1. September 2018. “What the heck is a hutong?” a friend of mine asked when I told him about my plans in Beijing. It’s a question I’ve had a lot over the years, so I made sure to pencil in a hutong-flavored My 5 for my Beijing page. The Chinese capital used to be crammed full of hutongs, mazes of crisscrossing narrow lanes and alleyways. Home to traditional, gray-tiled buildings, visually they have the look and feel of old Beijing where tight-knit, jam-packed communities pedal goods in their stores while kids play in the street and grandmothers hang laundry from wobbly balconies. Today, in Beijing’s endless quest for urbanization, very few of the old hutongs remain. However, there is Nanluoguxiang, an 800-year-old street that, although completely redeveloped and highly gentrified, still succeeds in offering visitors an insight into the city’s traditional heritage.
2. September 2018. Primarily this is one of Beijing’s chicest shopping spots and millions went into its redevelopment. There are bars, cafes, restaurants, shops, art galleries, a pottery workshop and a traditional theatre. It’s nice to see that some care went into paying tribute to the hutong’s traditional role in Chinese culture. There are around a dozen panels set into the walls depicting daily life and a steady flow of Chinese tourists clamoring for photos.
3. September 2018. Keep an eye out for the various plaques providing historical information. The area is very well signposted and mapped out, so if you feel like Nanluoguxiang is a bit overwhelming why not dip into one of the many side hutongs. Most of these are much less hectic and make for better photo opportunities.
4. September 2018. Nanluoguxiang is great for people watching and just about every element of society can be found here from students in cafes hunched over books to wealthy, brand-wearing shopaholics, working class locals, holidaying foreigners, beggars and grubby street kids. This old dude sat in his tuk tuk caught my eye. He was making virtually no effort to draw in customers and seemed to be watching the crowds buzz back and forth with a kind of detached bewilderment. I’m guessing he’s seen some huge changes in Nanluoguxiang over the years and still doesn’t quite know what to make of it all.
5. September 2018. I used to love coming here for a coffee or a beer with friends and can highly recommend Higgly Piggy for a caffeine injection (free refill on Americanos before 18:00) or perhaps an icy cold Hoegaarden at Reef Bar. For a taste of the street’s famous ice cream, check out Ice Story set at the end of a courtyard cul-de-sac. The store itself is a poky little place, but there are plastic tables and chairs peppered around the courtyard. Nanluoguxiang is in Beijing’s Dongcheng District and is best accessed via the subway station of the same name on lines 6 and 8. If you want to stay here check out the well reviewed, budget-friendly Peking Youth Hostel at 113-2.
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