Cities are great for a fun family vacation, but while the children will be happy sightseeing and visiting museums on some days, on others, they’ll just want to run around outside. These destinations offer excellent outdoor family activities for everyone.
The City by the Bay is a haven for families who love the water. One of its most child-friendly locales is Crissy Field East Beach within the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. The waters are safe for swimming and at high tide, a lagoon fills up, creating a natural pool for young ones to splash around in. Entertain the kids by trying to spot herons and egrets at nearby Crissy Field Marsh.
Hiking enthusiasts should take the ferry to Angel Island, located within San Francisco Bay. Crisscrossing the island are walking trails that older children will appreciate (try the one-hour North Ridge Trail to the top of Mount Livermore). Once you reach the summit, take in the spectacular 360-degree view while you refuel at a picnic table. Alternatively, explore the relaxing 8km bike trail around the island – rent a bike near the ferry dock.
San Francisco has some excellent areas for outdoor family activities too, such as the Helen Diller Civic Center Playgrounds in the historic Civic Center Plaza, which was renovated in 2018. There are two spacious playgrounds featuring massive climbing structures (including a “cloud forest” of nets), tunnels and slides, as well as a café on-site for anyone (big or small) needing a snack.
London boasts some of the finest city parks in the world. In the northwest, The Regent’s Park covers 166 hectares, and is filled with tree-lined pathways, rose gardens, tennis courts and kids’ playgrounds. There is also a lake with rowing boats and pedalos for hire. Meanwhile in south London, Richmond Park houses Stag Lodge Stables, where you’ll find horses and ponies suitable for all ages and riding levels.
If you’re visiting in summer, the Granary Square fountains at King’s Cross are a great spot to escape the city heat. The expansive feature consists of 1,080 fountains that spurt at different heights and times; children will love running and jumping through the jets as they shoot up over their heads.
For a proper swim, head north to Hampstead Heath, a 30-minute drive out of the city. Wonderfully wild compared to London’s manicured parks, it has several big ponds which are safe for swimming.
The populous Thai capital is home to some wonderful green spaces, making it one of the best cities for outdoor family activities. Situated in the heart of central Bangkok is Lumpini Park, which has extensive lawns, playgrounds and shaded walking paths – but keep your eyes open for monitor lizards. There is also an artificial lake, with paddle boats for hire.
A 10-minute ferry ride from the Klong Toey pier brings you to Bangkok’s so-called “green lung”: Bang Krachao. An artificial island in the Chao Phraya River, this urban oasis is best explored by bicycle; hire one from the pier and set off along the cycle paths past papaya groves and fishermen’s cottages.
If your family is up for something more adrenaline-fuelled, the Zanook Wake Park (about 30 minutes by car from Silom) makes for a great day out. There are activities for all ages, including water-skiing and stand-up paddleboarding, all on a large freshwater lake. The kids will be thrilled to know there is also a huge inflatable water park.
Just a short walk from the Sydney Opera House is the city’s most impressive outdoor space: the Royal Botanic Gardens. The 29ha area is made up of several separate gardens (children will enjoy sniffing their way around the Herb Garden) and an abundance of wildlife, from lizards to grey-headed flying foxes. There’s plenty of space for little ones to run around in. Families can also jump on the Choo Choo Express train tour, which includes commentary on the gardens’ flora and fauna.
With miles upon miles of coastline, Sydney has a vast array of beaches perfect for outdoor family activities. A child-friendly option is Bronte Beach in the Eastern Suburbs – the large sandy coast is sheltered between rocky headlands with plenty of trees for shade, and there is a natural rock pool, known as Bronte Baths, with a shallow end that is ideal for young ones.
Drive north of the city to find the Australia Walkabout Wildlife Park. There are bush walks to do, Aboriginal art to see, plus daily ranger-led activities, such as koala encounters and boomerang-throwing.
The skyscraper-laden capital is surprisingly one of the best cities in China to find suitable green spaces for families to enjoy, boasting almost 50% forest coverage.
The Summer Palace (once the emperors’ retreat from the city during the intense summer heat) is built on a hill surrounded by luxurious gardens and terraces, and overlooks a large man-made lake. Spend time exploring its walkways, gardens, bridges and temples, and if the children need to burn off excess energy, take a walk to the top of Longevity Hill. There are also pedal and electric boats for hire on the lake.
In downtown Beijing, Chaoyang Park has a boating lake, as well as expansive grassy areas, trees for shade and a man-made beach. A short drive north brings you to Jiuxianqaio District, home to the eye-catching Indigo Park Playgrounds. There are two shaded playgrounds surrounded by greenery; one is for children ages two to seven, with see-saws, gentle slides and a sandy area. The other, called the King of the Hill, is for ages eight and above, and features a huge climbing structure to a “peak” that kids can slide off on white marble slides.
Cool off at the Splash Recreation Club at CITIC Hotel Beijing Airport (formerly Sino-Swiss Hotel), which features an outdoor pool, and is open to the public. The club also offers a squash court, sauna and playground, and there are various restaurants to be found at the hotel.
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