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.
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.
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.
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.
Is a Hutong Safe to Visit?
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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.
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
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Further Information About Hutongs in Beijing
More on Responsible China Travel
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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