How to Experience Local Life in Beijing Hutongs?

Written by Sally Guo Updated Jul. 2, 2021
Hutong Culture

Beijing Hutongs, surviving from their 700 years of history, today still tell the stories of traditional neighborhood life of local people. However, today there are some hutongs which have been changed into touristy attractions packed with bars, food stalls, souvenir shops, and a flow of tourists, like Nanluoguxiang, if you want to go there to admire a truly authentic hutong - big mistake.

How to find the original hutongs, which are composed of slanting tile roofs, deep and narrow alleys, tranquil square courtyards? Skip the touristy hutongs, we will tell you a lesser-known day tour route for you to see authentic hutong life in Beijing.

7:00-10:00 Hutongs’ Today and Yesterday

  • Tour route: W Damochang St - Changxiang 3rd Alley - Xianyukou St - Jinfang Snack Bar for breakfast - Qianmen St - Langfang 1st Alley - BeijingFun - Yangmeizhu Byway - Liulichang E St - Liulichang Cultural Market (All the sights can be found on Google Map.)
Beijing Hutong Morning Tour Map

This route covers a major area that has witnessed the changes of Beijing hutongs over the centuries and provides a good sample for a touch of hutongs today and yesterday.

The tour begins from West Damochang (西打磨厂) Street. Formed in the 14th century, the street got its name because it gathered stone factories and sold sharpening stones in ancient times. The two sides of the street represent respectively two states of today’s Beijing hutongs: one side has been completely restored and rebuilt, paved with the smooth stone road, while the other side still retains its natural disorder and poor old houses.

Then the tour route goes through Xianyukou (鲜鱼口) Street where you can get local breakfast (or brunch) at Jinfang (锦芳) Snack Bar, Qianmen Street where you can see some clues of the old commercial street. Next comes Langfang 1st (廊房一条) Alley where you can experience the fusion of western buildings and Beijing culture at Beijing Fun district, and the Yangmeizhu (杨梅竹) Byway where you can find neighborhood life.

After Yangmeizhu Byway, walk along Liulichang East Street and get to Liulichang (琉璃厂) Cultural Market, where you can see a lot of stores selling Chinese paintings, ancient stationery, and antiques. Beijingers have loved antiques since ancient times and you can even see a dog wearing an old-style bracelet on its neck.

11:00-14:00 Original Courtyards and Hutong Life

White Tower

White Tower

  • Tour area: White Tower Surroundings

White Tower is the earliest and largest lama tower in China. Falling in Miaoying Temple (known as White Tower Temple), was built in the 13th century and a community came into being revolving around the temple.

The area is one of the last of several original neighborhoods in the city. Here you can find the most Beijing original courtyards and hutongs which do not decline due to the passing time nor have been over-rebuilt – they keep still, expressing hutong families’ daily life.

A Hidden Gem in Hutongs: Bear Brew Café

Rooftop Patio

Rooftop Patio

Walking along the east wall of White Tower Temple, you’ll find a café with no name but a sign saying “自在場頭 Gallery Design Lifestyle” at the door. Remodeled from a gallery, the café has a rooftop patio where you can view the fascinating beauty of the White Tower. If it is at dusk, you can enjoy the beautiful sunset.

Young people love to come here at weekends, for afternoon tea, mini-seminar, or just to while away the time.

15:00-19:00 Hidden Business Area in Hutongs

  • Tour route: Guozijian St - Jianchang Hutong - Saffron Restaurant for dinner - Wudaoying Hutong
Beijing Hutong Night Tour Map

This route is comparatively commercial. Unlike hutongs for residence, Guozijian (国子监) Street and Wudaoying (五道营) Hutong has been repaired for business. The former, famous for Confucius Temple and the Imperial College Museum, tend to be more culturally oriented, while the latter, located on the west side of the Lama Temple, features bars, cafés, and restaurants.

A Nice Place to Eat in Hutongs

Saffron is a Spanish restaurant lying at the corner of Jianchang Hutong and Wudaoying Hutong. But it could be easy to miss – it looks like a hutong courtyard from outside. This lovely restaurant is highly popular for “the best Spanish paella in Beijing”. Its open-air courtyard and balcony provide it a warm and exquisite ambiance.

Some Common Activities in Hutong Families

When visiting a hutong family, you’ll get a good idea of the interesting activities in hutong life:

Traditional Paper Cutting

Traditional Paper Cutting

  • Making dumplings – Dumplings is a typical Chinese food since old times. For hutong families in Beijing, making dumplings is not only a celebration of festivals but also a tradition to welcome their guests.
  • Papercutting – Paper cutting is one of the oldest folk arts in China, but until now, there are fewer and fewer people who can make paper cuts. Some elderly people in hutongs still keep the tradition of doing paper-cuts to celebrate festivals or other happy events.

There are some other folk arts in Beijing hutongs, such as facial makeup for Peking Opera, Chinese knotting, painting, or calligraphy. Contact us for details if you are interested in any of them.

Walk into Beijing Hutongs with Us

Our Customers Trying Paper Cutting

Our Customers Trying Paper Cutting

China Travel has handpicked some tour packages that give you insight into real life in hutongs:

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