- Yonghegong Lama Temple
- The Temple of Heaven
- The Summer Palace
- The Forbidden City
- Jingshan Park
- The Great Wall of China
- Beijing Zoo
- The Mao Zedong Mausoleum
- Tiananmen Square
- The Great Hall of the People
- The National Museum of China
- Beijing Black Bamboo Park - Zizhuyuan
- Tanzhe Temple Beijing
- Beijing Hutongs
- Niu Jie - Ox Street - The Muslim Quarter
- « BACK TO MAIN
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Beijing hutongs are the city at its most charming
A hutong is a simple alleyway, usually running East-West, onto which more architecturally interesting buildings open. The most traditional is the Sìhéyuàn, the Chinese courtyard house, but most Beijing hutongs are a mish-mash of different styles.
Beijing’s hutong are the city at its charming, olde-worlde best. Beijing hutongs are not architectural wonders in themselves, but they are quiet, ramshackle, enchanting havens away from the speed and pressure of modern life.
Turn off the six lane highway down a Beijing hutong and you step into a city from a different era. Here everybody has time for each other, neighbours chat and argue, old men pay Chinese chess and kids sneak into sweet shops on the way home from school.
Beijing hutongs are an endangered species
Sadly, Beijing’s hutongs are disappearing at an alarming rate, some making way for ugly, soulless apartment blocks, others for the jawdropping, intriguing, cutting edge, controversial edifices of modern Chinese architecture springing up for the Olympic Games.
Some hutongs are being preserved, but ‘preserved’ more often than not means sanitised and cleaned of the imperfections and idiosyncrasies that are their real charm. There’s only one thing to do about this situation – get to Beijing before it’s too late!
The oldest Beijing hutong date from the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) when Genghis Khan’s Mongol’s flattened the city and it was rebuilt with hutong. Most of today’s hutong date from the Qing dynasty.
Hutongs and feng-shui
It is the dictates of feng-shui that mean the alleys run East-West-so that the main entrance will be South facing. According feng-shui having the entrance face South provides protection from evil spirits and negative forces thoughts to come from the North (coincidentally the same direction that the biting Siberian winds, sandstorms and marauding Mongols all come from).
Narrower North-South hutongs connect the East-West ones, creating a grid pattern that it’s easy to get a bit lost, but quite difficult to get utterly lost in.
Beijing hutongs – Practical tips
How to enjoy a Beijing hutong?
There are several places from which you can take a hutong tour on a pedicab. This is a good option if you don’t want to walk, or if you’re stuck for time. The quality and price can vary dramatically, be sure to bargain. You can expect to pay about 30Y per person for a half-hour ride. There are loads of pedicabs around Hou Hai, but the ones leaving from the Drum Tower, just North East of Hou Hai are, in our opinion, much more interesting.
The best option though, is just to get lost. Take a copy of your hotel namecard with you so you can get a taxi home if necessary. Hire a bike or set out on foot, turn into a hutong and see what happens. You’re bound to find your way out eventually, and the city’s grid patten means you won’t go too far before reaching a main street. You’ll also get to see a Beijing that no tour group ever touches on, which has not changed for centuries. Set off from the Drum Tower and head East.
What to see and do around Beijing
Wonder at the Great Wall, be awed by the magnificent Forbidden City, drink in the scenery from a boat on the Summer Palace’s Kunming Lake.