Traveling in Beijing is not all about being an observer to the history and cultures of this ancient city.
Beijing hutongs is where you are able to experience first hand the daily life with the locals.
The unique world of Beijing’s hutongs is a mesh of narrow lanes that thread across the city.
The word hutong comes from a Mongolian word for a passageway. Hutongs are primarily lanes where people live. However today they also bustle with markets and commerce of all kinds. This is the place to come to really get a sense of community in Beijing.
You can stumble upon hutongs all over Beijing, but they tend to survive within the second ring road. You can find a large block of hutongs by navigating the historic grid southeast of the Bell and Drum Towers. Nanluoguoxiang and Beiluoguoxiang are 2 of the most famous hutongs in this areas.
Both of these 2 hutongs are the places to experience the nightlife in Beijing. The atmospheric lanes, which spans several kilometers, are lined with shops, bars, cafes and galleries that can easily take hours to explore.
Walking, riding a rental bike are both suitable to survey this cozy little world, or you can also experience the traditional richshaw, a small two-carriage open-air coach to shuttle in the zigzagging alleys.
As you head towards eastwards to the Houhai Lake, you will find another famous block of hutongs. The most famous here is Jin Si Tao, which actually includes 18 hutongs and keeps the original layout.
During your visit in hutongs, do not forget to experience the local life in Siheyuan, which is the traditional residence for the rich people in ancient people. Today many are still lived in and hum with activity.
Most of the Siheyuan are fronted by large, thick, red doors, outside of which perch either a pair of Chinese lions or drum stones. Inside you will see a square courtyard with trees soaring aloft, providing shade and a nesting ground for birds.
If you have a local guide when visiting the hutongs, he/she might tell you the stories behind these hutongs’ names. Most of them are interesting. Some hutongs are christened after families, such as as Zhaotangzi Hutong. Others take their name from historical features, while some have more mysterious associations, such as Dragon Whiskers Ditch Alley. Others reflect the merchandise plied at local markets, such as Ganmian Hutong, which means Dry Flour alley.
Hutongs in Beijing nearly all run east-west to ensure that the main gate faces south, satisfying feng shui requirements.
There are more activities you can take part in when visiting hutongs, such as making dumpling with the locals, attending Chinese cooking class, learning Chinese calligraphy or trying Mahjong in a local teahouse. There are lots of travel agencies providing these kinds of service in their private Beijing tours.
People say that the real culture of Beijing is the culture of the Hutong and Courtyards.
Spend a whole day to explore here, you will find how true that is!
Travel tip shared by Helen - Windhorse Tour