I recommend putting a Beijing hutong visit at the top of your sightseeing list. If only walls could talk, I’m sure these streets could tell a million stories of the old Beijing that is slowly disappearing. See it while you can.

Beijing Hutong street signs help with navigation.
Don’t be put off by culture shock in China. It’s all a part of the experience of travelling here. 
Each street differs from the next, making this area a fascinating place to observe and learn.

For those not keen on going alone, there are various hutong tours in the city.  Neatly arranged, the conditions here remain poorer than in other parts of the city. However, there is still beauty to be found – I especially loved the architecture and doorways; they were simple yet beautiful.

Where to Find Hutongs in Beijing

A hutong is a narrow residential alleyway or street which connects to other hutongs to form a neighbourhood of wonderful passageways that provide a window into an old, traditional China.

If you want to see an untouched part of China hidden beneath the glare of modernisation, then visiting hutongs in Beijing is a must-see during your time in the city.

It’s important to remember that hutongs are residential areas, and I felt a territorial atmosphere existed there. Don’t trespass (many doors are open, which lead to courtyards), be discreet and ask permission to take a photo if you have to – don’t treat the locals there as a zoo exhibit.

Life in a Hutong – Hustle, Bustle and Chaos

Life. Colour. Community.
Full of traditional courtyard residences (which you obviously can’t enter as people still live here), the hutong streets are buzzing with life. Neighbours engage in loud chatter and play games, street food sizzles, and its smell tempts you closer in. Motorbikes, bicycles, carts and people whiz by trying to undercut each other in a race to get in and out – noise and movement are all around you.
A man walks through a Beijing hutong street, amongst furniture, hanging laundry and bikes.
A red street sign with white writing for a Hutong in China
Woman and her dog walking on a street in a Hutong in Beijing
In another street, you will reach calm where an old man sits quietly with his thoughts, a lady does her laundry and hangs it out to dry in the middle of the walkway, and a mother stands peacefully cradling her child in her arms.

Doorways that lead to courtyards found in Beijing Hutongs
Woman and her dog walking on a street in a Hutong in Beijing

Street food vendors are a common sight in Beijing hutongs. Have a passion for adventure? This two-hour e-bike tour gets you weaving through the ancient hutong streets, stopping for the best street food stops. 
In some streets, I was even asked to leave (via a waving hand gesture), which I respected. This is a community, a person’s private property and everyday life, meaning you must find a fine line between exploring and being nosy. Being narrow and slightly hidden away, the hutongs could be the ideal area for opportunists to strike, and with one of my first hostels located right on an outer hutong street, I knew it didn’t feel right to go any further in.
Typical Hutong streets, with open doorways that lead to courtyards

Is a Hutong Safe to Visit? 

A man walking down a street in a Beijing hutong lined with brick buildings and bikes.
Heading to Chengdu? Learn about conservation on a Chengdu Panda Tour at the famed Giant Panda Breeding Base. 
People surrounding street vendors in a Beijing Hutong near a shop with hanging red lamps.
When you stroll through the tiny lanes, a map isn’t needed (nor would it be that helpful); getting lost is all part of the fun, and as the hutongs are set on a grid system it’s not hard to get back out. 

Respect the Hutong Culture 

I never once felt uneasy when visiting a hutong, although I wouldn’t advise walking around them late at night. Some of the outer hutong streets that connect to the main streets in the area have great street food and cheap beer. Often, you will be welcomed by the locals for a midnight feast, but I would never advise wandering alone deep within the hutong neighbourhood itself.

Historically, the look and layout of hutong would determine social status. Today, many of Beijing’s hutongs have been demolished to make way for the new, modern Beijing but some remain protected to preserve the city’s history. Visiting Hutongs in Beijing – The Last Preservation of Old China

Although tours of the hutongs are available, I chose to explore them without being on a time limit. Big blue signs point the way on the main streets (highlighting the hutong neighbourhood name), and red signs on the wall will mark the specific hutong street you are entering.
Street food in the hutong neighbourhood.

Beijing Hutong Tours

A man standing at a grill need to a long table of cooked meats .
Is Beijing your first stop on a wider China trip? This backpacking China guide covers tips on safety, getting around, and budget travel ideas. 

Further Information About Hutongs in Beijing 

More on Responsible China Travel

A man walking down a street in a Beijing hutong lined with brick buildings and bikes.
I spent a day exploring the cluster of hutongs in central Beijing. Near to QianMen metro station, a 15-minute walk from Tiananmen Square. With popular hostels such as 365 Inn and Leo located in the same neighbourhood, they are easily accessible.
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