Beijing’s Hidden Hutongs

Beijing’s Hidden Hutongs

Beijing has been the capital of China through six dynasties, but the modern façade of the city doesn’t reflect its history.  To experience Beijing’s past take a walk through one of the few remaining hutongs hidden among the high rises.  Hutongs are alleys formed by lines of siheyuan, which are traditional courtyard houses.  Unfortunately following the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949, many of the old hutongs disappeared, replaced by wide streets and skyscrapers.

The Beijing Institute of Civil Engineering and Architecture recently conducted a field survey covering 1,320 hutongs and found that 205 hutongs, 15 percent of the total were completely gone and had given way to modern buildings. However, many of Beijing’s ancient hutongs still stand, and a number of them have been designated protected areas. 430 hutongs, 33 percent of those surveyed, have been able to preserve their original character. These older neighborhoods survive today, offering a glimpse of life in the capital city as it has been for generations.

Wandering through Beijing’s hutongs was one of the highlights of my time in the city.  Below is a short photo tour of the network of alleyways in and around Qianshi Hutong near Qianmen Gate.

A motorized bike parked on the narrow alley way of the hutong, most roads inside hutongs are very narrow sometimes no wider than 15 inches.

One of the highlights of wandering through the hutongs is simply watching life unfold in the streets

Many of the hutongs are in poor condition as they have not been updated in years

This older gentleman seemed so content simply sitting and people watching.

Another hutong dweller sitting out in the street, watching the world go by.

A row of siheyuan houses that make up the hutong

An example of one of the very narrow alley ways that connect the hutongs

A peek inside one of the courtyard houses that line the hutongs

The hutong may not be the number one attraction, but they serve as a reminder of Beijing’s roots and offer refuge from the crowds.  I would highly recommend getting lost in one of the remaining hutongs in the city and see where your wandering takes you.  You may be asked to join a chess game or discover a great little cafe tucked in amongst the traditional houses.  Regardless of where your tour takes you, a few hours spent in the hutong will transport you back in time before Beijing’s skyscrapers dominate the sky line.

WHEN YOU GO:

  1. Qianmen Square Area has some of the largest and best preserved hutongs and is right near Tiananmen Square and the Forbidden City.  I particularly enjoyed the Da Li Hutong and Zhumao Hutong.
  2. Beware of rickshaw drivers, they are often aggressive and will insist that it is the best way to see the hutongs.  You can easily wander the hutongs by yourself, no guide or rickshaw needed.  If you decide to go with a rickshaw, haggle the price to what you are comfortable and agree before you get in and then do not pay them any more than that amount.
  3. Allow yourself to get lost and just wander the hutongs to really get a feel for the history.  The hutongs are safe, I wandered alone and as a woman with my big camera I still never felt in danger. There are public bathrooms in the hutongs, so you don’t have to worry about potty breaks, just bring your own toilet paper.
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About the Author

LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.

About the Author
LOCAVORista: A curious adventurer exploring the culinary delights and local traditions around the world. Currently on a 3 year round-the-world trip discovering amazing cultures, must-eats and off-the-beaten-track destinations.
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