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Beijing’s hutongs

  • Beijing, China

Last updated: 17 April, 2024

Wandering the atmospheric hutong neighbourhoods is Beijing’s most evocative experience.

Hutongs are residential lanes and alleyways traditionally associated with Beijing and defined by the outer walls of courtyard homes called siheyuan – usually single storey – which join together to form communities. The oldest date back hundreds of years. The word itself is believed to be of Mongol origin, dating back to the Yuan dynasty.

The narrow hutong lanes north of the Forbidden City and around the Drum and Bell Towers and Houhai Lake, are some of the best for strolling, where you might see local residents playing xiangqi, traditional street sellers, and surviving Qing dynasty courtyard architecture.

Explore independently, or hire a guide to explain the unique cultures of the more fascinating hutongs such as those around the Dashilan neighbourhood southwest of Tiananmen Square, which served as Beijing’s red-light district before the Communist revolution.

Before you go

Read Michael Meyer’s The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed is an eloquent personal story of life in a Beijing hutong. It details the architectural and historic elements of several hutong districts.

Logistics

Price: Free
Minimum age: 0
Age suitable: 13+
When: All year around

Getting there & doing it

Official tourist office maps are generally unhelpful, but boutique hotel The Orchid has prepared a wonderfully informative walking map of the hutongs around its immediate neighbourhood close to the Drum and Bell Towers.

A sample route begins on pedestrianised Qianmen Street south of Tiananmen Square and heads west onto Dashilan Dajie, a narrow street lined with heritage Chinese stores and Beijing’s oldest cinema. Cross Meishi Jie and continue along the quieter Dashilan Xijie, noting the cafés and grey-brick houses. Turn right onto Qingzhu Xiang, a small lane featuring Zhenwu Temple, which leads onto Liulichang – an attractive hutong famous for its inkstone and giant calligraphy brush shops.

See them by rickshaw

Trishaw drivers hang around Houhai Lake and nearby hutongs offering tours – a more leisurely way to take in the hutong atmosphere. Bargain hard or pay over the odds.

See them by bike

Beijing is full of dockless bicycles which are a great way to explore the hutongs, but you will need to enlist the help of a Chinese person to access them, because the apps (Chinese only) require a Chinese bank account for payment. However, there are plenty fo excellent cycling tours on offer – see our recommendations.

Avoiding the crowds

Some of the most popular lanes, such as Nanluogu Xiang near the Drum Tower, can become intolerably crowded, especially on weekends. However, you generally only need to step off the main thoroughfare and duck into a side alley to find relative peace and solitude.

Alternatively, seek out the hutongs around the White Dagoba Temple in Xicheng, which are wonderfully authentic and local, and far less prone to overtourism.

When to do it

Spring and autumn offer the best temperatures for wandering. Summer can be blisteringly hot; winter bitingly cold.

Who to go with: organised tours

8

Our selection of the best Viator tours of this attraction or activity

  • Beijing

Your small group tour travels by private climate controlled van while you and your English-speaking guide are whisked around the alleys of Beijing's hutongs to get off the beaten path with unlimited local beer and soda. You will eat where the locals eat at small, family-run businesses and try the best local food at places you can’t find on your own. After 3-4 hours, you will finish at a popular local brewery to have a pint of the best craft brew in town. Note: This tour will be a walking tour in effect from Mar 1st onwards. Walking distance for the entire route is approximately 2km.

Price $75

Min age 0

Rating 4.95 / 5 [631 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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  • Beijing

An authentic culinary tour through Dong Si Area, lesser tourist visited hutongs. Visit Dong Si area where you will be immersed into the real tradition of Chinese culinary culture and get the complete experience of hutong cuisine like an insider. Explore the charming traditional community, walk around the Hutong.Included will be 20+ different food tastings at various diverse locations, such as markets, shops, bakeries and restaurants. You will visit local haunts, get a chance to meet the owners and explore historical sites that few tourists have an opportunity to experience.

Price $88

Min age 0

Rating 4.97 / 5 [136 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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  • Beijing

Experience the charm of Beijing's ancient hutongs, the historic alleyways that have shaped the city's culture and identity for centuries. Our award-winning hutong eBike tour gives you the opportunity to explore the capitvating charm of Beijing's hutongs, to experience hutong life in a fun and unforgettable way. By riding our easy to use & safe eBikes, you can discover so much more. But our eBike tour is more than just a fun way to explore the city's hutongs; it's an immersive journey through the vibrant culture and history of this unique part of Beijing. -Explore lesser visited hutongs -Venture inside an old courtyard, now converted into many houses -Learn about hutong culture & history -Play the ancient game of jian zi under the Drum & Bell towers -Take it the beauty of houhai lake -Journey down the grand canal Extras could include: -More hidden gems -Swim in houhai -Street food -Water calligraphy -Dancing with locals -Rooftop views

Price $79

Min age 1

Rating 4.98 / 5 [87 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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  • Beijing

A stroll through Beijing’s Hutongs are recommended to every visitor to the capital, but locals know that “there are as many hutongs as there are hairs on an ox” around the city. The best way to get to know the most scenic twisting backstreets that locals call home is by eating your way through them, especially at the pop-up breakfast stalls that disappear after the morning rush hour. On this tour, you’ll meet your bilingual guide and small group at a convenient location, then head out to try traditional morning dishes side-by-side with the locals who love them.

Price $55

Min age 0

Rating 4.91 / 5 [85 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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  • Beijing

Get away from the tourists and explore a traditional hutong neighborhood while enjoying breakfast like a local. On this 2-hour intimate walking tour, your small group will enjoy loads of food and drinks while visiting 4-5 eateries and street stalls. Along with your English speaking guide, you'll discover how locals live in this completely off-the-beaten path area. Finish with one of the city’s best coffees with a view!

Price $55

Min age 0

Rating 4.90 / 5 [51 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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