visiting Hunans cool capital with kids

Travelling families will have a ball in Changsha, capital city of China’s southern Hunan province, which delivers all the pleasures of a big city without the frustrations of one of the country’s huge metropolises.

When Mao Zedong was a young resident of Changsha, he paused on Juzizhou, its famous river isle, and penned a poem commonly considered one of his greatest. In it he recalls visiting the city as a youth, and being ‘full of enthusiasm’. Little did he know that future Changsha would embrace visitors from foreign lands and of all ages, including kids.

Though it might not figure prominently on some travellers’ Chinaitineraries, Changsha is a place for pressure-free time and good-value experiences, while still getting a dose of the big-city vibe thanks to its neon-clad streets and busy restaurants.

Changsha sees comparably fewer children from foreign lands, so the smiles and elated requests for selfies with the kids from locals (everyone should be prepared for this) make for a red-carpet experience. Changsha is also the hometown of China’s most famous leader, Mao Zedong, and there are ample possibilities for history lessons that expand young people’s world views. And of course, Changsha’s child- and wallet-friendly attractions, comparatively short travel distances and amazing food only add to the fun.


Sunday in the park

Weekends in China are when families flock to urban green spaces for exercise, dance, play and chat. When non-Chinese families, especially those with little children, join the mix, the friendly, inquisitive and shutter-happy locals make it hard not to feel welcome. Lively and central Lieshi Park is one of the biggest leisure parks in China and features a memorial tower dedicated to the country’s fallen heroes. There are also plenty of distractions for kids, like a climbing wall and bumper cars.

Even more famous is Tangerine Isle, a long, narrow river retreat said to be the largest inland islet in the world. Free to access and full of landscaped gardens through which kids happily romp, its five kilometres are best navigated by hiring bikes or hopping aboard an inexpensive tourist trolley.


New point of view

On the west bank of the Xiang River, Yuelu Mountain, rises 300 meters above sea level and 240 above the city. The park’s multiple peaks and ridges extend for several kilometres, embracing places of both historic interest and great scenic beauty – lush groves of maple, catalpa, pine and chestnut trees are fed by year-round water springs. The path to the top takes adult legs less than an hour but can sometimes be steep for shorter strides. Instead, there is a chairlift up and kid-pleasing toboggan ride down.