Explore the Hutongs
Written by Navjot Singh
Beijing’s traditional hutongs are a timeless treasure that offer a rare glimpse into yesterday’s way of living in China’s remarkable capital.
One of the first things on your Beijing must-do list should be to experience the hutongs, the city’s culturally and historically rich traditional narrow alleyways. Though hutongs are located everywhere in the city, the best ones to visit surround the Wangfujing area, right in the heart of China’s pulsating capital. Ancient siheyuan, or courtyard houses, can also be found in these areas. The ideal way to explore the hutongs is on foot. Start walking along Nanluoguxiang Hutong, then make your way across to the charming Drum Tower and on to Yandaixiejie Hutong.
The word hutong actually derives from Mongolian, meaning ‘water well’, and originated during the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368).
Steeped in history and serenity, the hutongs are a slice of Chinese city life, once used to divide the higher classes from the lower ones in ancient China. Though that is no longer the case, what is amazing is that despite China’s meteoric economic rise, with all the high-rise builds emerging after the 2008 Olympics, people still live along these tiny alleyways in traditional courtyard homes with lacquered red doorways and not many of the modern creature comforts.
The progress of modernity has also meant that many of the hutongs have sadly disappeared, but those still around offer a fascinating glimpse of a bygone Beijing – elderly people wearing Mao suits and playing cards or mah-jong or taking part in time-honoured tea rituals. Some of the one-time homes are now boutique hotels, teashops, and art galleries.
Neatly perched within the labyrinth of hutongs, and close to the beehive of Wangfujing, the ultra-luxe Peninsula hotel is the perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle. You will feel as if you have entered your own private courtyard. A massage at The Peninsula Spa provides a respite for the senses after a day of walking.
The Peninsula Beijing
8 Jinyu Hutong, Dongcheng,
Tel: +86 10 6521 1815
Distance: 6,164 km
Flight Time: 7 hours, 35 minutes