What is it? Located just east of Beijing, Beidaihe is a resort town that’s evolved from a Communist Party enclave to a popular tourist destination. Though nearby Nandaihe offers a slew of amusement parks, the real draw is Beidaihe’s soft, sandy beaches.
Why it's great for kids The Golden Bay Sand Sculpture World (135RMB) in Nandaihe offers a kid-friendly experience. Dodge the distasteful and surreal sand sculptures and head for the shooting games and a water park with swooping slides and kids’ play areas.
Seclusion factor 1/5
If you’re looking to get away from it all, this is not the place to do it. A magnet for beach lovers from surrounding areas (and tons of Russians), Beidaihe is a busy tourist destination throughout spring and summer. It’s Beijing’s Jersey Shore, basically.
Entertainment factor 3.5/5
Ground Zero of Beidaihe beach fun is Tiger Rock Park, which offers a clean shoreline flanked by a happening boardwalk area. Hail a taxi from the train station (20 minutes; 20-30RMB) and spend an afternoon lounging on the beach. In late afternoon, you can head to nearby Lianfeng Mountain Park, where a hike to the top of its 153-metre peak offers a stunning view of the sun setting over the sea. Don't forget to grab some seafood near the beach.
Try this Hire a bike and go for a ride along the coast, starting at Tiger Rock Park and riding west along the tree-lined Xihaitan Lu.
Avoid that Stay away from the attractions in Nandaihe, a still-developing area around 30 minutes southwest of Beidaihe. The attractions are run-down, depressing and, in the case of the safari, cruel – don’t give them your money.
History Beidaihe began its life as a beach resort when British railway engineers stumbled across it in the 1890s. Following the revolution, Beidaihe became famous as a summer retreat for Party bigwigs, but has since transitioned into a tourist destination.
Nature lesson Beidaihe lies at the nexus of several flyways, making it the perfect place to spot exotic birds migrating between March and December. Some of the best spots for birdwatching include Daochaoping, north of Dove Nest Park, Lianfeng Mountain Park, Lighthouse Point and Jinshan Field.
Instagram moment Snap the sunrise or sunset from the top of Lianfeng Mountain Park’s tallest peak.
Have a picnic If you don’t feel like hauling a picnic to the top of Lianfeng, walk west from Tiger Rock to the point where the road curves and storefronts end. There you’ll see a wooden staircase leading up to a forested area buttressed by flat-topped boulders – a great spot to eat. Get some takeaway fresh seafood from one of the nearby beachfront restaurants and eat while looking out to sea.
Travel time Two hours.
Get there Trains leave Beijing Station every hour or so (first train 7.13am; last train back 9.47pm). Be sure to buy your tickets in advance as seats sell out quickly.
Fenghuangling Nature Park
What is it? Located in the nearby Western Hills, Fenghuangling, or Phoenix Hill Nature Park, offers an escape from the city without the long trek. Three routes cover the ridge and offer their own unique hike. The Middle Route is short – a round trip takes about an hour – and offers a mixture of lookout points, cultural structures and rock and cave formations. The North Route is longer and has even more pagodas, towers and caves. If you want more nature than culture, choose the South Route; it winds out towards the reservoir.
Why it's great for kids On the main road up to the ticket office, just past the bus stop, is a pick-your-own fruit orchard. Depending on the time of year (fruit picking is available from May to October) you’ll find apricots, peaches, plums, pears and apples on the trees.
Seclusion factor 4/5
The longer, more difficult routes are peaceful and free of crowds; most tourists mull around on the easier Middle Route.
Entertainment factor 2/5
You’re coming here to hike, or, as you’ll witness at some of the temples, to pray. The presence of the monks keeps things subdued, too. However, on the road up to the paths you will find plenty of vendors selling food and colourful toys that are sure to catch the kids’ eyes.
Try this Spend a fullday and make your way through all three routes– a real challenge.
Avoid that The Middle Route. This path is the most central to the main gate and is very short, which means it’s the most likely to get jammed with tourists. If you do want to take this path, we suggest you get there nice and early to beat the crowds.
History Covering roughly 15 square kilometres in Beijing’s Haidian district, Phoenix Hill is supposedly known as the ‘green lung of the capital’.
Nature lesson Among the myriad flora and fauna, Fenghuangling has two ancient gingko trees at Longquan Temple and a small wood of cypress trees.
Instagram moment The wooden, inscribed ornaments that line the bridge and the trees near Longquan Temple look like a Buddhist version of Paris’ famous Love Lock Bridge.
Have a picnic Cool off in the shade of the cypress forest covered with colourful prayer flags.
Entrance fee 25RMB(Apr-Oct); 15RMB (Nov-Mar).
Travel time 90 minutes.
Get there Take Line 4 to Beigongmen station and then the 346 bus to Fenghuangling
What is it? As one of the city’s three reservoirs, the water in Jinhai Lake is guaranteed to be clean (well, as clean as Beijing water gets). Surrounded by beautiful mountains, this spot offers tranquility as well as an adrenaline rush.
Why it's great for kids Whether you take them on a kayak, a pedalo or even a jet ski, you'll get the kids squealing with delight as they bounce along the water.
Seclusion factor 4/5
The main tourist hub is the reservoir’s massive dam. Those that like to keep their feet firmly on the ground can stroll along the 500-metre path on top of the damn and take in the inspiring views. To forge your own path, and get away from the crowds, rent a pedalo (80RMB an hour) or a two-person kayak (100RMB an hour) and head out to a deserted shore.
Entertainment factor 3/5
Did we mention the jet skis? Sure, it’s 25RMB a minute, but that smile on your face will stay there for hours after.
Try this Once you’ve squandered all your money on jet skis and speed boats (20RMB a minute), you might want a cheaper way to enjoy the lake. Jump on one of the tour boats (30RMB) for a 30-minute saunter on the water.
Avoid that Don’t bother with the small temple – it’s a pay-to-pray and isn’t worth it.
History Jinhai Lake is named after Jin Mountain, which lies to the north of the water. The reservoir used to be known as Haizi, after a village to the south. According to the history books, Princess Jinhua – daughter of Emperor Zhang Zong of the Jin Dynasty (265-420) – died at a young age and was buried near Jinhai Lake.
Nature lesson The lake is home to more than 60 species of bird and water bird, including white storks and grey crowned cranes.
Instagram moment Walk along the dam for a perfect lake view with mountains in the background.
Have a picnic On the dam there is a long, colourful walkway with traditional eaves. There are plenty of benches here ideal for a leisurely lunch, and the breeze coming off the lake is heavenly.
Travel time Two hours.
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Travel time Three-to-four hours.
Get there A private car is recommended