Best for sky-gazing; Beijing Planetarium
On entering the newer of the two buildings, you’re met by giant models of the planets. Close by is a huge ‘wormhole’, swirling up toward the ceiling. Your kids will giggle with glee as they clamber up the twisting tube, which is pitch black inside save for a few fairy lights. For the rest of the museum’s exhibits, an English audio-guide is available (10RMB). The real star of the show (no pun intended) is the digital theatre (tickets including museum entrance: 45RMB adults; 35RMB children). Lie back in your reclining chair, gaze at the screen on the ceiling and watch the story of the big bang unfold and the constellations come to life. Sadly, there’s no English subtitles for this but it’s spectacular. If you’re interested in something more educational, try screenings of a video narrated by Steven Hawking.
Best for dino-lovers; Beijing Natural History Museum
When it comes to dinosaurs in China, this is the big daddy. Among 100,000-plus natural history artefacts on display are some seriously rare fossils. They include a Mamenchisaurus that – at 26m long – is the largest ‘sauropod’ (that’s Long Neck’ to anyone who’s watched The Land Before Time) found in China, as well as the first ever dino fossil discovered in China, of a Lufengosaurus. And it’s not just a load of old bones. The ‘Dinosaur World’ exhibition is China’s answer to Jurassic Park, allowing visitors to hike through a jungle-like recreation of the world these giant reptiles once stalked, with life-sized models of the beasts themselves. Add to that innumerable displays of animals past and present, laid out in a way emphasising evolutionary trends and interactive displays, and you’ve got an entertaining experience. There are hardly any explanations in English though, so get the audio-guide (10RMB) if you’re not hot on character-reading.
Best for science buffs; China Science and Technology Museum
The five floors of this monstrous museum are packed full of exciting exhibitions, with nearly all the captions including English. Level one, ‘Science Paradise’, is dedicated to 3-10 year olds. There’s an additional entrance fee for this (10RMB adults, 20RMB children) but, with many interactive opportunities (in the ‘Recycle’ section, for example, kids get hands-on experience turning waste materials in to paper) and science performances (think loud bangs, balloons and cups magically moving across tables), it’s worth the price tag. Level two showcases China’s contribution to science. Level five explores scientific challenges for the future, such as global warming. But our favourite levels are three and four. In three’s human body section, you walk past giant models including a glowing, pulsating heart and you can create heat prints with your hands. On level four, dedicated to ‘Sci-Tech and Life’, you’ll fall in love with the humanoid robots dashing about.
Best interactive experience; Sony ExploraScience
The Sony ExploraScience is relatively small, but seems much bigger because children will want to spend a long time playing with each exhibit. When Time Out visited, we met parents who said they were bringing their kids here for the sixth time. All the exhibits are interactive and range from educational (a guitar which teaches children about sound waves as they pluck it), to downright fun (blue rooms, which will pose you against iconic China backdrops). Better still, on entering the museum, you’re provided with an e-card. Swipe your card in the computer terminals by each display and the screens explain in your chosen language how to interact with the exhibits. For those who understand Mandarin, there is also a 3D film theatre to enjoy and regular science shows throughout the day, with actors conducting fun experiments.