We’ve received and published this article written by Alessandra Fratoni
If it’s your first time in Beijing and you’ve never heard of the Hutong, or are familiar with them but only from what you’ve heard, you need to take a pen and paper and write down which are the top 5 Hutong in Beijing that you can’t miss.
First of all, we need to clarify what the Hutong are and where they came from.
The Hutong of Beijing – Index
What are the Hutong?
The Hutong, (胡同) which in the past were alleyways of the old sections of Beijing that ran between the traditional courtyard homes, are nothing more than narrow streets that spread out in all directions of the capital.
Once traditional Chinese dwelling places, today they are alleys that are slowly disappearing to make way for new buildings and ever more impressive constructions.
The Hutong, in Chinese history and culture, has had an important role and are a concrete witness to the changes that have taken place in the capital over the course of the centuries.
The history of the Hutong
During the period of the dynasties, the city of Beijing was built according to very specific directions: in the center there’s the Forbidden City to be followed by a line of concentric rings that spread toward the extremities of the city.
In this period the Hutong was the lowest level of subdivision in the city since it was just an inhabited road that ran from east to west.
With the fall of the last dynasty and then the revolution, life in the Hutong underwent a decline because the structural order of Beijing fell short. During this time more families lived in the same house and hygienic conditions were not the best.
Only with the advent of the People’s Republic of China did the Hutong begin to disappear. In their place, there are wider roads and new buildings.
The Hutong today
Today, not many of the historic Hutong remain. Many have been completely razed to the ground, but some, by the will of local residents of Beijing, have remained more or less intact.
Only a few people still live in these residences that may be a little downtrodden but still recall the past to mind.
Of the nearly 3600 Hutong that once existed, today only a few hundred remain. Obviously, of those remaining not all have been well preserved over time.
So here’s a list of the best ones not to miss if you want to visit Beijing and taste the best of ancient Chinese culture.
Top 5 Hutong not to miss
A lively and frenetic Hutong is Nanluogu Xiang, especially in the evening when the lights begin to come on and young Chinese start to fill it.
Thanks to the strong concentration of bars, shops, clubs, and restaurants, this Hutong has become very popular among both residents of Beijing and tourists.
How to get there by Metro: Line 6 – Nanluogu Xiang stop
Not far from the infamous Nanluogu Xiang and close to Lake Qianhai, in this part of Beijing, there’s the Drum and Bell Tower. Also known by its abbreviation Gulou, this touristy road is surrounded by restaurants and shops of various types.
How to get there by Metro: Line 2 or Line 8 – Gulou Dajie stop
On one of the most important roads of Beijing, not far from the Forbidden City, there’s the most famous market in Beijing: Wangfujing. In this old Hutong, especially in the evening, many curious tourists turn up there who are interested in Chinese culinary specialties, from the strangest to the most delicious.
Odors, noise, aromas, and smells fill the atmosphere and make this place a must-see in Beijing. The more adventurous can try fried insects on a stick.
How to get there by Metro: Line 1- Wangfujing stop
Located on Guozijian Street, this Hutong from around 1300 is close to the famous Temple of Confucius and Yonghegong Lama Temple.
In 2008 it was restored to its former appearance, giving it a look right out of old Beijing.
It’s a peaceful Hutong set off from the chaotic life of the city.
How to get there by Metro: Line 5 or Line 2 – Yonghegong Lama Temple stop
This Hutong is the farthest from Beijing. It has a length of about 6 kilometers and is famous for its foreign embassies and its ties to important Chinese historic events. Here you’ll find banks, old churches, and official residences.
It’s another Hutong not to miss if you want to see a little different version of Beijing with a more European aspect.
How to get there by Metro: Line 2 – Qianmen stop, Line 2 or Line 5 – Chongwenmen stop
How to see the Hutong
The best way to visit the Hutong is to explore them on foot during a relaxing walk while taking beautiful photos. You could also use a local guide to give you the historical background of the place in an interesting way.
Lastly, if you’re looking for a more entertaining way to visit the Hutong, you absolutely have to try a rickshaw. This typical means of transportation in Beijing can take you around the city rapidly and less tiringly.
Obviously, for those who have more time available to spend in the capital and want to meander more deeply into the city, the search continues. There are other Hutongs that are worth the effort to discover.
Fortunately, in recent years the government is acting to preserve these places tied to the past and Chinese tradition, and allow the original population to not lose their home by maintaining them as a social model.
Alessandra Fratoni, is a class of ’93 graduate in English and Chinese Linguistic Mediation at Roma Tre. Among the various Chinese courses and a master’s degree in Export Management and Digital Marketing, she always finds the time to travel and discover the world. She’s curious, loves cats, and enjoys using her free time to watch movies and TV series. You can find her on Linkedin.