Most tourists flock to Chengdu to visit the pandas and give no further thought to the rest of Chengdu. But Chengdu is a surprisingly pleasant city to wander around and there are plenty of fun things to do in Chengdu with kids beyond visiting the pandas.
We spent three nights in Chengdu. The first day we arranged a city tour, taking in the Wuhou Temple, Jinli Street, Wide and Narrow Alley and Renmin Park. As we were a group of two adults and five kids, we organized a private car with driver to take us around all the sights. However, taxis are plentiful and cheap – just ensure you have all the addresses written down in Chinese to show the taxi driver. On the second day we visited the pandas, then went to the Sichuan Opera in the evening.
Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding
The main reason tourists flock to Chengdu is to visit the pandas. This research base boasts the world’s largest captive panda population and is one of China’s most popular tourist attractions.
Here visitors can wander along the bamboo-lined pathways that meander through the park and visit some of the 146 resident pandas in their spacious enclosures. Getting to see so many pandas in one place and watching the little pandas playing together is definitely a highlight of a visit to Chengdu with kids.
The Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding also has the world’s largest population of red pandas, with 76 red pandas in residence. The red pandas are all free to roam anywhere within the enclosure, which includes along the pathways – so keep a look out when you’re walking along!
Wuhou Temple and Jinli Street
Wuhou Temple is Chengdu’s most famous temple. The temple was built during the Qing Dynasty in memory of Zhuge Liang, one of China’s most famous historical figures. Today it is one of Chengdu’s most popular tourist attractions.
There’s nothing particularly ‘child-friendly’ about the Wuhou Temple but it is a pleasant place to wander around for a couple of hours, with plenty of statues and pretty architecture to admire, and beautiful gardens with bonsai trees and bamboo to explore. You can hire audio guides in English at the entrance.
Just outside Wuhou Temple is Jinli Street, a narrow street of shops, restaurants and craft stalls. The architecture of this quaint pedestrian street mirrors the Qing Dynasty style of the temple and it is a fun street to explore.
My kids loved browsing the street stalls, playing with local handmade instruments, trying out the traditional calligraphy brushes and watching the craftsmen at work.
Wide & Narrow Alley (Kuanzhai Xiangxi)
Another fun area to explore in Chengdu with kids is the Wide and Narrow Alley. Here you will find a jumble of street food stalls, traditional craft workshops, and boutiques full of handmade clothing and souvenirs.
The kids loved watching the silversmiths at work making bracelets and rings. The man making handmade caramel was also a hit – you pay your 10 RMB and spin the wheel to see which zodiac sign candy you get to eat.
We also had one of our best meals of our visit to Chengdu here, in a traditional restaurant serving spicy Sichuan cuisine – Chengdu Ying Xiang at no.16 Zhai Xiangzi. This restaurant was recommended to us by our concierge at the Shangri-La Hotel and is a recommendation I am happy to pass on. Not only did they serve delicious dishes, there was also live entertainment to keep us all amused too – a combination of Sichuan opera, dance and live traditional music.
Renmin Park (People’s Park)
We didn’t leave ourselves long enough to explore Renmin Park and we could easily have spent a couple more hours here. This beautiful park in the heart of Chengdu has plenty of shady pathways to wander along and teahouses to relax in. There is also a lake where you can hire boats to paddle around on.
But the highlight of Renmin Park if you are visiting Chengdu with children is the ‘playground’. When we followed signs to the playground we were expecting a few swings, a couple of slides and a climbing frame. Well, imagine our kids excitement when we were confronted with a full-on fun fair!
There were rides and games galore and the kids were so disappointed when we told them it was time to leave after only 30 minutes. Definitely plan to spend some extra time here.
The Sichuan Opera is a brilliant entertaining night out and is one of the best things to do in Chengdu with kids. Performances start at 8pm every night at the Shu Feng Ya Yun Opera House, so I was a bit worried that it would be too late for the kids. My 4-year old did fall asleep within 5 minutes of it starting, but all the other kids were completely entranced throughout the entire performance, which lasts around 90 minutes.
Don’t be put off by the word ‘opera’ – Sichuan Opera is far more than just singing. There is acrobatics, fire-breathing, dancing, contortionism and the most famous act of all – the magic face-changing trick, where the talented actors change their masks in the blink of an eye without you ever figuring out how they really do it.
This was definitely a Chengdu highlight for the kids – it was all they talked about over breakfast the next morning. Dialogue is in Chinese, but they have English translations on screens at the side of the stage – although in reality it’s all about the visual performance.
Looking for a family-friendly hotel in Chengdu? Click here to read our review of the Shangri-La Hotel, Chengdu.
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