Thanks to Vagabond Family for hosting me. I stumbled across Alison’s post on why you should travel with your kids and first of all am in total awe of her gumption—and here I thought a two-week vacation was difficult to plan; I can hardly imagine travelling long-term with kids—but also, I think it makes some excellent points! As I’m sure all the other regular readers know, though, there’s a lot of great advice spread all over this site. So anyway, it’s an honor to be here!
If you’re planning a trip with the family, look no further than China. This huge country—one of the largest in the world—is home to a ton of fun and culturally-rich activities that will bring those sometimes boring history classes to life for your kids, while proving interesting for the whole family. But not only is China not as cheap as some of its neighbors, you’ll also find that flights and visa costs for the whole family will cut a pretty big hole in your funds.
Still, it’s entirely possible to do China with the family while on a budget—and while still giving your kids a trip that you’ll all be talking about for years. Actually, you’ll find a ton of free options for things to do around the country. Let’s take a look at some of your options:
Beijing with Kids
We’ll start with the capital city of China, Beijing, which is a must-have on any itinerary. While you’re there, you’ll definitely want to take a trip to Tiananmen Square. Think it looks impressive in pictures? Actually, it’s the world’s largest city square and can literally fit a million people—so it’s even more impressive in person! Also on a historical note, don’t forget to check out the National Museum of China, where you can learn all about the history of the country. For a look at more modern history, head to the 2008 Olympic Park, which looks spectacular when it’s all lit up at night.
From Tiananmen Square, head south and take a stroll along Qianmen Street, where you’ll find plenty of interesting architecture and will get a good feel for Chinese culture. For a deeper look at modern life in Beijing, head to the markets, the most fascinating of which are the Silk Market and the Panjiayuan Antiques Market. Of course, once you start buying things at the markets, this ceases to be a free way to pass the time, but if you’re looking for souvenirs, markets can be a good place to haggle and find something for all interests.
Shanghai with Kids
If you’re in China for the museums, you’ll definitely want to head to Shanghai, where you’ll find free admittance to the Shanghai Museum and the China Art Museum, both of which house impressive collections. If the kids are bored with another ancient history museum, they’re sure to be interested in the more modern propagandist art to be found in the Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Centre.
On the first and fifteenth of every lunar month, you can also visit the Jing’an Temple for free. It’s a modern reconstruction, but it’s still a remarkable place to visit. Then, take a walk along the Bund and take your own picturesque shots of the skyline—who needs to buy souvenir postcards when you can take better and more personal pictures yourself? And don’t forget to check out some of the free watertowns like Fengjing or Zhujiajiao to really get a feel for this Venice of the East!
Hong Kong with Kids
As with Shanghai, you’ll have plenty of options for museums if you visit Hong Kong—and many of the museums offer free admission on Wednesdays. Head to the Museum of History or the Museum of Art for a general look at Chinese history. If your kids are sick of seeing yet another history or art museum, or if you want to delve deeper into modern history in China, check out the Racing Museum or the Space Museum.
Don’t miss Po Lin Monastery and the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery to see some interesting Buddhist iconography and architecture, and head to the markets for a glimpse of modern life in Hong Kong—markets can also be a great place to sample some of the local food for cheap. There’s also plenty of scenic hiking around Hong Kong if you’re in the mood for a walk. And you can cap off any great day with a free viewing of the spectacular harbor lightshow.
A great way to maximize the number of free activities available to you is to visit China during one of its many festivals. Oftentimes with festivals, you’ll find yourself treated to free concerts, parades, activities, and more—and it’s the best way to get a free and memorable crash-course on certain aspects of Chinese history and culture! Why just read about the colors of the Lunar New Year or the Dragon Boat Festival when you could be experiencing everything firsthand? Talk about photos to make the kids’ friends jealous!
Unfortunately, you’ll often find that there’s more competition to find the cheaper rates for accommodation and transportation during a festival, but if you plan ahead, you could get lucky and snag a great deal. And isn’t a visit during one of these epic festivals pretty priceless anyway?
There are plenty of sights and activities across the length of China that will be interesting for the whole family. Check out some of the museums, let the kids haggle at the marketplaces, and get a feel for this unique, wonderful culture. And of course, if you really need to save your budget, you can always take a night and chill in the hotel streaming some Netflix! (You’ll just need to set up a VPN first to bypass Netflix’s geo-restrictions.) Wherever you end up, there’s a plethora of things to do that will help you immerse yourself in the local culture without breaking the bank. Enjoy!
About the author: Hi, my name is Jess Signet. My parents were travelers since before I was born. Even in the womb, I was able to travel all over the place! Boy, did things NOT change as I grew older! Knowing there’s more to the world than the bubble I live in made me want to travel even further. Traveling is my drug and I’m addicted. (Please, no intervention!)