Amazing China destinations for long-weekend family getaways

Enjoy a long weekend with a trip to these destinations

Extend your weekend and enjoy a fun-filled break with a trip to one of these family-friendly destinations in China.
Lijiang

Lijiang

Lijiang, in Yunnan province, is home to the Naxi ethnic group. Its biggest tourist draws are the picturesque Old Town of Lijiang, a UNESCO World Heritage site, and the imposing Jade Dragon Snow Mountain. The surrounding area also offers both natural beauty and cultural heritage – not to mention incredible food.

Flights to Lijiang from Beijing during Golden Week start from around 3,000RMB one-way on Ctrip.com.

Ascend a snow-capped mountain Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, also known as Yulong Snow Mountain, is a small mountain range close to Lijiang. Cable cars are available to get you to the various scenic areas, including the peak, which is covered in snow 365 days a year. It’s easy to snigger at tourists lining up at base camp to buy canisters of oxygen – due to the considerably thinner air at the summit (like we did). But it’s better to buy the air than get to the top and realise you feel faint and wish you’d bought oxygen while you had the chance (like we did...).

Needless to say, bring warm clothing no matter what the weather at sea level. Visitors can get taxis or charter mini-buses from Lijiang’s downtown area for the 40-minute journey to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, around 200RMB each way.

Enjoy the world’s most dramatic theatre At the foot of Jade Dragon Snow Mountain is an outdoor
amphitheatre that uses the moody mountain vista as arguably the world’s most dramatic stage backdrop. The theatre plays host to Impression Lijiang (tickets from 190RMB per person), a musical production featuring dancers, singers and performers from the region’s ethnic groups. The show is part of Chinese film director Zhang Yimou’s China-wide ‘Impression’ series and bears Zhang’s trademark visuals and production style.

Expect incredible choreography , a cast of 100s, horses racing around the audience and dancing warriors in the
heart of the action. 19-9 Guodahuamu Lu, Old Town, Lijiang (888 888 2111). 190RMB.

Explore the Old Town The Old Town of Lijiang has a history of more than 1,000 years. The captivating network of narrow streets, bridges and waterways has been developed for tourism over the past two decades, but there’s still plenty of charm to spare – particularly the deeper you venture.

Once you push through the radius the average tourist is willing to walk, there are plenty of tranquil areas that have remained relatively untouched by the unrelenting march of gentrification. Head towards the vibrantly coloured Wanggu Pavillion, on a nearby hillside, for stunning views of the town’s rooftops below. As a rule of thumb, the higher you climb up the town’s hills, the quieter your surrounds become. Take bus 18 from Lijiang’s train station to the last stop; Old Town is about a 20-minute walk. Or hire a taxi.

Stay here Of the many five-star resorts in the area, the Grand Hyatt Lijiang stands apart for a number of reasons – not least thanks to its two separate locales. The Grand Hyatt Lijiang is located near the Old Town, framed
with Jade Dragon Snow Mountain in the background. A 30-minute drive away is the Hyatt’s Mountain Lodge, nestled right at the foot of the awe-inspiring mountain. The two properties also offer different experiences – both ultra-luxe, naturally. 8 Xiangjiang Lu, Gucheng district (888 531 1234). The Cultural Exploration package (4,298RMB) includes two nights at the ‘City’ resort and one night’s stay in the Mountain Lodge, daily breakfast for two, entry to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain, bicycle hire and more.

Suzhou

Suzhou

Established as the Wu Kingdom’s (771-476 BC) spring and autumn capital, old Suzhou – in the centre of the Yangtze Delta – is known for its bridges and water town backdrops. 

Multiple daily flights and bullet trains travel from Beijing to Shanghai. From there, trains to Suzhou from Shanghai Station or Shanghai Hongqiao Station cost from 40- 120RMB and take about 40 minutes.

Visit the classical gardens These gardens were originally retreats belonging to well-to do bureaucrats and warlords. Around 50 of remain in Suzhou, with nine UNESCO World Heritage sites. The Lion Grove Garden is a good choice for families as children can climb the collection of man-made rock formations. Don’t miss the Humble Administrator’s Garden, the biggest classical garden in town and easily the most photogenic. Lion Grove Garden, 23 Yuanlin Lu, Gusu district. Humble Administrator’s Garden, 178 Dongbei Jie, Gusu district.

Check out Suzhou Museum This museum houses the city’s traditional art collection. Go for the Ming ceramics and to appreciate the architecture. 2075 Renmin Lu, Gusu district.

Catch a Kun opera show Developed during the Ming dynasty, kunqu features a theatre and acrobatics company
and traditional orchestra. Suzhou Kunqu Opera Museum, 14 Zhongzhangjia Lane, Pingjiang district. Performances Sunday 2pm; 20-30RMB. Suzhou Kunqu Opera Theatre, 9 Jiaochangqiao Lu, Pingjiang district.

Eat shengjianbao Suzhou’s local foods are similar to Shanghai’s. Xinzhenyuan Shengjian Restaurant serves
up great (and cheap) versions of traditional dishes like shengjianbao, tangbao (soup dumplings) and wontons with prawns. This busy venue might challenge those with young kids, but the food is authentic. Xinzhenyuan Shengjian Restaurant, 63 Renmin Lu, Canglang district.

Stay here Blossom Hill, formerly a summer palace mansion, is one of the most striking accommodation options in town. With four courtyard houses encircling smaller ones and gardens and ponds dotted around, it is a restful
spot for family travel. It’s also well located on Suzhou’s Shizi Nan Lu, around other heritage buildings and right on the water. 10 Shizi Nan Lu, Gusu district. Standard rooms start at 920RMB per room on weekdays; 1,120RMB on weekends.

Chengde

Chengde

This small city in Hebei is best known as the home of Chengde Mountain Resort, a huge imperial garden and palace built by Qing Dynasty (1644-1912) emperors to escape the sweltering Beijing summer. Outside the garden’s walls, in the surrounding mountains, are the Eight Outer Temples, also built in the 18th century. Many are now either destroyed or no longer accessible, but Putuo Zongcheng and Puning temples remain firm tourist
favourites, along with the imperial garden itself.

Explore the lush imperial gardens Chengde Mountain Resort is huge. First there’s the palace to tick off; you can press your nose against the glass to catch a glimpse of the emperor’s living quarters – complete even with his toothpick. But the real draw is the verdant expanse of clear water, manicured gardens and towering pagodas. 

Rent a boat on the water, or simply amble around it. You can easily spend a day here, but there are zero restaurants and tickets are good for a single entry only, so pack a lunch if you and the family plan to do so. Take bus 5, 7, 11 or 13 from Chengde train station, or take a taxi. Entry to Chengde Mountain Resort is 145RMB.

Get spiritual at stunning temples The resort and its surrounding temples were made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994. The temples were built to mimic various architectural styles drawn from around China. The Putuo Zongcheng Temple was built to resemble Lhasa’s Potala Palace, with a series of buildings climbing up a mountainside, leading to the imposing, angular tower at its centre.

Puning Temple, modelled on Tibet’s Samyai Monastery, is similarly stunning – a network of halls of worship on a peaceful hillside. From both temples you can enjoy views of the surrounding city as well as Sledgehammer Peak, a bizarre hilltop rock formation. Chengde Mountain Resort’s on-site bus system offers service to both temples. Temple entry is 80RMB each.

Stay here Chengde’s not got a huge range of quality accommodation options, but even if it did, Chengde Imperial Mountain Resort would likely still be the jewel in the crown. Rooms of this courtyard property are
decorated for the period, and are a great way to experience the history of the area first-hand. What’s more, the hotel is a five-minute walk from the entrance to Chengde Mountain Resort. 1 Beifengmen Dong Lu, Shuangqiao district (Qiwanglou. com; 0314 2182288). Rooms from 1,293RMB per night.

Hohhot

Hohhot

Hohhot in Mongolian means ‘Blue City’. The capital city of the Inner Mongolian Autonomous Region, the city has also historically served as an important passage between inland cities like Beijing and Tianjin and more remote regions.

See the grasslands Around a two-hour drive from Hohhot, the Xilamuren grasslands are known for being lusciously green, especially during summer and early autumn, and dotted with yurts. There’s no public transportation to this area but you’ll be able to hire a driver through most hotels.

Families can choose to go with a resort package at one of the retreats that often partner up with Hohhot hotels, but for a day-trip you can simply explore the grassland area or go horseback riding. An English-speaking guide is helpful for haggling prices and also essential if taking more spontaneous, exploratory trips around Hohhot is what you have in mind – chinatravelkey.com is quite reliable. Xilamuren grassland is a two-hour drive from Hohhot. Visitors can get taxis or hire drivers to make the trip.

Explore a desert resort Another two-hour drive from Hohhot is the touristy but fun Xiangshawan Desert Resort. Located in Inner Mongolia’s Baotou city, it’s a desert-based amusement park, complete with cultural shows, rides, on-site restaurants and swimming pools. Single day passes are available but you can also opt to stay overnight at the resort. 

There is a lot to do here, but hopping in one of the resort’s jeeps to take in views of the stunning sand dunes is a must. Children will enjoy taking a cable car to the top of dunes and tobogganing back down. The Xiangshawan Desert Resort is located in the Dalad, Ordos area in Baotou (400 878 5550; xiangsw.com). Hire a car for the 30km journey to the desert. Single day passes are 80RMB per person. Family packages (entry plus accommodation) start at 2,500RMB.

Marvel at dinosaur remains Take shelter from the sun and check out fossils, local cultural artefacts and geological displays at the Inner Mongolian Museum. It is a large space with three stories of exhibition halls. By far the most interesting displays are those related to dinosaur fossils and the region’s grassland culture. Here you will find life-sized yak and mammoth models that make for fun photo opportunities with the kids. 27 Xinhua Dong Lu, Xincheng district (471 461 4000). Free entry with passports.

Stay here While you can opt for more rustic accommodation, such as staying in a yurt in one of the grasslands or resorts around Hohhot, for something no-fuss and comfortable, the Sheraton Hohhot is a convenient choice. 5 Yinbin Dong Lu, Xincheng district (471 698 8888). Family-friendly rooms start at 2,000RMB per night.

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