Take a look beyond the gaudily ornate buildings and some oddly-shaped modern structures, and you will find more history, atmosphere and hospitality, as well as the real Beijing in the humble hutongs.
Recommended China tour and Beijing tour with hutong travel experience:
There’s no better way to experience the unique charm of hutongs than by rickshaws. Rent yourself a rickshaw and listen to the driver’s stories and folktales about the over 700-year-old hutongs – overseas Chinese often feel lost in time, not least for foreign travellers.
There were thousands of hutongs surrounding Forbidden City (Palace Museum) in Beijing. Many of them have been torn down and replaced by the striking modern architectures, however, hutongs still occupy one-third of Beijing’s land and are home to almost half of Beijing ordinary people.
It is surprising that the people, especially the elderly are so friendly and enthusiastic when showing visitors the way. Most of the time, they run a small business, play chess, play with the birds, or simply enjoy the free time.
On first glance, Old Beijing’s hutongs look the same, long and narrow, and all with gray walls and gray tiles. But the drivers tell us each of them has its own story and the different types of courtyards (siheyuan dwellings) belonged to different people. For example, if there are round stone piers in front of the gates, the original owner must be military officers, while the square stone piers went to civil officials. A lion on the pier implied a royal family.
Some hutongs are quiet and somehow deserted, while some are very lively and popular, such as Nanluogu Xiang, Yandai Xiejie, Mao’er Hutong and Liulichang Cultural Street, where there are many bars, cafes, boutiques, street vendors, traditional restaurants and markets.
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