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Last updated: 26 June, 2023
Expert travel writer: Thomas O’Malley

This series of three connected lakes – Qianhai, Houhai and Xihai – is one of Beijing’s most popular tourist attractions, day and night.

Surrounded by willow trees, winding hutong lanes, bars and restaurants, the lakes are used for leisure boating in spring and summer, and ice skating and ice biking on the frozen waters during winter.

Dating back to the Yuan Dynasty, the man-made lakes once marked the northern terminal of the Grand Canal. Qing nobles built their homes here, and some, such as Prince Gong’s Mansion, can be visited and explored.

The lakes can be a great place to experience local culture, especially early in the morning. On the north shore of Houhai, Beijingers swim in the lake all year round, breaking the ice in winter for a freezing dip.

Don't miss

Rickshaw tours around the lakes are touristy but a highly pleasurable Houhai staple, though few if any drivers speak English. After dark, shoreline bars clad in neon attract hordes of drinkers.

While you’re there

Prince Gong’s Mansion, while Houhai’s top sight, suffers from some of the worst overtourism in Beijing. But another lakeside abode sees a fraction of the visitors and is well worth a visit. Song Qingling’s Former Residence is the mansion of Madam Song, the wife of revolutionary Sun Yatsen, and has been preserved like a museum.

Yandai Xiejie (Tobacco Pouch Alley) roughly links Houhai with the Drum and Bell Tower, and is lined with souvenir and snack shops. South of Qianhai, seek out Three Stone Kite Shop, a longstanding family business selling traditional hand-crafted paper kites.

Prince Gong’s Mansion

Beijing, China

Prince Gong’s Mansion

The grand residence of an imperial prince, this magnificent mansion close to Houhai Lake is most notable for its classical Chinese gardens. Pathways wind between carp ponds, artificial hills, ornate pavilions and even a miniature Great Wall folly.

Adult price: £5

Best for ages 18+

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Price: Free
Minimum age: Any
Age suitable: 6+
When: All year around

Getting there & doing it

The most direct way to arrive is by subway. Shichahai station (Line 6) is a few steps from the east of Xihai Lake, while Beihai North station (Line 8), is on the road between Xihai Lake and Beihai Park.

The lakeshores are most popular with walkers and strollers, but you will also find people jogging, cycling, and riding in rickshaws. If you opt for a rickshaw ride, be sure to barter hard, as the rickshaw driver’s first price offer will inevitably be inflated.

When to do it

Houhai is open all year round, seven days a week, both day and night.

Daytime can be oppressively hot during the summer months of July and August.

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

Private Half-Day Beijing Tour: Forbidden City and Houhai Lake Bike Tour


Private Half-Day Beijing Tour: Forbidden City and Houhai Lake Bike Tour
Experience Beijing like a local, hop on public transportation or ride a bike to traverse the capital with your knowledgeable guide. Get an local insider’s perspective of the city and visit metropolitan highlights on this full-day tour. On this day, you will take metro to visit Tian'anmen square, walk through the Forbidden City, ride a bus to the Lotus Lane and pedal through Hutongs to Shichahai Lake Area. This tours offers morning and afternoon departures, and your lunch or dinner is inclusive based on your chosen schedule.

Price: $138

Min age: 0

Rating 5 / 5 [6 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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Beijing Imperial Dining Experience at Bai Jia Da Yuan Restaurant with Houhai Lake Bar Tour


Beijing Imperial Dining Experience at Bai Jia Da Yuan Restaurant with Houhai Lake Bar Tour
Take your love one to enjoy this unforgettable Chinese Imperial Dining experience at famous Bai Jia Da Yuan restaurant in Beijing where you will be surrounded by the beautiful royal garden and immerse in an ancient times atmosphere. A great show will be preformed during the dinner time. You will also have a bar tour in romantic Houhai area during the night.

Price: $248

Min age: 0

Rating 4.66 / 5 [12 ratings]

Tour supplied by:

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Destination guides including or relevant to this experience



Close up of rooftops of the Beautiful red and blue coloured Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests in Beijing

China’s vibrant capital captives with its unique melding of ancient wonders, bustling hutongs and modern architecture – the food ain’t bad either. Top of the bill are the Forbidden City, the marvellous palace of China’s greatest Emperors – and the extraordinary Great Wall of China.