City breaks can be hard to pull off with kids. Busy streets, hectic public transport and frenetic activity all combine to make large cities particularly unappealing to parents. So we’ve taken a look at interesting, walkable smaller cities instead and picked five we love and think your kids will too.
Try Ipoh for charming city breaks in Malaysia
Legends like Kuala Lumpur and Penang might get all the headlines in Malaysia, but they can be a little too crowded for younger visitors to really appreciate. The inland city of Ipoh brings a different Malaysian flavour to your trip, with a charming old city district and plenty of incredibly photogenic temples.
For the grown-ups, experiencing the unique ‘white coffee’ brewed in Ipoh is a must. Roasted with margarine, this coffee has an unusually creamy taste, and is served in just about all the coffee shops in the old town. Then stroll the old streets, soak up the atmosphere, and admire the colonial buildings and quaint shops.
For the kids, there is no better induction to Ipoh than Ipoh World at Han Chin Pet Soo. This educational, not-for-profit venture introduces visitors to the rich history of this ancient tin mining town, with friendly guides bringing the past to life. And though temples may not be a thing for most kids, many of Ipoh’s most interesting are set in caves, which gives them a certain spellbinding quality that’s pretty child-friendly.
To really put the icing on the cake, don’t miss the Lost World of Tambun just outside the city, which features a water park, petting zoo, amusement park, tiger encounters and much more.
When to go: December to February is the coolest and driest time to visit Ipoh.
Ancient Nanjing is now one of the greenest cities in China
Nanjing has been the capital of China at several points over the past couple of millennia. Today it’s one of the country’s greenest cities, known for lakes and leafy parks.
Despite a relatively small size, you’ll struggle to run out of things to do on city breaks in Nanjing. History lovers will revel at Confucius Temple, nestled on the side of the Qinhuai River and surrounded by gardens, shops and restaurants. By contrast, Nuishoushan Cultural Centre was only completed in 2015, but it’s no less spectacular to visit.
To blow off some steam, head to Xuanwu Lake at the foot of Mount Zhongshan, where kids can paddle boat, explore the bird sanctuary or just enjoy the playground. Don’t forget to look out for the black dragon that’s rumoured to reside in the Lake. And Purple Mountain is another must, with more than 200 heritage and scenic tourist sites ranging from aquariums to giant statues and soaring cable cars.
When to go: March to May is good for warm sunny weather, alternatively visit between September and November.
Choose Tainan in Taiwan for cultured, yet cool, city breaks
Tainan is the Ying to Taipei’s Yang. While one is the commercial and urban centre of the country, the other is the heart of the culture and history of Taiwan. Tainan was first settled by the Dutch in the 17th Century and you can still see colonial influences today. Check out the Anping Old Fort to be transported to the 1600s for a moment.
One of the city’s many intriguing structures, Anping Treehouse was once a warehouse and is now overgrown with banyan trees which makes it a spectacular spot to explore. For more cultural city breaks, pay a visit to the beautiful Grand Mazu temple where people from all over Taiwan come to pay respect to the patron saint of fishermen.
If your kids love dinosaurs, Zuojhen Fossil Park is a great day out with fossil treasure hunts and marvelling at the giant size of woolly mammoths. Beautiful Tainan Park is a wonderful place for a stroll, with a stunning floating pavilion and plenty of space for young urban adventurers to run wild for a bit.
When to go: Tainan is hottest from June to August, although spring and autumn are the most popular times to visit.
Head to Hiroshima for a different taste of Japan altogether
Most visitors to Japan will head to the ‘big three’ – Osaka, Tokyo and Kyoto. But to see a different side of Japanese culture, Hiroshima offers a more off-the-beaten-track, laid back experience. Famous for its destruction by an atomic bomb in WWII, the city has since been reconstructed to be bigger, brighter and more vibrant than ever.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a visit to Hiroshima without respecting that moment in history, and a great place to do so is the A-Bomb Dome, ground zero for the attack in 1945. It overlooks the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, where you can ring a giant bell in celebration of the new city. You’ll also see a flame here that has burned continuously since 1964 and will continue to burn until the world is entirely free of nuclear weapons.
Don’t miss the dozens of playgrounds around Hiroshima where kids can let loose. Our particular favourite is Shukeien Park for the exquisite Koi Carp pond. And you have to try the local okonomiyaki, a traditional pancake-like dish with eggs, cabbage and a ‘secret’ sauce!
When to go: visit in spring or autumn when Hiroshima is warm but not too humid.
Sail around Hue, the ancient capital of Vietnam
Central Vietnam, between the major cities of Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh, is where you’ll find often-overlooked Hue. This was the Vietnamese capital for more than a century, and still houses a vast Imperial City complex made up of splendid historic buildings.
Hue is also home to Thien Mu Pagoda. It’s the tallest of its type in Vietnam, rises no fewer than seven storeys and stands 21 metres tall. Although, that’s just one of the many temples, covered bridges and ornamental tombs you can explore here.
Taking the kids on a dragon boat ride along the Perfume River is a must-do. Alternatively, join a tour where you can jump onto one of the humble houseboats and share a meal with locals. And if you’ve got animal lovers in tow, the Bach Ma National Park adds wild nature to city breaks, with the possibility of spotting monkeys, leopards and the endangered fire wolf.
When to go: January to April is the start of the dry season, Tet is in January/February and the Hue Festival is in April.
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