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See Pandas in Real Life in China as a Family

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Last Updated on March 15, 2024 by Leslie Stroud

Seeing pandas in real life is definitely a bucket list experience when traveling in China with kids.  I distinctly remember watching a Disney Panda documentary in California as we were full-time traveling but still had not yet ventured to Asia.  I told the kids we’d be seeing those magnificent creatures in real life very soon!

While the experience might be a bit different than you expect (it was for me, as I had dreams of petting the pandas, maybe cleaning them, maybe even cuddling them?!), it is quite magical in its own way.  Seeing giant pandas in person in their home country is much different than any zoo experience.

As a traveling family, we’ve been to nearly 50 countries, and the homeland of these cuddly black and white bears offers a unique experience for families. When our family visited China, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to interact with pandas. A panda encounter is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity!

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China boasts not only rich history and diverse culture, but also the cherished symbol of the giant panda. These fluffy creatures are not your average bears; they are national treasures. China takes immense pride in their conservation. The majority of pandas are found in the mountainous regions of Sichuan, Shaanxi, and Gansu provinces, making these areas prime destinations for panda enthusiasts. When making plans in China, don’t forget to include panda experiences on your list of things to do!

Choosing the Right Panda Sanctuary

Before setting off on your panda adventure, it’s important to pick the right sanctuary. Two of the most renowned sanctuaries are the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding in Sichuan and the Shaanxi Wild Animal Rescuing and Breeding Center in Shaanxi. Both provide a close encounter with these adorable creatures while contributing to their conservation.

Our family visited the Chengdu Research Base on the recommendation of our tour company.  We don’t often use tour companies, but China seemed like a good location to utilize one.  We are grateful for that decision, as things like getting a Chinese tourist visa and tackling the various dialects of different cities presented challenges.

We enjoyed our experience at the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding.  The base offered lots of education on the pandas and the breeding work and research that goes on there.  It’s incredible to see how small the pandas are when born and how big they grow!

Best Time To Visit

Timing is crucial when it comes to seeing pandas at their best. Plan your visit during the morning or late afternoon, as pandas are more active during these times. Additionally, consider avoiding weekends and holidays to beat the crowds and enjoy a more intimate experience with these furry wonders. 

We went in the morning with our tour guide and spent time participating in the daily care activities, learning about the pandas, and then feeding them at the end.  We also ate lunch at the center.

Interactive Panda Programs

Many sanctuaries offer interactive programs, allowing you and your family to get hands-on with panda care. From feeding sessions to cleaning enclosures, these activities provide a deeper understanding of panda conservation efforts and an unforgettable experience for your little ones! 

Note that there is an age limit for the panda interactive programs.  At the time we went, the age was eight years old and above.  Three of our kids were not yet of this age and stayed with our tour guide on property.  

We started in the visitors center to learn, through videos, about the center, the research, the breeding programs, the pandas, and more.  We then moved to taking care of the panda habitats.  This included cleaning out waste, refilling water, and preparing bamboo for the pandas.  We stocked their enclosures with the fresh bamboo while the pandas were elsewhere.

We were provided boots, gloves and a t-shirt for this process.

Take note that interaction with the pandas is only a minute or two.  You get to hand the panda some bamboo and take a picture.  There is no touching or direct contact in any way.  However, they are incredibly cute.

Getting close and ready to feed this cute panda. Interacting with pandas in China might be different than you expected.

Best Places To See Pandas in China

  • Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, Sichuan – Located in the hometown of pandas, Chengdu, this research base is a haven for giant panda enthusiasts. The sprawling facility mimics the natural habitat of pandas, providing a comfortable and enriching environment for these adorable creatures. Visitors can witness pandas of all ages, from playful cubs to mature adults. The center also focuses on panda conservation and education, making it a perfect family destination.
  • Bifengxia Panda Base, Sichuan – Situated near Ya’an City in Sichuan, Bifengxia Panda Base is known for its commitment to panda breeding and rehabilitation. The lush green surroundings provide a picturesque backdrop as you observe pandas in a semi-wild environment. This base offers a more serene and less crowded experience, allowing visitors to connect with pandas in a peaceful setting.
  • Dujiangyan Panda Base, Sichuan – Dujiangyan Panda Base, located just outside Chengdu, is a unique combination of a research and breeding facility. What sets it apart is the chance to participate in the “Panda Keeper Program,” allowing visitors to get up close and personal with these gentle giants. Engage in activities like cleaning enclosures, preparing food, and feeding pandas, partaking in an unforgettable and immersive experience.
  • Wolong National Nature Reserve, Sichuan – For those seeking a more natural and rugged setting, Wolong National Nature Reserve provides a stunning backdrop for panda-watching. The reserve is part of the larger Sichuan Giant Panda Sanctuaries, a UNESCO World Heritage site. While exploring the reserve, visitors can catch glimpses of pandas in their natural habitat, surrounded by the breathtaking landscapes of the Qionglai Mountains.
  • Shaanxi Wild Animal Rescuing and Breeding Center, Shaanxi – In the heart of Shaanxi province, this center focuses not only on giant pandas, but also on other endangered species. The park is well-maintained and offers an enriching experience for families. Alongside giant pandas, visitors can encounter golden monkeys, takins, and red pandas. The center’s dedication to wildlife conservation makes it a worthwhile stop for eco-conscious travelers.
  • Chengdu Zoo, Sichuan – While Chengdu Zoo may not be a dedicated panda facility, it houses a popular Giant Panda Breeding Research Base within its premises. The zoo offers a diverse range of animals, and the panda section is a highlight. It’s a convenient option for those with limited time, providing a chance to see pandas along with other wildlife in a zoo setting.
  • Panda Valley, Dujiangyan, Sichuan – Panda Valley, located in Dujiangyan, Sichuan, is known for its focus on reintroducing pandas into the wild. The facility is designed to resemble a natural environment, allowing pandas to develop essential survival skills. While public access to the valley is limited, the conservation efforts and the chance to observe pandas in a more authentic setting make it a unique destination for true panda enthusiasts.
Our kids enjoyed watching real-life pandas in China go about their day.

What To Know Before Traveling to China With Kids

Cultural Preparation

Knowing simple phrases, basic etiquette, and a taste for local cuisine can go a long way in making the trip more enjoyable for everyone. Encourage kids to explore their curiosity about the history and traditions of China. To prepare, you can watch a movie or read a book that relates to the Chinese culture.  We personally recommend YouTube!  Our kids find this the most engaging, and you can find amazing resources there to learn about the history of where you are going.


China is a vast country, and, depending on your travel plan, you may be required to use various modes of transportation such as planes, trains, and automobiles. Consider the duration of each leg of your journey, and plan accordingly. Don’t forget the snacks, entertainment, and rest stops to comfort your young travelers.

We appreciated using a tour company for this purpose.  The security stops at the local airports, high speed trains, and private vans were much easier to navigate with an English speaking guide.

Food Preparation

While we all love our Panda Express in the US, this is NOT authentic Chinese food.  We know this on some level, but the food took us by surprise in China.  It is delicious but strong in flavor and often quite spicy.  Expect lots of curry-type dishes, hot pot (cooking your food similar to fondue style) and the famous Peking Duck.  You may also visit markets and see lots of fruit, candy, ice cream and more.  As always, use caution with market foods.  We’ve tried it all and been safe, but we’ve heard some horror stories.

Take note that using organ meats is quite common in China.  I ate a wonderful lunch and found out later I’d had the intestines of a cow.  There are several Chinese delicacies, such as the 100-year egg, that you might want to prepare for or ask questions about before consuming.

Fun walking day at the Great Wall of China with kids

Modern, Massive Cities

One thing that surprised us was how modern and massive the cities are in China.  A “small town” might be 10 million strong.  The enormity of scale in China rivals all you’ve seen before.  The cities often have a New York vibe, all new in the last couple of generations.  

Bathrooms in China

Like much of Asia, the “squatty-potty” reigns supreme in China.  In some hotels and tourist areas, you’ll find plentiful “western” toilets, but be prepared to squat.  The western toilets are often reserved for the elderly.  For more information, you can read my post here about bathrooms around the world.

Other Kid-Friendly Sightseeing in China

1. The Forbidden City, Beijing

Start on a historical journey at the Forbidden City in Beijing. This ancient imperial palace is a massive complex of courtyards, halls, and gardens that once served as the home of Chinese emperors. Kids can marvel at the grand architecture, walk through the impressive gates, and imagine life in a bygone era. The expansive grounds provide ample space for little ones to stretch their legs.

Exploring the Forbidden City with kids

2. The Great Wall of China, Mutianyu Section

Turn history into an adventure by visiting the Mutianyu section of the Great Wall. Accessible from Beijing, this part of the wall offers a family-friendly experience with a cable car ride to the top and an alpine slide option to descend. The panoramic views are breathtaking, and kids will love exploring the watchtowers and imagining themselves as ancient defenders of the wall.

We LOVED visiting the Great Wall and seeing the marvel in real life.  We played battles on the wall, envisioning the army encroaching below, and loved the slide down from the wall.  

3. The Terracotta Army, Xi’an

Bring history to life for your kids at the Terracotta Army in Xi’an. The vast underground pits house thousands of life-sized terracotta soldiers, horses, and chariots, creating a captivating archaeological wonder. The intricate details of each warrior and the scale of the excavation will surely capture the imagination of young history enthusiasts.

Discovering the history behind the Terracotta Army with a guided tour

4. Disneyland Shanghai

Disneyland Shanghai is a must-visit for families. The park combines classic Disney attractions with elements of Chinese culture, creating a unique and memorable experience. From meeting beloved Disney characters to enjoying thrilling rides, Disneyland Shanghai offers a perfect blend of entertainment for both kids and adults. 

We’ve visited all of the Disney parks around the world, and Shanghai was our favorite castle.

Beautiful Disneyland Shanghai at night featuring the Enchanted Storybook Castle

5. Yu Garden, Shanghai

Step into a traditional Chinese garden oasis at Yu Garden in Shanghai. This classical garden is a peaceful retreat from the bustling city, featuring intricate pavilions, bridges, and ponds. Kids can explore the zigzagging paths, cross charming bridges, and discover the unique architecture that tells tales of ancient China.

6. Ocean Park, Hong Kong

For a day of aquatic adventures, head to Ocean Park in Hong Kong. This marine-themed park offers a wide range of attractions, including thrilling rides, animal exhibits, and live shows. Kids can marvel at underwater tunnels, watch entertaining dolphin performances, and enjoy the vibrant atmosphere of this family-friendly destination.

Hitting markets in China was one of our favorite activities with kids

7. Lijiang Ancient Town, Yunnan

Transport your family to a charming ancient town with a visit to Lijiang in Yunnan province. The cobblestone streets, traditional Naxi architecture, and winding canals create a picturesque setting. Explore the town’s unique shops, enjoy local cuisine, and experience the rich cultural heritage of this UNESCO World Heritage site.

8. Pudong Skyline, Shanghai

Marvel at the modern skyline of Shanghai from the Pudong district. Take your kids to the observation decks of iconic skyscrapers like the Shanghai Tower or Jin Mao Tower for panoramic views of the city. The dazzling lights and futuristic architecture provide a captivating contrast to the historical attractions, offering a glimpse into China’s rapid development.

We went to Shanghai Oriental Pearl Tower for some sightseeing with the kids, and we had fun capturing the views from the heights. The glass floor is difficult for some visitors to walk on, but we loved it!

Getting the perfect view from the heights of Shanghai Oriental Pearl Tower

Guided Tours To Try With Kids

Here are some suggestions of tours to help you plan your panda-experience itinerary:

Some of the doors in China are so beautiful

Family-Friendly Hotels Around China

China is a huge country, and numerous family-friendly hotels are widespread. Here are a few you can consider when looking for accommodations for families:

  • If you’re heading to Disneyland or Pudong Skyline in Shanghai, check out The Langham, Shanghai luxury hotel. Parents can enjoy a massage in the on-site spa while the kids dip in the indoor swimming pool.
  • InterContinental Chengdu Global Center in Wuhou has three restaurants you can choose from. If you are planning to visit the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding, this hotel is half an hour away by car. 
  • The Ritz-Carlton, Chengdu is situated near the Sichuan Museum of Science and Technology and Wenshu Monastery. The hotel has an onsite spa that offers a hot stone massage, hydrotherapy, or a body wrap. 

Whether it’s watching the pandas play, munching on bamboo, or simply lazing in the sun, every moment spent with these gentle giants is a reminder of the beauty and diversity of our natural world.



Catch great fare deals from Booking.com, Skyscanner, Kiwi.com, or Expedia

Find a family-friendly hotel in China from Expedia, or Vrbo, (we also love Tripadvisor and Hotels.com)

Discover more of China while having fun through exciting activities from GetYourGuide, Airbnb Experiences, or Viator

Need to rent a car to navigate the city? Visit Rentalcars.com.

Get insured while traveling with World Nomads.

Want to have a family photo shoot while traveling in China? Check out flytographer!

Capture your best travel memories in China as we do with a GoPro, Sony camera, or our favorite drones: DJI FPV, Air, and Mini

Check out your travel necessities from a comprehensive list of all the 7Wayfinders Travel Must-Haves. Click Here!

Additional Reading

Taking a Greek Cruise as a Family

Relishing The Snowy French Pyrenees With Kids At Tourmalet Pic du Midi

17 Crazy Cool Things To Do in Singapore With Kids 

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