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Beijing has glittering, modern towers and wide straight highways and avenues that are laid down crisscross across the crooked narrow lanes and old clan courtyards that haven't changed much for decades called "hutongs."
While touring Beijing's famous imperial places such as the Forbidden City, to see how common people have been living for decades, see the hutongs. You can enjoy the shopping, sightseeing, food, old dwellings, and famous courtyards.
You could also visit with the local families and take classes to learn a variety of skills such as Chinese cooking, art, and mahjong. Here are 7 suggested things to do.
From the approximately 6,000 hutongs (胡同 Hútòng /hoo-tong/) that Beijing had in the 1950s, most shoddily constructed by Beijing's poor population, now a few hundred remain where you can see an older style of Beijing street life that lingers in the hutong lanes.
You can ride through these lanes on bikes or walk, and in some lanes, you might find rickshaws available to ride for a small fee. You'll see people shopping at little storefront stores, sitting and playing games and kids playing. You could stop and talk to them, shop and sightsee, etc.
The map shows a suggested route to follow.
Route: Yonghe Temple – Guozijian (the Imperial Academy) and the Temple of Confucius – Nanluoguxiang Hutong – Yandaixiejie Hutong – Silver Ingot Bridge – Prince Gong's Mansion
There are thousands of little shops and big stores where you can bargain and try to get a deal on a variety of items. Some hutongs specialize in certain kinds of products.
Tobacco Pouch Street, for example, specializes in tourist souvenirs and ethnic crafts from around China and even India.
Wudaoying Hutong is a narrow one about 400 meters from the Confucious Temple. There are shops selling handmade crafts, artwork, traditional Chinese clothing, and handmade earrings. Prices are higher for the handmade products. You can get rickshaw rides on this street.
Goldfish Hutong is known for Chinese pickled vegetables of many kinds, a traditional Chinese food. At the Tian Yuan Pickle Shop, you can buy pickles. For street snacks, go to Dong An Men Dajie to the west of Jinyu Hutong where there are small stands and shops selling cooked meat of many kinds and seafood. Candied fruit is a Beijing snack.
For fine dining on traditional food, Daxiangfeng Hutong (大翔 凤胡同) is a hutong to go to. Meifujiayan Restaurant (梅府家宴) is famous for traditional Beijing food.
See more about Hutong Food.
While touring around Beijing and seeing the hutongs, you can relax in the teahouses and cafes. There are a variety from western to Chinese, traditional to modern to choose from.
Would you want to visit with a local family instead of just talking to the people on the lanes? China Highlights has opportunities for you to visit and chat with the locals in their homes!
You can see the courtyard architecture from the inside, and see glimpses of a rapidly disappearing traditional way of life.
Family visits: As a special option, you are invited to visit with a local hutong family and enjoy a typical home-cooked meal such as dumplings and other dishes that they usually make for guests. You could chat with them about their lives.
Special activities: We offer special private instruction to learn a variety of skills, arts, and Chinese games as we describe below. To learn more, contact us and get a quick reply within 24 hours.
While in hutongs, you can also learn some about Chinese culture and learn to make special Chinese food you can then serve back home, learn crafts, art, writing, and even Chinese games. China highlights can provide special individualized instruction just for you during your visit to hutongs and to courtyard dwelling families.
A lot of people would like to make Chinese dumplings called jiǎozi (饺子). In this visit, a local family will show you how. You'll cook together and eat them together and chat. Our guide can help translate if necessary.
Before the visit you could visit the old hutongs of the Xicheng District and walk along the bank of the beautiful Houhai Lake.
In a hutong home, you can learn basic Chinese cooking skills. Then, enjoy the fruits of your labor.
In this class, you will be introduced to some basic skills in Chinese calligraphy and draw a simple character under the guidance of our teacher. Drawing tools such brushes, ink, paper, and ink-grinders are provided. You will get an introduction to the history and classification of calligraphy and learn some easy Chinese characters.
Chinese paper cutting is a national handicraft with profound cultural connotations. It is easy to learn and only requires a pair of scissors and paper, but a good paper cutter requires a great deal of skill in cutting and paper selection.
In this class in a hutong, the teacher will introduce the history of paper cutting, demonstrate it, and teach you how.
Chinese knots are another traditional handicraft with a long history and profound cultural connotations. Each knot is woven out of one single silk cord and given a name according to its shape and meaning. Our teacher will share some of these skills, and you can take home your art work.
During the class, your teacher will introduce you to the history of the craft, demonstrate how, and teach you.
Mahjong is a game for four players that originated in China. It is often said in China: "If you want to learn Chinese culture, play mahjong."
Mahjong first became popular in the Ming Dynasty several hundred years ago. It is a game which involves skill, strategy, bluff, and calculation. Your teacher will share some of the skills with you at your class in a hutong.
During the class, you will learn the basic skills of how to play, and if you are interested it is possible to buy a mini mahjong set as a souvenir if you wish.
The Chinese version of yoyo, also known as diabolo, was created about one thousand year ago. Made of wood or bamboo, the Chinese yoyo can be used by people of any age for play or exercise. An experienced user can execute really fantastic tricks. Why not try your skill while visiting the hutongs?
During the training, your teach will explain the history and use of Chinese yoyos. You'll learn how to do it from an expert, and if interested you can buy one as a souvenir. See the Beijing Diabolo Museum.
Yangko dance is a folk dance with a history of 1000 years in China. Usually the movements of the waist and hips drive the feet to move in rhythm with one step forward and half step backward. Join us to move your body to experience this amusing activity.
Cricket Culture in China encompasses a 2000 year history of both singing and fighting crickets. It is a traditional culture of Beijing.
You will visit the home of a cricket enthusiast in the hutongs who rears crickets, learn about the history of the Beijing Cricket Culture, and gain some basic knowledge about rearing crickets. Learn more about cricket fighting and other entertainments in Ancient Entertainment.
The hutongs reflect the culture of the common people, as much as the Forbidden City, Summer Palace, and the Temple of Heaven are symbols of imperial culture. To get to know Beijing, you should not miss the hutongs during a Beijing tour