As one of the important components of Beijing city, Hutong interprets the unique “Beijing flavor” of old Beijingers’ life style following Beijing’s developments in three thousand years. Hutong refers to the ancient small lanes. The hutong is mainly lined on both sides by courtyards containing compound houses, known as quadrangles (siheyuan), which are traditional residences in old Beijing. Even if you only have half day free in Beijing, you can tour around the hutong and quadrangle, feeling this special local flavor of Beijing by yourself.
Among all the hutongs, Nanluoguxiang, located several kilometers north of the Forbidden City and just east of Houhai Lake, is one of the oldest and best preserved historical areas in downtown Beijing. With a history of over 800 years, this 800-meter long North-South alleyway is famous not only for its hutong and siheyuan but also for the cafes and bars and clothing and handcraft shops. Some foreign business people operate boutiques here. It’s said that this area is the third most popular bar street in Beijing after Sanlitun and Houhai. Some bar names to remember are Pass By, Backward Bar, Here Cafe and Salud. At Nanluoguxiang, you can drop in on the Ju’er Hutong, where there are many historic siheyuan.
Walking along the Ju’er Hutong to the west, you will come to the Drum and Bell towers, which stand at the north end of Beijing’s ancient Central Axis. The sound of the drum and bell that once regulated life in old Beijing can be heard, sometimes, above the modern clamor. Heading to the south of the Drum and Bell towers and strolling along the stylish Yandai Xijie, you will find specialty shops line the small street.
If you get too exhausted to walk, you can hire a tourist tricycle (pedicab), which can be something special for your Beijing trip. You can relax while touring the hutong and get a better sense of local residents’ lives.
After your tour, stop at Prince Gong’s Mansion and get a sense of how senior officials lived in their grand garden-like homes and buildings in feudal times. For dinner, consider trying the Kaorouji or Jiumen restaurants on Houhai Bar Street.