A Picnic in the Park

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Beijing is caked in parks with elegant pagodas and historical gates, but forget them for just a moment… Tania McCartney finds some parks based on pure, unadulterated, let-me-outside fun!

Spring has sprung, and the kids are rubbing their weary eyes from a long winter’s sleep. In a pre-Olympic beautifying blitz, the city’s parks will be looking better than ever, so get outdoors and take advantage of the thaw before the real city heat sets in. Pack some baozi and go!


Ritan Park日坛公园
Central, old-faithful, with historical grandeur to boot, this boutique park comes alive in late spring. The park’s long-retired sacrificial altar is where kids now run amok beneath a ceiling of bobbing kites. The play area has been freshened with a lick of paint and less Beijing grime. Take a spin on mini carousel rides and musical cars (5RMB) or fuzzy, leg-powered horses that lollop around a circuit (10RMB). A bounce on the trampoline (2RMB) and a rollick in the playground (5RMB) will shake their sillies out. The tuckered-out can sail remote control boats or fish under the shade of a willow. Parents: head to the tea garden for a green brew in the shade. 6 Ritan Beilu, Chaoyang district (tel 8563 5038). Open daily 6am-8pm. Free.
The park’s long-retired sacrificial altar is where kids now run amok beneath a ceiling of bobbing kites

Ditan Park 地坛公园
With historical beauty for parents to enjoy, Ditan also lays it on thick for kids, with typical playground rides near the north gate – bungy bouncing (10RMB), a go-cart track, bumper cars and ear-piercing games (6-10RMB). Go fishing for real or magnetic fish in a toddler pool (3RMB) or play a myriad of fair games as summer creeps in. Don’t miss the peony gardens, pond and arched bridges near the east gate. A2 Andingmenwai Dajie, Dongcheng district (tel 6421 4657). Open daily 6am-9pm. 2RMB/1RMB.


Chaoyang Park 朝阳公园
Kitsch kitsch kitsch but who can resist the Central Park, New York feel of a large green space ringed by high-rise apartments? Basketball, volleyball, pingpong and tennis (10-90RMB) will appeal to older kids, with yawning spaces for kite-flying or frisbee throwing. Paddle, row or captain a boat on the lake (10-50RMB), take a dip in the outdoor pool or a bathroom break in a giant ladybird. The huge kids play has retro rides galore from sky swings to spinning dolphins and a roller coaster (10-25RMB). Sony ExploraScience is now a permanent resident here, and wait breathlessly for the Great Wheel of China, opening 2009. This is not a tree-laden park; take sunscreen and a brolly for shade. 1 Nongzhan Nan Lu, Chaoyang district, (tel 6506 5409/6591 5258). Open daily 6am-9pm. 5RMB/2.5RMB.

Yuyuantan Park 玉渊潭公园
This enormous park on a massive lake warrants a day-trip, and features two kids play areas (south central and north west) with the usual retro rides – from bumper cars (8RMB) to an outdoor play area (20RMB) and amusing train ride (15RMB). A café, aquatic park (with toddler area) and more boats than you can poke an oar at, complete the picture. Take a boat ride to the Summer Palace near the park’s south gate and be sure to view the park’s prolific cherry blossoms from early April. Xisanhuan Lu (across from CCTV Tower); south entrance (with car park) behind China Millennium Monument, Haidian district (tel 8865 3804/6). Open 6.30am-8.30pm daily. 2RMB/1RMB.


Si'de Park 四得公园
This deceptively large park of undulating hills features tennis (80RMB/hr), football pitches, a fishing pond (5RMB), rollerblading rink and boat rides on the lake. The play area includes a large carousel, a go-go-gadget style leg-powered monorail, sandpit, bumper cars (all 5RMB) and unlimited time in the outdoor playground (10RMB). There is also a shallow pool with fun paddle boats (10RMB) or escape the eventual Beijing heat in the indoor playhouse (25RMB). There is a small carpark at the southern gate (2RMB). Jiangtai Xi Lu, Chaoyang district (tel 6438 6093). Open daily 6am-9.30pm. Free.

Longtanhu Park 龙潭湖公园
This picturesque park boasts elegantly arched bridges and towering petrified rock formations. Take a duck-shaped boat (30-60RMB) to the island where kids can zip around on their rollerblades or ride in the Challenger, a virtual spaceship not for the claustrophobic (15RMB). The play area has an indoor playground (20RMB), an outdoor play area and the requisite rides – trampolines, mini ferris wheel, helicopter rides, etc (8RMB). Bigger kids can enjoy the plethora of Chinese gym equipment, badminton courts, sporting and games quarters. A climbing wall and an old MiG fighter jet complete the unabashed fun. 8 Longtanhu Lu, Chongwen district (tel 6714 4336). Open daily 6am-9.30pm. 2RMB/1RMB.

Kids under 1.2 meters usually gain free entry to parks. Kids play areas are open 9am-5pm daily; many stop selling tickets at 4pm.

First published, in part, in Time Out Beijing magazine.

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