Beijing's best theme parks

Everything from high-rolling thrills to cool water park chills

Chen Chao and Wang Yuanzheng
Beijing not nauseating enough for you already? Head to one of these theme parks for a stomach-churning good time! That's not to say you can't stick to the kiddy rides, but you might as well put some hair on your chest while you're at it.

We endured Beijing's best and worst parks, loop-the-looping, slaloming down water slides, spinning in discs of death and queuing in the sweltering heat. Think of this list of Beijing's best theme parks as your ticket to ride. Off you go!

Best for thrillseekers

Happy Valley
Thrill-o-meter 4/5
This is the biggest and slickest of Beijing’s amusement parks, with over 40 rides spread over seven themed zones, such as ‘Shangri-La’ and ‘Ant Kingdom’. There’s a hint of the Disneyland approach here, although minus Mickey and friends. But Happy Valley’s rides are the real reason people flock here, with intense thrills offered by the likes of the ‘Extreme Rusher’ – a modern roller coaster that hits 135km/hr and twists through almost-impossible angles. Be prepared to queue – even on a weekday morning, we had to wait over 80 minutes to enjoy that 35-second adrenaline rush.

For those with kids (or a lack of nerves), there are gentler offerings here that have much shorter lines, as well as activities such as face painting (10-30RMB) or cruising the park in a two-person buggy (120RMB/hr). There’s also a carnival, with free special entertainment, running until Sunday 26. Fun for all, then, as long as you don’t mind big crowds.

Best ride
The ‘Apollo Wheel’ – a terrifying contraption that spins you around on the outside of a wheel, while you swing, pendulum-like.
Top tip Start by planning your route, instead of wandering aimlessly around. The park is big and some of the rides shut at 1pm.
Cost 200RMB for adults (entry, unlimited rides); 150RMB for children 1.2-1.5m tall, and adults 65-69 years old; free for over-70s and kids under 1.2m. Night ticket (many facilities closed) 130RMB for 6-10pm.
How to get there You’re best off getting a taxi, which will cost around 30RMB from the south of the city centre. See our Happy Valley venue listing for a map.

Best for small queues

Thrill-o-meter 2/5
If you can’t stand queuing, this is the one for you. If anything, you’ll have the opposite problem here – many of the rides won’t operate until enough people have gathered. There are a couple of decent coasters, including one with a loop-the-loop and a couple of corkscrews, but nothing on the scale or intensity of Happy Valley. Indeed, when we visited, there were more old folk sitting in the shade than there were thrillseekers chasing an adrenaline rush; it’s all pretty tame. Rides such as the ‘Water Canyon’ and ‘Mine Coaster’ lack any sense of danger, while the carousel and dodgems seem to attract more attention than the ‘challenging’ rides.
It’s fair to say that Shijingshan has seen better days, although it remains a good way to introduce younger kids to theme-park thrills, as well as providing a sanctuary to those wanting some peace and quiet.

Best ride
The ‘Shenzhou Coaster’, which hits speeds of 88km/hr, and travels along 800m of track, as you’re strapped in by your shoulders, legs dangling.
Top tip The attendants will tell you a ride isn’t operating because it’s ‘too windy’. This is nonsense, and their way of waiting until there are more people; stand your ground!
Cost 10RMB entry fee (plus 10RMB deposit) or 5RMB for students and senior citizens. Once inside, you have to pay per ride (20-50RMB). Alternatively, buy a card for 120RMB; it’ll be loaded with 150RMB of credit.
How to get there Take Line 1 to the Bajiao Amusement Park stop. From Exit A1, follow the road underneath the Fifth Ring. Take your first right, which will lead you to the park’s entrance (450m from the subway). See our Shijingshan venue listing for a map.

Best for hydrophiles

Happy Magic Water Cube
Thrill-o-meter 4.5/5
We’ll wager you don’t spend much time in Fengtai district, but this place is worth the trip. The largest outdoor water park in Beijing, it has twice as many rides as the Olympic Water Cube. The park was packed when we visited, but, unlike Happy Valley, lines are minimal, if not nonexistent. The majority of punters are inexplicably drawn to the fake concrete beach and wave pool.

Leave the lazy river and small pools to others and head straight for the thrills offered by the multitude of chutes. Highlights include the oversized ‘Tornado’, where you plunge down a funnel-shaped flume, and the ridiculous open-pipe vertical drop of the ‘Plummet Bodyslide’. Ignore the unappealing industrial surroundings – not to mention the Thai-prison atmosphere of the changing rooms – and prepare yourself for a fun-filled day worth splashing out on.

Best ride
The ‘Octopus Racer’ (above) has eight ‘lanes’ to race on, as you throw yourself down head-first like a young Superman at bath time.
Top tip Take your own towel and flip-fl ops. The latter can be purchased inside (from 15RMB) – you’ll need them to walk between the rides.
Cost From May 24 to June 27 200RMB adults; children tickets are 160RMB kids 1.2-1.5m tall; free under 1.2m; 170RMB group. From June 28 to August 31 230RMB adults; 180RMB kids; 200RMB group. Night pass from July 4 to August 24 is 200RMB.
How to get there A taxi from the city centre costs around 60-70RMB and will take about 40 minutes. See our Happy Magic Water Cube venue listing for a map.

Best for budget fun

Crab Island Thrill-o-meter 3/5
Crab Island is a curious out-of-town resort known for its fake beach (and for hosting this year’s INTRO music festival). But there’s an amusement park, too, with 17 rides. From a swinging pirate ship and a splash-tastic water flume for kids, to a sprinkling of more aggressive options for grown-ups – such as an 880m-long coaster, and a spinning disc of death, à la Happy Valley’s ‘Apollo Wheel’ – it’s got all your basics covered. We mistakenly mistimed our visit with Children’s Day in China, so there were hordes of kids scampering around (no queues for the scarier rides, though).

Whether that’s the norm is hard to say, although it might be for the best – Crab Island could feel a little sad were you to find it deserted. Still, for just 88RMB to try every single one of its rides, and with very little waiting involved, this is a frugal funster’s dream – just don’t expect any glamour.

Best ride
The flying chairs don’t look too menacing, but will test your nerve when it comes to heights.
Top tip Despite a faux German beer hall and a Mongolian eatery with ersatz gers– both housed in ugly hangars – food is limited. Take your own.
Cost 88RMB to try all 17 rides once. You can forgo two rides in exchange for a repeat on one of the better ones. Entrance is free and you have the option to pay per ride. The main coaster is 60RMB, though, so it’s worth getting the full ticket.
How to get there From Taiyanggong on Line 10, the nearest subway, take a taxi – around 35RMB and 20 minutes. See our Crab Island venue listing for a map.

Best for Olympic splashing

Water Cube
Thrill-o-meter 4/5
The decision to turn the National Aquatics Centre into a water park was an inspired one. The site of Phelps’s feats is now home to a number of slides and rides, a shallow pool area for little ones (complete with small wave machine) and a lazy river, all within 12,000sqm (the Olympic training pool remains for those who prefer swimming). On the weekday we visited, it was fairly full – but mainly with families lolling around in the shallows; there were few queues, if any, for the excellent rides.

Highlights include riding a two-seater inflatable around and down a giant ‘plug hole’ (the ‘Bulletbowl’), and the ‘Tornado’, a four-seater mini dinghy that falls from a great height onto the flooded walls of an oversized half-pipe. The food isn’t great (12RMB for four chicken nuggets of such poor quality, they’d reduce Ronald McDonald to tears), but you’ll be too busy repeating the park’s best chutes to care.

Best ride
The ‘Aqualoop’ speed slide. Climb into a closed chamber, then ‘three-two-one’, the floor gives way and you’re sent whizzing down a 40-foot free-fall drop.
Top tip Try the gentler rides (on your right as you enter) before tackling the more extreme ones. Also, take your own towel.
Cost 200RMB for water park only; 160RMB for children; 120RMB for an evening ticket (5-9pm). Lockers cost 20RMB (deposit of 100RMB required).
How to get there The nearest subway is the Olympic Sports Center stop on Line 8. From there it is a 1km walk north to the Water Cube. See our Water Cube venue listing for a map.