Where to Travel with Kids in Asia: Best Japan and China Destinations

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!)

japanese-temple

Best Destinations in Asia with Kids

Japan

Tokyo

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.

Must-see:

  • Asakusa shrine – also check out Nakamise Dori – a shopping street leading up to the temple for souvenirs and gifts
  • Meiji Jingu – after the shrine, make time for a walk around nearby Harajuku, known for its young, funky vibe
  • Tsukiji fish market – go very early in the morning to see the live fish auction, but if 5 a.m. is too early for your family (like it is for ours!) there is still plenty of action (and perhaps a sushi breakfast) until around 9 a.m.
  • Ginza (go after Tsukiji which is nearby) – the neighborhood for high-end shopping – famous for its huge department stores. Check out the basement food halls, which kids will love. Their heads will spin with the variety of savory and sweet foods

If you have more time:

  • Imperial Palace Gardens
  • Shibuya crossing
  • Tokyo Disney
  • Tokyo SkyTree Mall
  • Day trip to Kamakura to see the Giant Buddha

kyoto-japan

Kyoto

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.

Must-see:

  • Kinkakuji – kids will enjoy seeing this temple made of gold
  • Nijo-jo castle – check out where a shogun lived and test the hummingbird floor that alerts occupants to intruders
  • Kiyomizu – definitely the most interesting temple in Kyoto, you’ll see many visitors wearing kimono and the scenery is beautiful – pair with a walk along the adorable sannen and ninen zaka lanes lined with souvenir shops

If you have more time:

  • Ginkakuji – Temple of the Silver Pavilion (and perhaps a walk with older children along the mile-long Philosopher’s Path that begins there)
  • Sanjusangendo – this temple is famous for its 1,001 statues of Kannon, the goddess of mercy
  • Nishiki market – Kyoto’s covered 400-year old food market – a good choice for wandering on a rainy day

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.

shanghai-skyline-china

China

China is vast and it is best to make use of flights between cities to make the most of your time.

Beijing

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.

Must-see:

  • Tiananmen Square
  • Forbidden City
  • The Great Wall – there are a few sites where you can visit the Wall. Try Mutianyu, which is slightly farther out than Badaling, but much less crowded and therefore more kid friendly
  • Summer Palace

If you have more time:

  • Visit a hutong – traditional narrow lanes filled with souvenir shops and stalls. If you have little night owls or you’re up late with jetlag, check out a night market.

Shanghai 

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.

Must-see:

  • A walk along the Bund
  • Yu Garden – children will love feeding the carp from the zig-zag bridge
  • The French Concession

suzhou-china

Suzhou

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.

Must-see:

  • Tiger Hill Pagoda (who knew China had a “leaning tower” long before Pisa?)
  • Blue Wave Pavilion
  • Humble Administrators Garden

hangzhou-china

Hangzhou 

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)!

Must-see:

  • A walk along the shores of West Lake and a boat ride
  • Lingyin Temple – the kids loved all of the Buddhas carved into the stone and climbing around….almost like being on the set of Indiana Jones

hong-kong-china

Hong Kong

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.

Must-see:

  • A trip to Victoria Peak
  • Hong Kong park
  • A Star Ferry ride between Hong Kong Island and Kowloon
  • the escalators in the mid-levels

If you have time:

  • Riding the narrow, double-decker trams through the center of the city
  • Ocean Park
  • Dim Sum (we like City Hall) or traditional British Tea at one of the hotels
  • A food and cultural walking tour (we enjoyed Hong Kong Foodie tours)
  • Ngong Ping cable car to see the Buddha

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. amy-andrews-photo

Need help planning a Family Trip to 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.

Relevant Links:

Best family hotels and things to do in China with kids

Best family hotels and things to do in Japan with kids

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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