Asia. It sounds exotic and enticing. It can also seem daunting and utterly foreign. Where does one start with trip planning, let alone making it a terrific family adventure? After my family’s three week trip through Japan and China, I feel confident recommending my favorite destinations when determining where to travel with kids in Asia.
When shaping our itinerary, we focused on Japan and China, with a mix of authentic experiences and “must-see” sights, while staying true to our primary goal of having fun. There’s no point in dragging your kids to every temple in Kyoto (which could take years and wouldn’t be fun for anyone!)
Tokyo is sprawling and travel between areas should be a consideration. We made Shinjuku our home base for our family holiday due to its central location and ease of public transport.
If you have more time:
Kyoto turned out to be the highlight of our family trip. We loved it for being welcoming to tourists while still maintaining its traditional feel, as well as the fact that it is easy to navigate thanks to its smaller size, abundance of taxis and clearly-signed public transportation. Sometimes easy logistics is what really makes a destination child friendly.
If you have more time:
A note on lodging: Kyoto is famous for its ryokans (traditional Japanese inns). To sample sleeping on tatami mats, taking a communal bath and having kaiseki cuisine, we suggest giving it a try. We made some great family memories at Ryokan Gion Hatanaka. Our family travel advisors can match you with a family friendly ryokan. Some are more accommodating than others.
TIP: It’s worth considering a JR Rail Pass if you are planning to visit multiple cities, but you must purchase the pass before you arrive in Japan.
China is vast and it is best to make use of flights between cities to make the most of your time.
Beijing is very crowded and this part of the world can be overwhelming. For the more adventurous, the subway is fairly easy to navigate, but taxis are plentiful and cheap (although traffic is dense). Make sure to carry your hotel’s business card, which will have their address in Chinese to show the driver.
If you have more time:
Shanghai has a more Western feel than Beijing and you can find just about any type of cuisine. Shanghai is also known for shopping and luxury stores abound.
We chose Suzhou (a 30 minute train from Shanghai) for something a bit off the Western tourist’s beaten path and quieter than other destinations in Asia. We also hired a driver to shuttle us around from place to place, which was extremely affordable and made our time much more enjoyable.
Also known as West Lake, this area is a very popular resort destination. The kids might be ready for some leisurely time in a hotel swimming pool by this part of the trip (one of our go-to family travel success tips)!
Hong Kong is known as a shopper’s paradise (I have never seen so many high-end designer stores) but there are also plenty of fun activities for kids.
If you have time:
TIP: Make sure that you apply for Chinese visas before your trip, which are required for tourists. We’ve got more Chinese travel tips here.
We had an unforgettable trip and enjoyed all of the sightseeing (although we were “pictured out” by the end), but our best moments were had simply absorbing local culture and trying the dizzying array of foods. It just goes to show that a successful family vacation need not be centered around theme parks or water parks (although you can certainly do a lot of that in Japan and China as well!) Next time we plan a trip to this part of the world, we would explore some other countries – perhaps, Southeast Asia.
We can help! Our Family Vacation Consultants can do everything from booking accommodations, to developing full itineraries including kid-friendly activities. Request assistance on our Connect with a Travel Advisor page.
About Amy Andrews: Amy lives in both Charlotte, North Carolina and New York City with her husband and two children, ages nine and seven. Their love of family travel was cemented during a two-year stint in London and they travel as much as possible.
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