water!

4. Go hiking

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Megan Hardeman, PE teacher, International School of Beijing (ISB)

We love getting out with the guys from [hiking group] Beijing Hikers, who are safe, patient and have great relationships with the local people living in the areas where we hike. This ensures a healthy, unique cultural experience for the family. We’ve camped on the Great Wall and done many wonderful hikes to some pretty neat spots.

Secret tip Don’t be put off if your kids are still young. Many of Beijing Hikers’ trips are family-friendly, and their guides are really great with small children.

Time Out Family says If you’re craving the freedom of getting out into a natural environment that’s all your own, see our feature on DIY camping trips. Guest experts suggest fantastic hikes you can do around Beijing in the summer, complete with tips on what not to miss and how to get there.

Karen Lee, Grade 10, Beijing World Youth Academy (BWYA)

My favourite way to spend summer in Beijing is to go high up into the mountains. My father is a member of a hiking group called Beijing Mountain Buddies, and every Saturday he drags my mother and me! But actually, it’s nice to breathe in the fresh air and feel the tickling breeze, enjoy the magnificent scenery and fragrant scents. It gives me time to relax – get away from school life, homework and the busyness of the city.

Secret tip Pack a lunch, and when you reach the mountain peak, fill your stomachs! I love the feeling of tucking into a cup of noodles and a coffee after working up a sweat.

5. See a football match

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Harrison Zhang, teaching assistant, Canadian International School of Beijing (CISB)

I was born in Beijing and love football very much, so in the summer I highly recommend catching a football match at the Beijing Workers’ Stadium. As Beijing is a multicultural city with people from all over the world, it can be difficult to experience real local culture – and a football game is one of the best ways to feel it.

Secret tip If you can, go see Guoan, Beijing’s team. Not surprisingly, most of the fans come from Beijing, and we fight together with our team! We cry over losses together and go crazy when we win. It’s the best way to experience the real Beijing spirit, in the sizzling hot atmosphere!

Time Out Family says Even if football’s not your thing, the Workers’ Stadium hosts other sporting events and music concerts. Check back on our website for the latest line-ups.

6. Wander around Beihai Park


Vivian Zhang, marketing manager, Beijing Collegiate Academy (BCA)

As a native Beijing girl, I have to say the most beautiful place in this city is Beihai Park. It’s a classic landmark and still has a very strong sense of Beijing culture. In the summer, you can go boating or take a walk in the hutongs around the park and eat Beijing snacks just like the locals do.

Secret tip Listen to the popular song Let Us Sway Twin Oars, which is commemorated by a sculpture in Beihai Park.

Time Out Family says A favourite of many Beijingers, Beihai Park has a wonderful atmosphere all year round and is one of the biggest and most picturesque in the city. Over a thousand years old, Beihai served as an imperial pleasure ground for five dynasties. Its 69 hectares are filled with halls, pavilions, gateways and gardens – many of them built during the culturally proficient Emperor Qianlong’s dynasty. The main attraction in the park is the Tibetan White Dagoba Temple on the lake’s central Qiong islet.

7. Go Instagram crazy at the 3D illusion museums


Grace Wang, Grade 9, Beijing City International School (BCIS)

During the summer holidays, I love going to the wonderful 3D illusion museums around the city with my friends or family. This year there’s a great one in the Guorui shopping centre in Chongwenmen. I love it because they always seem to find a way to surprise me!

Secret tip Take at least two people with you so you can get some amazing photos.

Time Out Family says Beijing is packed with family-friendly museums. Read our round-up of the best museums, plus reviews by kids of Madame Tussauds, Sony Explora Science Museum and more.

8. Explore Nanluoguxiang


Chloe Tan, Year 12, Yew Chung International School of Beijing (YCIS)

Nanluoguxiang is a quaint street tucked into the more hidden corners of the city. It’s a great place for the entire family with its street food, hip cafés and restaurants, novelty shops and quirky fashion labels. Whether you’re a trigger- happy photographer looking to snap iconic hutongs, or an adventurer looking to explore small alleys, Nanluoguxiang has got you covered. I fell in love with the fresh modern vibe and traditional architecture.

Secret tip Keep going back because every visit presents something new: a tiny shop that’s sprung up or a new wave of street vendors. Nanluoguxiang changes with the seasons, and in the summertime there’s an influx of vibrant colours, and window sills are packed tight with a rainbow of flowers.

Time Out Family says Nanluoguxiang, or NLGX, is a proud, old hutong dating back to the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). For food, head to cosy Suzuki Kitchen (77 Xiao Ju’er Hutong), which serves Japanese comfort food dishes like oyakodon (chicken and egg rice bowl) and sizzling hamburger steak, or check out cubbyhole Austen (65 Xiao Ju’er Hutong), which offers up panini with mix- and-match meats and cheeses in a quaint, English-style setting. For a shopping spree, head to NLGX Design (33 Nanluoguxiang), a store where trendy clothing and fashion accessories pay homage to Beijing’s urban and cultural development.

9. Be a tourist


Ana Giraldo, mum and HR representative, Etonkids

Having a five-year-old daughter, Zaley, and living in a completely different country can be challenging and fun, especially during the summer when I’m trying to find interesting things to do and find it hard to get around. During our first summer here we were complete tourists and went everywhere, like the Great Wall, the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace. It was a unique mother-and-daughter experience that we’ll remember forever.

Secret tip Try everything! My daughter loved the eccentric street food in Wangfujing, and we also enjoyed bargaining in the Xiushui Silk Street Market and boat rafting on the lake in Houhai.

Time Out Family says Explore a new area in Beijing – our favourites include Xiaoyun Lu, an unassuming street located between Sanyuanqiao and Liangmaqiao that’s best known for good eats like barbecues and burritos, and Ritan Park in the Russian district: peaceful, perfectly sized, and complete with a climbing wall.

10. Have an exotic picnic


Pilar Mateo-Sagasta, Spanish teacher, the British School of Beijing (BSB), Shunyi

One of my favourite things to do with my kids – Lucía (11), Rocío (10) and Pilar (8) – is go for a picnic with friends. We drive to the many different beautiful locations around Beijing and make a day trip of it. It’s also a great way to introduce the city to friends and family visiting from Spain.

Secret tip Use this occasion to make some dishes from your home country. For us, the perfect combination for a fantastic day is family and friends, an exotic location and homemade Spanish tapas!

Time Out Family says See our guide on preparing a hassle-free picnic with a fresh, international flavour. For meat, there’s Schindler’s German Food Center or Mercante, while for cheese, there’s Le Fromagier de Pekin or Chez Gerard. To top up on picnic supplies such as plates, blankets and wicker baskets, venture out to Dongjiao Market.

Also, see Best day trips for families around Beijing

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