(Last updated on: 13/11/2020)
Travelling to Chengdu with kids is a great addition to your China travel itinerary.
What kid doesn’t love a cute cuddly panda, a boat ride to see a giant buddha and sugar coated strawberries on a stick?! These are just some of the awesome things to do in Chengdu, whether you are travelling with kids or not!
As an expat living in the country, I like to think that I have a little bit more ‘insider’ knowledge than your average visitor to China, and in this article I will tell you all I know about visiting Chengdu with kids and the best things to do in Chengdu.
- Why visit Chengdu with kids?
- Tourism in Chengdu
- The best places to stay in Chengdu with kids
- Tips for travelling to Chengdu with kids
- The best things to do in Chengdu with kids
- Other things to do in Chengdu with children
- Chengdu with kids: Further reading
Why visit Chengdu with kids?
If you are doing a tour of China, you may wonder whether it its worth including Chengdu in your travel itinerary or not. You’re thinking ‘It’s just pandas, right? I mean pandas are cool, but there’s nothing much else to do there. Is it worth travelling all that way?’. My answers to that are- Wrong. Wrong again. Yes.
Don’t just Google ‘things to do in China’. Do you know how big China is?! That would be like Googling ‘things to do in Europe’ and flying to London only to see Buckingham Palace. Chengdu is famous for the pandas, yes, but it also has a lot more to offer if you’re open to it!
Chengdu has it all- culture, animals, nature and more. We visited for four days but we could have easily stayed for a week or more!
There are lots of cool things to do in Chengdu with kids. You can teach them all about panda conservation at the Chengdu Panda Research, have playtime at People’s Park and taste the delicious Sichuan food (beware- it can be spicy!).
In this article I will tell you about what we did during our trip and I will also give you some suggestions for other activities that also have awesome reviews. We would definitely have visited these places if we had time.
Tourism in Chengdu
Located in Sichuan province, Chengdu has been on the tourist map for a long time. And it is no surprise that so many people want to visit- the city has a lot to offer!
Statistics show that Chengdu’s tourism industry has been growing steadily. Tourism in Chengdu brings in an annual revenue of approximately RMB200 billion each year. And it welcomes around 200million tourists each year- most of these are domestic tourists, but it does attract international tourists too.
Chengdu’s fame is owed predominantly to the Giant Panda Research Centre. Without this popular tourist attraction, Chengdu would likely receive only a fraction of the tourists that it does.
In recent years, Chengdu has received global recognition for its tourism. The Daily Elite website of the United States named Chengdu one of the top ‘coolest cities’ to visit. In the National Geographic, Chengdu was selected as one of the top 21 worldwide destinations. And MasterCard ranked Chengdu second in their list of the world’s top 20 most dynamic destinations for tourism.
Chengdu is one of the most popular destinations in China. Aside from its famous Giant Panda Research Centre, it has lots of tradition, culture and history. It offers a range of types of tourism, from cultural tourism to volunteer tourism.
Chengdu is also a popular base for side-trips to Leshan, Mount Emei and Jiuzhaigou, which are all UNESCO World Heritages in Sichuan.
The best places to stay in Chengdu with kids
Before we get started I think we should talk about accommodation.
Finding suitable family accommodation is a challenge at the best of times in China, trust me- I know! There are three reasons why finding a hotel is a challenge:
- Cleanliness standards are low
- Many hotels do not accept foreigners
- It is rare to find a room with more than one bed
Cleanliness standards are pretty bad in the majority of places. Whilst this may not bother some people, I certainly don’t want my baby crawling on carpets covered in years worth of hair and crumbs (this was a big issue for me at our centralised quarantine hotel during the COVID pandemic).
It isn’t easy to find hotels that are genuinely clean and you can’t trust the majority of the reviews that you read online because they are written by Chinese tourists, who largely do not have the same (high) standards as most Westerners.
Hotels in China must have a special license to accept foreigners. Unfortunately, many hotels do not want to pay for this, yet continue to advertise their services. It is fairly common to arrive at a hotel that you have booked and paid for, only to be turned away because you are not Chinese.
I suspect it is a legacy from the one child policy, but it is rare to find a hotel room with more than one bed in China. Don’t be fooled by the title ‘family room’- in China families co-sleep. You can book an all singing all dancing family room with toys, tents, even swings (the kids LOVED our hotel at the Yellow Mountains because it had a robot!), but that doesn’t guarantee you more than one bed or even a cot.
When you are travelling with kids, accommodation becomes a bit more important than it might otherwise be. You are likely to be there for earlier nights or nap times. Therefore, you want to find a place that is right for your family. Because I have learnt not to trust the reviews that you read online (as I said, Chinese people’s view of what makes a good hotel isn’t necessarily the same as mine or yours), I usually stay in a place that has been recommended by another foreign traveller.
If you are looking for a great place to stay in Chengdu, I recommend the Mercure hotel. There are a few of these hotels in the city and they offer great value for money and comfortable beds (which is not very common in China!). We had a lovely stay here and the tent was a real novelty for the kids!
I’ve heard that the Shangri-La is great too, if you’re happy to spend a little bit more!
You can use the map below to check which accommodation is available on your travel dates.
Tips for travelling to Chengdu with kids
Like any family travel, travelling to Chengdu with kids requires a little more thinking than travelling alone or with other adults. Here are my tips on travelling to Chengdu with kids, based on my experiences.
Set up your VPN before you leave home
I don’t know what we would have done without the kids’ iPads during this trip! They were a life-saver during long plane/train/car journeys and when we were waiting for our food to be served in restaurants.
Unfortunately, very few of the apps that they love work without a VPN, this includes Disney+, YouTube Kids and CBBC iPlayer.
Don’t be fooled by the ‘free’ VPNs. I live in China and I have tried them all. Trust me when I say that they DO NOT WORK! We use Express VPN and it is great. It’s not expensive and you can get a short-term subscription if you won’t be in China for long. Click here to check prices.
Beware of spicy food
Chengdu is located in Sichuan province, which is famous for its delicious, but spicy, food. I absolutely recommend that you try some of the local dishes, but beware that most of them are spicy, like really spicy.
Spicy food and kids don’t always mix, so just take this into consideration when you are choosing where to eat.
Be prepared for crowds
I had never really experienced overtourism until I came to China. It is common for people to travel in large group tours and there is little respect for personal space.
If you travel to Chengdu with kids on a normal day you might describe it as busy. If you travel during a public holiday you will experience insane crowding.
We visited Chengdu with our kids during the Golden Week holiday, which takes place at the beginning of October each year. Unfortunately, we can’t avoid travelling in the holidays due to my husband’s job at an international school. But I strongly suggest that you avoid the holiday period if you can.
The crowds were so severe that we abandoned visiting several tourist attractions during our visit, which was a real shame.
Book transport in advance during peak times
Because we travelled during the peak period we also struggled to organise transport.
To begin, our flights from Hangzhou to Chengdu were very expensive. Then when we travelled to Leshan to visit the Giant Buddha we were unable to get back to Chengdu, with every train and taxi being fully booked. Six hours and a lot of waiting later, we finally made it back to our hotel. It definitely wasn’t ideal.
There are a lot of cool things to do in Chengdu, but don’t rush. Take your time and enjoy the sights.
Visiting Chengdu with kids is fun-enjoy it!
The best things to do in Chengdu with kids
Chengdu is more than just pandas (but seriously- the pandas are sooo cool!). There is so much to do in this city that you could easily occupy the family for a couple of weeks or more. Most people don’t have that much time though, so I have outlined the best things to do in Chengdu with kids for a three day trip. I have then provided a list of other attractions that are worth visiting if you have the time.
#1 Visit the pandas
You’re headed to Chengdu to see pandas, right? Of course you are! So obviously this is number 1 on my list of things to do in Chengdu with kids.
Visiting the Giant Panda Research base is a once in a lifetime experience! China is the only country in the world where pandas live outside of zoos. And Sichuan Province has gained its fame for being the home of the pandas.
Whilst some forms of wildlife tourism attractions are most certainly questionable in their treatment to animals and their ethics, you don’t have to worry when you come here. The Giant Panda Research Base is a not for profit research and breeding facility. They have successful increased the number of pandas on the planet and the facility has enabled the species to be researched and cared for safely.
According to the fourth national survey of giant pandas completed in 2015, the number of giant pandas in the wild is 1864. There are 1387 giant pandas in Sichuan Province, accounting for 74.4% of the total number.
As of November 2019, there are 600 pandas in captivity in the world.
To the average tourist, it looks like a zoo full of pandas. But this place is actually soooo much more than a zoo! The Giant Panda Research Centre opened in 1987 with only six giant pandas that were rescued from the wild. Since this time it has developed a successful breeding programme and the base is now home to more than 100 pandas.
Note: Since 2018 you can no longer cuddle a panda. If this is your thing, you should head over to Dujiangyan Panda Center (more on this below).
At the Giant Panda Research Base you can find giant pandas (obviously), red pandas, peacocks and few other animals dotted around and more than 2000 different species of plants.
You can see many pandas inside the centre. You can watch the pandas eat, play and sleep. For many people, the highlight is the baby pandas. There are two indoor enclosures where these can be found.
The museum is also very impressive and worth a visit.
Visiting the pandas here is an excellent experience when you are travelling to Chengdu with kids. It is fun and it’s educational- what more can you ask for?!
Top tip for your visit to the Giant Panda Research Base: Get there as soon as it opens at 7.30am. I know that sounds early, but trust me- you will regret it if you get there much later! The queues will be long and it will get very busy no matter which day you choose to visit. When you arrive, head straight to the baby panda enclosures as these will have the longest queues. You can save time and buy your tickets in advance here.
Bonus: During our visit there was a Jurassic World Exhibition right outside of the main entrance to the Panda Research Base. My kids LOVE dinosaurs so this was a MASSIVE hit in our family! Sadly, this is only a temporary exhibition, so it may not be there when you visit.
Get your ears cleaned on the Wide and Narrow Alley
Do you want to be the ‘cool’ parent? Your kids will be laughing their socks off as you sit down to have your ears cleaned in the middle of one of the busiest streets in Chengdu! Not your thing? Well, it’s pretty cool to watch anyway.
A visit to the Wide and Narrow Alley, known as Kuan Zhai Alley, is a great cultural tourism experience for all the family. The labyrinth of streets here are filled with entertainment. From hand made street candy, to world famous hot pot to gift shops, there is enough to keep the family occupied here for quite some time.
The alleys here are filled with (renovated) ancient buildings and courtyards that were originally built during the Qing dynasty (about 1700 AD). Even if all you do is take a stroll through these alleys, it is worth it to enjoy the authentic Chinese architecture. There is a lot of artwork on the walls too, some of it is even 3D!
Eat lunch at the World’s first panda themed KFC
You heard if first here. Chengdu is home to the world’s first ever panda-themed KFC!
We spent about an hour looking for this place. And we found it in the third restaurant that we entered. Don’t get too excited though, it’s really just an ordinary KFC with some cuddly pandas on the wall and a few panda pictures around the place. It’s worth if you’re in the area, but otherwise, I’d give it a miss.
Oh, and don’t waste time looking for it like we did! It is located in the IFS (International Finance Square). You can see the famous panda hanging off the wall from the KFC window. So if you find a KFC but can’t see a giant hanging panda nearby, you’re in the wrong place.
Schedule play time at People’s Park
A visit to People’s Park is great for if you’re in Chengdu with kids.
You can take a leisurely stroll through the gardens, admire some of the monuments, drink tea in one of the many teahouses or head straight to the fun fair!
The rides at the theme park are a bit rickety, but they seemed to operate fine while we were there. There is a small rollercoaster, bumper cars, swings and a soft play area, amongst other rides. You can easily fill a couple of hours here if you are in Chengdu with kids.
Other fun things to do here include taking a boat along the river and spinning the wheel sugar! Your kids with love this- you pay just 10rmb and you spin a wheel. Depending on where the wheel lands, you will have a certain animal or pattern created for you out of sugar and placed on a stick. They are really cool and taste great!
Visit the Giant Buddha at Leshan
If you are visiting Chengdu with kids then a side trip to Leshan is a must. I mean, what kid wouldn’t think a giant Buddha is super cool?!
The Leshan Giant Buddha is a statue of Maitreya. Maitreya is a Bodhisattva usually represented as a very stout monk with a broad smile on his face and with his naked breast and paunch exposed to view. The site was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996 and welcomes millions of tourists each year.
Here are some interesting facts about the Buddha:
- It is 71 meters (233 feet) high
- It has 8.3-meter-long (27 feet) fingers
- The 9-meter-wide (30 feet) instep is big enough for one hundred people to sit on
- The 24-meter-wide (79 feet) shoulder is large enough to be a basketball playground
As well as seeing the Giant Buddha up close, you can also take a boat trip to see it in its full glory from afar. The Giant Buddha sits right on the river’s edge, but the dock is quite a walk down the main road. It took us around 30 minutes to get there- I recommend you take a tuk tuk (which is fun for the kids too!).
It’s really easy to reach the Leshan Giant Buddha via taxi or bullet train. The train takes around one hour and it takes about two hours to drive (without traffic).
I recommend that you arrive early. And by early, I mean as soon as the doors open at 7.30am! If you arrive much later than you are likely to encounter queues of 2-4 hours. Many of the tour groups arrive at around 10am, so after this time the queues can be especially bad.
The area around the Buddha is also worth wondering around. There are several temples and pagodas as well as smaller Buddhas and other statues to enjoy. Our kids loved running around here.
Go to the opera
OK, so opera might not jump out at you as being the most child-friendly thing to do in Chengdu, but I assure you, your kids will LOVE it!
The Sichuan Opera is where you can experience the famous ‘Bian Lian’. This is a show where performers wearing brightly-coloured masks appear to undergo ‘face-changing’, as they seamlessly swap masks with other performers.
The show offers plenty of dancing and singing in traditional Chinese costumes. People play instruments and there are various theatre and puppetry acts. Watching the show is lots of fun and kids love it!
The show is on each day at 8pm and lasts for two hours. You can get discounted tickets with Viator here.
Other things to do in Chengdu with children
Get up close and personal with pandas
If you want a truly immersive experience with the famous giant pandas, then I suggest you head over to Dujiangyan Panda Center.
This panda centre is located around a 90 minute drive outside of the city of Chengdu. There are far fewer tourists here compared to the Giant Panda Research Base, making it a more pleasant experience.
The centre is divided into six zones:
- Rescuing and quarantining area
- Disease prevention and control research area
- Recovering and training area
- Reception and education area
- Vegetation area
- Service area
Unlike the Giant Panda Research Centre in Chengdu, at Dujiangyan Panda Center you can get your hands dirty and really get to know these remarkable animals.
The centre’s panda keeper volunteer programme provides you with the chance to help take care of the animals for a day. During the day you will have the opportunity to:
- Clean out the panda enclosures
- Feed the pandas
- Learn more about the conservation efforts at the centre
I believe that you can still take posed photographs with the pandas too. The price is shockingly high at just under 2000rmb for about 30 seconds sat with a panda. Whilst the photos look cute, these animals are not photo props and this is pretty unethical. Not convinced? Head on over to my article about wildlife tourism and you will understand why you shouldn’t pay for photos with animals!
I think the volunteer project here sounds amazing and the reviews are great. Sadly we didn’t make it here- we were advised that small children (mine are aged 1 and 3) were not allowed to join the volunteer programme, so we opted against. In hindsight, just seeing the animals from outside of the enclosures here would have been a better experience for the kids than the Giant Panda Research Centre in Chengdu, as the crowds were unmanageable at times.
There is also an amazing holiday resort close by to the Dujiangyan Panda Center called the Six Senses Qing Cheng Mountain. If we go back to Chengdu again we will definitely stay here for a couple of days!
Get some cuddles at the World of Teddy Bears
If you want to do something a little bit different on your trip to Chengdu with kids then I recommend a visit to the World of Teddy Bears.
China doesn’t do things by halves, and this teddy bear museum is no exception! The Chengdu Teddy Bear Museum is the largest Teddy bear museum in the world. It features more than 1600 teddy bears organised into 12 themed halls. Favourite exhibitions include:
- The History
- The China
- The World
- The Art Gallery
- The Korea
This museum is a great way to spend a couple of hours in Chengdu with kids. As well as walking around the exhibitions, visitors can also watch movies in a 3D cinema or buy the latest teddy bear products.
Re-live the ancient stories of the Three Kingdoms at the Wuhou Shrine
If you are only going to visit one temple on your trip to Chengdu with kids, make it the Wuhou Shrine.
This is one of Chengdu’s oldest temples and it is a dream for photography-lovers, with its famous red walls.
The temple consists of several buildings and the Wuhou Shrine dates back to AD 302. It boasts several interesting features and the large central hall with a gilded clay figure of Zhuge Liang is a highlight. Zhuge Liang was a politician, astronomer and diplomat and he was/is very famous within China.
The temple was rebuilt in 1672 and has become one of the top ‘Insta- spots‘ of Chengdu!
This temple is particularly great for kids as it gives them a chance to see the sights from one of the most famous Chinese historical novels Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The temple houses the stories of some of the most influential and prestigious heroes who lived during the Three Kingdoms period (220–280). Read the book and then re-tell the stories to your child on your visit- it’s educational tourism at its best!
Sadly, we didn’t make it here either. We tried, but the Golden Week crowds were just too much to bear and we were forced to turn back. Remember that I said not to visit during a national holiday? Well, I really meant it! I guess this gives us a reason to go back another time though!
Visit the Wenshu Monastery
Another cultural tourism highlight when visiting Chengdu with kids is the Wenshu Monastery.
Also referred to as Wenshu Temple, the monastery is the best-preserved temple in Chengdu. It was built in the Tang Dynasty (618-907).
The temple boasts a number of famous Chinese works of arts. It is also home to a piece of Xuan Zang’s skull who was a famous monk during the Tang Dynasty.
Get your adrenaline rush at the amusement parks
If you are looking for a theme-park fix whilst in Chengdu with kids then there are two great options in and around Chengdu- Happy Valley (欢乐谷) and Floraland (国色天乡).
These theme parks have big rides, such as rollercoasters, for the older children as well as smaller rides for younger kids. There are water rides too, if that’s your thing.
Go hiking King Fu Panda style
If your kids are into the animated movie series Kung Fu Panda, then you should definitely pay a visit to Mount Qingcheng.
Mount Qingcheng has been an important Taoist site for centuries and is believed to be one of the places where this religion originated- pretty cool, huh?!
A visit to the mountain is a great way to escape the hustle and bustle of the city and get some fresh mountain air.
The Dujiangyan Irrigation System is also located here. Described as an ecological engineering feat, the Dujiangyan Irrigation System is a major landmark in the development of water management and technology. It was built in 156BC and continues to function perfectly today.
Learn to cook
Sichuan is famous for its delicious cuisine. From hot pots to sausages and fried rice, there is plenty to choose to eat in Chengdu.
If you are looking for something fun to do as a family during your visit to Chengdu with kids, then why not try out one of the many cooking classes on offer?
Messy play at its best (without the cleaning afterwards- winning!), a Chengdu cooking class typically lasts a couple of hours. You will be taught some of Sichuan’s famous recipes by a professional chef and you can perfect your Chinese cooking techniques. And on your return home you can impress your friends and families with some delicious home-made Chinese dumplings or Kung Pao chicken.
I recommend that you book your cooking class in advance tonsure that they have space.
Didn’t know skiing in Chengdu was possible? Well, it most certainly is!
Xiling Snow-capped Mountain Skiing Resort is the largest and best-equipped skiing resort and snow park in China. It also offers a well-equipped large-scale grass-skiing ground as well as sports and entertainment.
Often referred to as the ‘Alps in the East’, Xiling offers soft, natural, and unspoiled snow. The scenery is spectacular. Not heading to Chengdu in winter? No problem, the grass skiing is open year round.
Chengdu with kids: Further reading
If you are heading to Chengdu with kids you may be interested in some of my other articles:
- China with kids: 10 things you NEED to know
- A fascinating overview of Chinese religion
- 35 things to do in Shanghai with kids
- Things to do in Sanya, the ‘Hawaii of China’
- The Yellow Mountains: A comprehensive guide
Oh, and one last thing- I document all of our travels on Instagram– I would love for you to come and follow along!