Trip Report: Beijing in Winter

Our Beijing itinerary is our most popular post here at 80 Diapers and has been read by tens of thousands of people. We’re thrilled that our plan has been so helpful to so many people, but we’re also aware that the plan is strongly geared toward those visiting Beijing during the warmer months. We’ve gotten increasing numbers of requests from families who plan to visit Beijing during the winter, especially during Chinese New Year, so we’ve decided to share an updated “What to do in Beijing in Wintertime” post for those of you headed to the ‘Jing during the next few months. A lot of our suggestions are the same, but there are also some very exciting additions that ONLY the hardy winter tourists will get to experience. (Ice carting! Temple Fairs! Mind-blowing firework displays!)

But before we get to the itinerary–here’s what you need to know about Beijing in the winter. Winter here is cold. Really, really cold. And windy. And COLD. Do not mess around with the cold–bring all your warmest and most windproof winter gear so you can maximize your sight-seeing time. All the major Beijing tourist destinations are outdoor destinations. Even the palaces and the Forbidden City are actually a series of small buildings in a large area. There are no indoor places to hide from the wind and get warm, and even many restaurants will not have the kind of heating you are used to. Bring layers.

Crowds at most tourist locations will be almost non-existent during winter EXCEPT during the New Year. At CNY you will swear that ALL OF CHINA has decided to spend the holiday in Beijing. And not only will the tourist spots be full of . . . well, tourists, they will be full of tourists who have most likely never seen a foreigner in real life before. So be prepared for lots of attention and lots of requests for photos. If your kids enjoy being the center of attention, they will have the time of their lives. If they don’t, a little warning might be in order. And remember, you can always decline any posed photo-op requests with a smile and a shake of the head. (Cameras will still follow you everywhere, but feel free to ignore them.)

 

Beijing in winter with toddlers/little kids

Beijing in winter with teenagers

Lama Temple The largest Tibetan Buddhist Temple outside of Tibet. Lunch at vegetarian restaurant across from the Confucius Temple or a nearby McDonalds.Drum and Bell Towers (if you’re not too cold) or Blue Zoo (very cool underground aquarium). And if you’ve still got time and energy to kill, very close to the Blue Zoo is the Beijing institution, Fundazzle. A converted Olympic pool has become a giant (giant) indoor playground where you pay a very reasonable fee per-hour. It has a truly enormous ball bit, a towering jungle gym, trampolines, it smells like socks, and your kids will have the best time of their young lives. A brilliant choice to keep “in your back pocket” for any time you have extra time or an imminent meltdown during this trip. Lama Temple The largest Tibetan Buddhist Temple outside of Tibet. Lunch at vegetarian restaurant across from the Confucius Temple or a nearby McDonalds.

Now off to Houhai lakes for our favorite Winter In Beijing activity–ice carting and ice biking! When these lakes freeze over, hundreds of people flock to Houhai for the delightful and unique experience of sailing around the lake on an ice cart (a modified sled steered with ski poles) or an ice bike. Wear every bit of warm weather gear you have because you’re going to want to stay for hours.Houhai 007Rent carts and bikes at any of the little sheds at lakeside (usually a deposit is required, refundable when you return them–look for foreigners to help you if the operators don’t speak English or just use charades) and enjoy the most memorable China experience your kids may ever have.

Great Wall at Mutianyu (not Badaling)

Ride the Red Tram (NOT the ski lift) up and down from the base of the stairs. Or, take the toboggan down! Don’t walk it, it’s 1600 steps just to the base of the wall.

Lunch at Subway at the base of the wall.

Back to Beijing in time for dinner and people-watching at Wangfujing street market. Watch crazy people eat disgusting things on a stick, or if you like, join the crazies. I, not being a crazy myself, recommend the candied hawthorne fruit. Totally addictive.

Wangfujing Snack Street 097

Great Wall at Mutianyu (not Badaling)

Ride the Red Tram (NOT the ski lift) up and take the toboggan down! (You’ll have to buy a separate ticket for each.) Don’t walk it, it’s 1600 steps just to the base of the wall.

Lunch at Subway or snack stands (banana pancakes!).

Back to Beijing for the DongYue Temple. This little-known Taoist temple is my one of my favorite spots in Beijing. Full of statues of gods, monsters and ghosts, you will start to wonder if George Lucas came here before making Star Wars. Uncrowded and delightful.

Forbidden City (1-3 hours) Visit the Hall of Clocks for some relief from the cold, and only stay as long as your kids are having a good time. Frankly, unless you are very well-informed about Chinese history, the FC is mostly a “do it so you can say you did it” location.

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Ice Carting at Houhai, 2010

Now to Houhai lakes for our favorite Winter In Beijing activity–ice carting and ice biking! When these lakes freeze over, hundreds of people flock to Houhai for the delightful and unique experience of sailing around the lake on an ice cart (a modified sled steered with ski poles) or an ice bike. Wear every bit of warm weather gear you have because you’re going to want to stay for hours.

Rent carts and bikes at any of the little sheds at lakeside (usually a deposit is required, refundable when you return them–look for foreigners to help you if the operators don’t speak English or just use charades) and enjoy the most memorable China experience your kids may ever have.

Tiananmen Square and Mao’s Tomb (if you’re interested.) Forbidden City (2-3 hours) Visit the Hall of Clocks and the Emperor’s private apartments in the back corner. (And the well where Empress Cixi dropped her son’s favorite concubine to her death!)Lunch at nearby restaurant.Now climb Coal Hill behind the Forbidden City for incredible views of the Palace and the whole ancient city. Photo ops galore.
Dinner at Wangfujing street market. This tourist destination will supply you with disgusting pictures for your teen to share with their friends–scorpion on a stick, anyone?Uncle J has a scorpion for dinner.

Temple of Heaven

Go early and enter through the back gate. Hopefully you will still get to see a few people out to play. Then head through the ticket gate to visit the temple, the echo wall, and of course, the Center of the Universe.  Don’t forget to get a picture.

Lunch at Hutong Pizza

DongYue Temple

This little-known Taoist temple is my one of my favorite spots in Beijing. Full of statues of gods, monsters and ghosts, you will start to wonder if George Lucas came here before making Star Wars. Uncrowded and delightful.

Temple of Heaven

 Go early and enter through the back gate. Hopefully you will still get to see a few people out to play. Then head through the ticket gate to visit the temple, the echo wall, and of course, the Center of the Universe.  Don’t forget to get a picture.

At the Center of the Universe

Center of the Universe

Shopping at the Pearl Market (looks like a big mall behind the Temple of Heaven) for clothes, electronics, souvenirs, knockoff antiques and everything your heart could desire. Haggle hard.

Beijing Aquarium and Panda House  (the rest of the Zoo may not be open, but the indoor section of the Panda house should be, and only costs 5 kuai.) Beijing Aquarium and Panda House. (The Zoo Market that we previously recommended has been closed.)

And here are our modified suggestions for Beijing during Chinese New Year! Make SURE you visit at least one Temple Fair, and make sure to head out of the city walls for at least one evening (go North to Shunyi–the expat headquarters, or stop there on your way back from the wall!) the most amazing fireworks displays you’ll ever see.

 

Beijing at CNY with toddlers/little kids

Beijing at CNY with teenagers

Temple Fair at DongYue Temple

This little-known Taoist temple is my one of my favorite spots in Beijing. Full of statues of gods, monsters and ghosts, you will start to wonder if George Lucas came here before making Star Wars. Usually almost deserted, at CNY it transforms into Beijing’s most kid-friendly Temple Fair. Amusement park rides, game booths, mice that run mazes, candy animal blowers, face-changer dancers, musicians, snack vendors . . . it can all be found inside the walls of this small temple compound.

 

Dancers at a Temple Fair

Dancers at a Beijing Temple Fair

Lama Temple The largest Tibetan Buddhist Temple outside of Tibet. Completely beautiful and a startling contrast from the Dong Yue Temple.

 

 

Lama Temple The largest Tibetan Buddhist Temple outside of Tibet.Lunch at vegetarian restaurant across from the Confucius Temple or a nearby McDonalds.
Now off to Houhai lakes for our favorite Winter In Beijing activity–ice carting and ice biking! When these lakes freeze over, hundreds of people flock to Houhai for the delightful and unique experience of sailing around the lake on an ice cart (a modified sled steered with ski poles) or an ice bike. Wear every bit of warm weather gear you have because you’re going to want to stay for hours.

Ice Biking at Houhai, 2011

Ice Biking at Houhai, 2011

Rent carts and bikes at any of the little sheds at lakeside (usually a deposit is required, refundable when you return them–look for foreigners to help you if the operators don’t speak English or just use charades) and enjoy the most memorable China experience your kids may ever have.

Great Wall at Mutianyu (not Badaling)

Ride the Red Tram (NOT the ski lift) up and down from the base of the stairs. Or, take the toboggan down! Don’t walk it, it’s 1600 steps just to the base of the wall.

Lunch at Subway at the base of the wall.

Everything you never wanted to eat . . . on a stick.

Everything you never wanted to eat . . . on a stick.

Back to Beijing in time for dinner and people-watching at Wangfujing street market. Watch crazy people eat disgusting things on a stick, or if you like, join the crazies. I, not being a crazy myself, recommend the candied hawthorne fruit. Totally addictive.

Great Wall at Mutianyu (not Badaling)

Ride the Red Tram (NOT the ski lift) up and take the toboggan down! (You’ll have to buy a separate ticket for each.) Don’t walk it, it’s 1600 steps just to the base of the wall.

Lemmy rides a donkey ON the Great Wall

Lemmy rides a donkey ON the Great Wall

Lunch at Subway or snack stands (banana pancakes!).

Dinner at Wangfujing street market.  This tourist destination will supply you with disgusting pictures for your teen to share with their friends–scorpion on a stick, anyone?

Forbidden City (1-3 hours) Visit the Hall of Clocks for some relief from the cold, and only stay as long as your kids are having a good time. Frankly, unless you are very well-informed about Chinese history, the FC is mostly a “do it so you can say you did it” location.Lunch at nearby restaurant.

Ice Biking at Houhai 2010

Ice Biking at Houhai 2010

Now to Houhai lakes for our favorite Winter In Beijing activity–ice carting and ice biking! When these lakes freeze over, hundreds of people flock to Houhai for the delightful and unique experience of sailing around the lake on an ice cart (a modified sled steered with ski poles) or an ice bike. Wear every bit of warm weather gear you have because you’re going to want to stay for hours.

Rent carts and bikes at any of the little sheds at lakeside (usually a deposit is required, refundable when you return them–look for foreigners to help you if the operators don’t speak English or just use charades) and enjoy the most memorable China experience your kids may ever have.

Tiananmen Square and Mao’s Tomb (if you’re interested.)Forbidden City (2-3 hours) Visit the Hall of Clocks and the Emperor’s private apartments in the back corner. (And the well where Empress Cixi dropped her son’s favorite concubine to her death!)Lunch at nearby restaurant.

Lemmy climbs the Emperor's "secret stairs" in the Palace gardens

Lemmy climbs the Emperor’s “secret stairs” in the Palace gardens

Now climb Coal Hill behind the Forbidden City for incredible views of the Palace and the whole ancient city. Photo ops galore.

 

Temple of Heaven

Go early and enter through the back gate. Hopefully you will still get to see a few people out to play. Then head through the ticket gate to visit the temple, the echo wall, and of course, the Center of the Universe.  Don’t forget to get a picture.

Lunch at Hutong Pizza

Try another temple fair, or do some shopping at the amazing little stores scattered around the Houhai lakes. We especially recommend San Shi Zhai kite shop and Cocoa Ballet for amazing (and unusual) chocolate adventures. Try the watermelon ones!
.

Artist creating blown candy animals at the Dong Yue Temple Fair

Artist creating blown candy animals at the Dong Yue Temple Fair

Temple of Heaven

 Go early and enter through the back gate. Hopefully you will still get to see a few people out to play. Then head through the ticket gate to visit the temple, the echo wall, and of course, the Center of the Universe.  Don’t forget to get a picture.

 

Shopping at the Pearl Market (looks like a big mall behind the Temple of Heaven) for clothes, electronics, souvenirs, knockoff antiques and everything your heart could desire. Haggle hard.

 

Temple Fair at DongYue Temple

This little-known Taoist temple is my one of my favorite spots in Beijing. Full of statues of gods, monsters and ghosts, you will start to wonder if George Lucas came here before making Star Wars. Usually almost deserted, at CNY it transforms into Beijing’s most kid-friendly Temple Fair. Amusement park rides, game booths, mice that run mazes, candy animal blowers, face-changer dancers, musicians, snack vendors . . . it can all be found inside the walls of this small temple compound.

Beijing Aquarium and Panda House  (the rest of the Zoo may not be open, but the indoor section of the Panda house should be, and only costs 5 kuai.)

Pandas at the Beijing Zoo (only 75 cents admission!)

Pandas at the Beijing Zoo (only 75 cents admission!)

Beijing Aquarium and Panda House. (The Zoo Market that we previously recommended has been closed.)
Want more from China? Check out our trip reports for Xi’an and Datong too, or our Chinese Highchair Travelers posts!

 

 

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2 thoughts on “Trip Report: Beijing in Winter

  1. Joy baker

    Just returned from a week in Beijing with a 9 and 11 year old. I appreciate you putting this together, as it was helpful. A little feedback: the veg restaurant across from Confucius temple is now closed. They lost there lease in June 2015. When the weather is snowy or icy, the tobaggen at mutainyu is closed. We couldn’t figure out what the back entrance was to the temple of heaven. We took the east entrance nearest the subway in. Perhaps we missed the point of the echo wall, it was just a gate? Maybe some explanation would be good, as we were expecting some echoing and didn’t see any signs. Roving the hutongs (shops and snack stands) north and east of the forbidden city was one of our favorite days. I would recommend very much. I would also caution those to bring filter masks for yourself and children. The smog was awful the last few days and my daughter was coughing all evening.

    1. 80 Diapers Post author

      Thank you for the updates! That’s too bad, I loved that restaurant. The echo wall is hard to do with lots of tourists around–basically, if you stand on one side and whisper, someone on the other end should be able to hear you. But with all the ambient noise of so many people, it’s hit and miss.

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