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Beijing Hutongs: Ultimate Guide To Exploring Beijing’s Unique Alleyways!

Beijing, a city steeped in history and culture, boasts a unique network of narrow alleys known as hutongs that are relatively unknown to tourists but are an absolute must-visit if you really want to explore the culture!

Hutong 24 hours in Beijing

These labyrinthine passages offer an authentic glimpse into traditional Chinese living, providing rich experiences for those travellers who seek a taste of old-world charm.

Here’s all you need to know about the hutongs that are totally unique to Beijing, including their locations, how to get there, photography opportunities, ideal times to visit, and nearby attractions!

What Are Hutongs In Beijing?

Hutongs are traditional residential alleyways that interconnect, and connect to courtyard residences, forming a neighbourhood. They date back to imperial China and really offer a glimpse into the traditional China of the past.

Hutongs are an integral part of Beijing’s identity, and these communal residential areas really foster a strong sense of community and culture.

Historically, the appearance and arrangement of hutongs indicated social status. Today however, many of Beijing’s hutongs are long gone as they got demolished so the modern cityscape could be built, but fortunately some are preserved to safeguard the history of the city.

Walking through the intricate web of hutongs you get to witness the time-honoured practices of daily life, the traditional architecture, and the warmth of a close-knit community.

Even if you are only in Beijing for a short layover, it’s definitely worth heading to the hutongs once you’ve visited other landmarks such as The Great Wall Of China and The Hall Of Prayer For Good Harvests in The Temple Of Heaven.

Hutong 24 hours in Beijing

Where Can You Find The Hutongs In Beijing?

Hutongs are scattered throughout central Beijing, primarily in the historic districts within the 2nd Ring Road surrounding The Forbidden City and Houhai Lake, as well as near the Lama Temple and Qiongdao Island.

The ancient neighbourhoods in the city centre epitomise the real everyday and authentic life in Beijing.

Some well-known hutong areas include Nanluoguxiang, Yandai Xiejie, and Gulou Dong Dajie. All these hutongs are located very close to each other that you can walk between them. 

Nanluoguxiang is my favourite hutong to visit, situated just north of The Forbidden City and Jingshan Park. This hutong is easily accessible by subway (Line 6, Nanluoguxiang Station) or you can walk there after visiting The Forbidden City.

It is very quiet here despite being so central, and you can visit the Drum Tower (Gulou) and Bell Tower (Zhonglou) as they are also in the Hutong.

Hutong tower 24 hours in Beijing Hutong 24 hours in Beijing tower

Make sure to climb to the top for great panoramic views! The Houhai Lake is also beautiful to stroll around.

Hutong 24 hours in Beijing

The houses and streets in the hutongs were built over 700 years ago, but little has changed in the last few hundred years and they remain extremely well preserved.

Despite the hutongs being extremely close to the city centre you will feel a million miles away from the hustle and bustle, the noise and the traffic.

If you’re looking for the hutongs on Google maps, most of the streets are labelled either ‘Aly’ or ‘Hu Tong’. On the main streets, you’ll see blue signs with the hutong name on, that leads to the hutong. 

Exploring Around The Hutongs

The great thing is that you don’t need a map to get around the hutongs, just simply stroll through the alleyways and get lost – it’s all part of the adventure! The hutongs are arranged in a grid so it’s not too hard to find your way out when you’re ready to leave!

The hutong streets are vibrant with activity. Street food stalls and smells, neighbours chatting loudly and playing games, motorbikes, bicycles, carts, and people rush by, all creating a dynamic and exciting atmosphere.

In contrast, some streets offer complete tranquility and you’ll just see the odd local going about their daily life. Each street possesses a unique character, making the area a great place to explore!

While the conditions here may be less affluent than in other parts of the city, there is still beauty to be found here in the hutongs, particularly in the simple yet elegant architecture and doorways.

Hutong 24 hours in Beijing

Should You Explore Beijing’s Hutongs On A Tour Or Independently?

It’s up to you whether you prefer to go on a hutong tour, or if you prefer to explore independently like I did.

Several hutong tours are available if you prefer – here is a great hutong walking tour.

Hutong 24 hours in Beijing

Taking Photographs In Hutongs & Respecting The Culture

Hutongs are a great place to capture some great photography opportunities – the charm of the alleyways, the vibrant doors and the intricately designed courtyards.

However, please remember at all times to respect the locals, their privacy, and the Hutong culture. Hutongs are residential community areas, they aren’t a touristy place, and so naturally residents are a bit wary of new faces. 

Never trespass – (even through open doors leading to courtyards as the courtyards are private!), always be discreet, and ask before taking any photos of anyone.

Don’t be nosy, and know when you feel like you’re intruding as opposed to just exploring, and if someone waves at you to leave, then do it.

Whilst I felt at ease when I was walking around the hutongs, it’s still important to use your common sense. Avoid walking around after dark, especially deep into the narrow and concealed hutongs. You don’t want to become a target to opportunists.

Hutong 24 hours in Beijing

Where To Go For Food In Hutongs

There are some great local eateries in the hutongs where you can immerse yourself in the flavours of Beijing! There are lots of diverse food options so make sure to try out the specialties!

Adjacent to Houhai Lake, this scenic area of Shichahai also has a lively atmosphere with bars and restaurants.

Also, some outer hutong streets connect to main roads that offer excellent street food and affordable beer!

Where To Stay In A Hutong

Staying in a hutong neighbourhood can serve as a convenient base to explore the hutong. Plus, it offers a really unique experience!

Budget: Three Legged Frog and 365 Inn are both popular hostels to stay in the area.

Mid-range: Beijing Taishan Hotel, Jingshan Garden Hotel

Luxury: Beijing Yue Bin Ge Courtyard Hotel

A visit to Beijing’s hutongs is like stepping back in time, providing a glimpse into the city’s rich history and cultural heritage.

Whether you’re keen to view the architectural details, the communal spirit, or the culinary delights, exploring the hutongs is an essential experience for any traveller seeking the authentic soul of Beijing!