Ask any long-term Beijing expatriate parent where the city's most child-friendly places are and they will give you the same answer - the parks. The widespread misperception that Beijing has precious few green spots means visitors often miss out on these pretty urban gems. Some, such as the Beihai and Ritan parks, date back hundreds of years to Ming times. Other, newer facilities - such as the sprawling and little-known Olympic Forest Park and the expat favourite Chaoyang Park - are worth taking time to explore. In fact Beijing has a wide range of attractions as well as obvious spots such as the Forbidden City and the Temple of Heaven. Children love the dinosaurs at the Museum of Natural History, marvel at the models at the Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall and feed their curiosity at the newly revamped National Museum of China. Whether a repeat visitor, or a first-timer, it's worth listening to the advice of people who call the city home. Hong Kong-raised Vanessa Marescialli, who has two children - Marco, five, and Charlie, nine months - has clocked up more than a decade of living in Beijing. 'The great thing about Beijing is that kids are welcome anywhere, especially at decent restaurants or galleries, like out at 798 art zone and close-by Caochangdi,' says Marescialli. 'This means they can enjoy all the things that the grown-ups do, which isn't always possible in other countries. On nice days, it's great to picnic or just stroll in Ritan Park, Beihai Park or Chaoyang Park. Even our local, Tuanjiehu Park, has boats for rent.' Getting from A to B need not be difficult, either, she says, and there are several options. 'For visitors, getting around Beijing can be done easily on the subway and by taxi; however, with young kids, it may be better to get around with a driver. Taxis don't carry seatbelts in the back and can't strap in car seats. If kids are older, then this wouldn't be an issue. 'Beijing by bike is also great, but safety is a concern, so it is only suitable with older kids,' says Marescialli. Hong Kong-born Jean Kwan had both her boys - Gavin, four, and Lucas, eight months - in the city and has become a dab hand at seeking out play places. The lakes in Houhai, Beihai and Chaoyang parks are favourites of Kwan and husband Chris Baker, a senior executive with a digital media company. 'In winter, Gavin goes skating on the ice at Houhai, and in summer, we love to take motorboats out for a spin around the lake at Chaoyang Park; they have these little water guns mounted on them,' she says. 'Being able to drive your own boat is a big winner!' When it comes to finding a place to eat with children in tow, long-term expats have made their own lists of restaurants that welcome families with open arms. In summer, Marescialli and her family are regular visitors to Ritan Park, in the central area, and the nearby Xiao Wang Fu restaurant, which does great local home-style food and is ultra child-friendly. But there is a downside to the child-pampering approach. If you have very young offspring, be prepared to receive unasked-for advice from grannies in the street. Although well-meaning, they will express their views on whether your children are wearing too many/not enough clothes, or are too fat/thin. The capital's surrounding areas also offer family activities, especially for the more active. Beijing-born Melody He, who worked for five years as an investment banker in Hong Kong, tries to head out whenever possible with husband Casper Johansen and their children, Maya, five, and Max, one. In winter, they drive to the many ski resorts, where the moderate slopes are perfect for children to learn the sport. She also recommends renting a restored village home, or farmhouse, out by the Great Wall. 'We like to get outdoors wherever possible, to the parks or the countryside. But wherever you go, people are very tolerant towards noisy kids. People in China just love children.' Here are a few lesser-known child-friendly options in the capital: Museum of Natural History (126 Tianqiaonan Street, Chongwen district, tel: 010 67027702) In the south of the city, the museum and its giant dinosaur skeletons offer thrills for children of all ages. These displays include a 26-metre-long Mamenchisaurus jingyanebsis and a fierce-toothed Tyrannosaurus rex. There is also a woolly mammoth, fossils galore and a rather lame collection of plastic dinosaurs. Great Wall, Mutianyu section (Huairou county, 70 kilometres northeast of Beijing) If young eyes glaze over at the prospect of climbing up and down old steps, mention that there is a toboggan ride at the end. At the Mutianyu section, visitors have the option of returning to ground level via a metal chute, aboard plastic toboggans that can reach scarily fast speeds. Another option is to go down by ski lift, or trek back to return on the slower and more capacious cable cars. Mutianyu can be reached in less than 90 minutes via expressway and gently winding forested road. It is less crowded than Badaling, which is closer to Beijing. It also has The Schoolhouse, in the valley below, a cafe-restaurant that serves organic food and freshly brewed coffee on its Great Wall-facing terrace. There is also a small glass-making factory on site, which has regular glass-blowing demonstrations. China World Summit Wing hotel (1 Jianguomenwai Street, Chaoyang district, tel: 010 65052299) This new hotel towers 81 storeys and has amazing views of the entire urban patchwork, smog permitting. For the price of a few drinks in the upper-floor lounge, patrons are free to use telescopes that enable the viewer to zero in on landmarks such as the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, the Bird's Nest stadium and, on a crystal clear day, the distant western hills and even airplanes making their approach to the airport. Children love it, of course. And it's fun way to give a history-geography lesson of the capital. The lounge welcomes children, day or night, as indeed do almost all places in the city; even classy restaurants and sleek cocktail bars have maximum-tolerance policy towards younger members of the family. Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall (20 Qianmen East Street, Chongwen district, tel: 010 67017074) One of the quirkier museums in the city, it shows how Beijing grew from the Mongolian conquest onwards, to become the sprawling metropolis of 20 million people. The highlight is a scale model of the city that takes up an entire floor - a surefire hit with children, and a chance to pick out the sights they have seen, or will see. The idea is to look down at the display from on high, then hop on the escalator to go down a floor for a close-up peek at the various neighbourhoods. Interactive displays give a flavour of Beijing in the past - and try to predict what it will be like in years to come. Afterwards, take a hike to the top of Coal Hill, just to the north of the Forbidden City's northern entrance, for a fabulous view of imperial-era Beijing.