Beijing’s backstreets offer a fascinating glimpse into the capital of the world’s largest nation, and are full of captivating sights and stories. From traditional hutongs to hidden restaurants, each nook and cranny of the Chinese capital opens up a world of discovery. Exploring the backstreets of Beijing is a truly unforgettable experience, so read on to find out more about the must-see attractions you can find!
1. Exploring the Streets of Beijing
Discovering the enchanting backstreets of Beijing can turn a regular travel plan into a captivating adventure. The city’s cobbled lanes, hidden markets, and old-world temples paint a living image of the city’s historical roots. Whether it’s a solitary stroll to reflect or a bustling group walking tour, these destinations promise something that can’t be found anywhere else.
1. Hutong Alleyways: With their narrow alleyways, old-world charm, and dilapidated buildings, exploring the hutong areas of Beijing feels like stepping into the pages of a historical novel. As you wander, take time to admire the facades of crumbling yet still beautiful residences. Make sure to look out for iconic public art pieces and sites, such as Beijing’s Oldest Drum Tower or Marco Polo Bridge,
2. Traditional Markets: Get lost in the hustle and bustle of Beijing’s traditional markets. Spend a morning meandering through the winding aisles and selecting exotic ingredients from Xicheng Market, Xizhimen Night Market, or Wangfujing Snack Street. Everything from vegetables, herbs, and spices to teas, silk, and antiques can be found here.
3. Local Teahouses: Join the locals for a cup of traditional tea. Gather your friends and order a selection of hot teas, or seek out more unique varieties, such as jasmine or flower teas. Take your time, sip on the beverage of your choice, and allow both your body and mind to relax.
4. Religious Sites: Throughout your journey, take the time to appreciate the many sacred sites that pepper the city. From the Lama Temple in Dongsi to the Confucius Temple in Chongwenmen, you can explore the timeless religious monuments and serene courtyards of these majestic compounds.
2. Uncovering Local Gems
Roaming Through Hutongs and Markets
- Explore some of Beijing’s ancient hutongs, or alleyways – each one is filled with stalls of vibrant and captivating trinkets, one-of-a-kind souvenirs, and delicious Chinese snacks.
- Marvel at the crowds that have been gathering for store openings or the hundreds of people browsing through bustling night markets in Beijing.
- Take a stroll through Dashilar, possibly the oldest and most iconic hutong in Beijing, to gain access to centuries-old alleyways – lined with shops selling trinkets, souvenirs, and traditional Chinese snacks.
- For those unafraid to get lost, Houhai and Maijishan are nearby and present interesting alleyway neighborhoods that are worth discovering – with a sprinkle of ancient culture.
Admiring Natural Beijing Splendors
- Be mesmerized by incredible views at Lugou Bridge – one of Beijing’s oldest and most well-known structures. The views here of the mountains shrouded in mist are truly something special.
- Discover the old cobblestones and ancient buildings, and perhaps stop by one of the local art galleries or quaint tea houses at the nearby city walls.
- Pack a picnic and head out to the Summer Palace - a former imperial retreat from the hustle and bustle of Beijing, and a place of natural beauty.
3. Discovering Hidden Structures
Exploring the Labyrinth-esque Alleys of Beijing
The backstreets of Beijing offer one of the most captivating experiences to be had in China. With their complex network of alleys, courtyards, small shops, peddlers, and occasional surprises, they come alive with an energy that is unique and intoxicating. From the chaotic hustle of busy Tiananmen Square, to the quieter, tree-lined streets of the hutongs, each part of Beijing’s tapestry feels like a vibrant living heritage.
The hutongs – the backstreets of Beijing – are a delightful mix of traditional and modern. Navigating their twisting passageways and concealed courtyards is a rite of passage for locals and a treat for visitors, offering a chance to peek into a more intimate side of Beijing when away from the crowds and hectic pace.
Within the maze-like paths of Beijing’s hutongs, visitors discover hidden gems ranging from traditional stores selling knick-knacks, youtiao (a fried dough food eaten as a breakfast dish), and tea to bookshops, traditional tea houses, and even restaurants serving Peking duck and Beijing’s more specialised dishes. The experience of strolling through the hutongs is further enhanced by unexpected encounters; pedicab drivers offering tours, unknown alleyways which lead to hidden courtyards, and enthusiastic local residents keenly engaged with their own and others’ businesses.
Today, Beijing’s hutongs are far more modernised than their historic predecessors. From Starbucks’ to mcdonalds, modern restaurants, boutiques, record and bookshops, to contemporary art venues, a growing number of new establishments have moved in alongside the traditional stores. Despite these changes, the hutongs remain a fascinating window into the past: they still provide an integral part of the social fabric of Beijing, allowing locals to catch up with friends and buy everything from everyday household items to specialised goods.
Things to do in the Hutongs
- Take a leisurely walk and get lost in the maze-like alleyways.
- Try some local cuisine, youtiao, delicious Peking duck, or Beijing’s specialised dishes.
- Visit small shops and market stalls selling traditional knick-knacks and souvenirs.
- Find bookshops, tea houses, and even cafes hidden away in the hutongs.
- Look out for traditional pedicab drivers offering tours of the hutongs.
- Watch the locals go about their business as you explore the more intimate side of Beijing.
Once a place of poverty-stricken slums, the hutongs of Beijing are a living legacy of the city’s turbulent past, an ever-changing reminder of the incredible transformation it has undergone in recent decades – from sleepy provinces to a bustling metropolis. Immerse yourself in the captivating backstreets of Beijing and explore this vibrant part of the capital.
4. Traditional Treats of the City
The backstreets of Beijing are bursting with traditional treats and snacks that will satisfy any gourmand’s curiosity.
- Jiaozi – The plump parcels of flavorful goodies are a classic in northern China, made with fresh dough and various fillings including pork, vegetables, and fun mix-ins like eggs and chilis.
- Guotie – These pan-fried pockets of perfection are a crave-worthy staple in Beijing. The dough is crisp and golden, while the inside is packed with fragrant pork or veggies and a hint of ginger.
- Shaobing – This savory cookie-like favorite has its origin in Chinese flatbreads. It’s baked with sesame, scallion, and fragrant spices that give it a fantastic aroma.
- Xianxia – This sweet treat is a combination of peanuts, sugar, walnuts, and sesame on a thick batter to make a cookie-like crunchy snack.
- Bing – This specialty can be filled with a variety of flavors such as red bean paste, dates, walnuts, and more. Soft and chewy, this is the perfect treat to munch on.
- Jianbing – A quintessential Chinese breakfast, Jianbing is a savory pancake made of an eggy batter, sprinkled with green onions and sesame, and filled with pork or vegetarian fillings such as tofu.
All of these treats are authentically Beijing, and they all carry with them a unique taste and character that captures the essence of this amazing city’s backstreets. No trip to Beijing would be complete without a taste of the city’s delectable traditional treats!
5. Panoramic Views of Beijing’s Skyline
Awe-inspiring Vistas and Rugged Alleyways
Beijing’s backstreets have long been a source of enchantment. From the expansive views of the Great Wall set against the rugged valley and snow-capped peaks, to the ancient hutong closes tucked away within their bustling city.
A trip to the city is incomplete without a visit to the secluded alleyways and winding side streets. Not far from the glitzy towers of the metropolis, the many backstreets offer a glimpse of what life would have been like centuries ago. In these pristine neighborhoods, you can truly take in the rich heritage of the city and take some time to absorb the historic atmosphere.
The traditional architecture of the alleyways includes stunningly ornate wooden shopfronts, intricate pale gray latticework, and traditional courtyard buildings brimming with Chinese culture. Taking a moment to wander around these narrow streets is like getting lost in time.
Sightseers, locals, and tourists alike can wander through these less discovered streets and find robust street food stalls, cultural heritage sites, and hidden traditional archways. Step away from the appeal of the densely packed commercial area and admire the local charm during these quiet moments.
The ancient coziness of these backstreets can often be contrasted with the impressive skyline. The visible sky-high structures stand in the background, layering the landscape with a backdrop of modernity. Strolling through the winding pathways provides a captivating sight that is difficult to forget.
The majestical views and bustling atmosphere of the alleys together offer an unforgettable experience that captures the essence of the city. Explore Beijing’s captivating backstreets and you’ll soon discover why they’ve been a source of fascination for centuries.
- Enjoy the expansive views of the Great Wall against the rugged Valley and snow-capped peaks
- Absorb the rich heritage of the city in traditional courtyard buildings brimming with Chinese culture
- Explore bustling street food stalls, cultural heritage sites, and hidden traditional archways
- Marvel at the impressive skyline of modernity standing in the background
- Capture the essence of the city in an unforgettable experience
6. Cultural Experiences Along Beijing’s Backstreets
Tucked away within Beijing’s winding pathways, the city’s captivating backstreets show fascinating sites that reflect their different cultures and distinct characteristics, giving you the opportunity to uncover a hidden side of the metropolis. You may find yourself enthralled by the old Beijing and its ever-changing landscape:
- Snaking communal alleys twisting their way through the city, lined with intricate balconies, artful façades, quaint little restaurants, and carefully preserved snippets of Chinese history.
- Enchanting gardens hidden behind winding stone walls and wooden sliding doors, crowded with pine trees and leafy bamboo patches.
- The hutong area, brimming with ancient Chinese charm, known as ‘old Beijing’, made up of a maze of ancient alleyways and courtyards.
As you wander down the cobblestone corridors of Beijing’s captivating backstreets, you will be able to take in a range of ancient landmarks and buildings, including:
- The Forbidden City, an awe-inspiring complex of buildings, gardens, and courtyards, that hosted Emperors and their families for centuries.
- Tiananmen Square, surrounded by grand constructions telling the story of China’s turbulent past.
- Jingshan Park and other imperial parks, which bring with them centuries of tradition and Chinese customs.
Getting lost is part of the backstreets’ allure – there’s something uniquely absorbing and thrilling about being completely on your own path; winding your way through the streets in a tranquil, almost meditative way. An exciting variety of local street food, from savoury dumplings to sweet cakes, makes it easy to satisfy your appetite (and curiosity), while the bright and bustling shopping streets will have plenty of souvenirs you can take home.
The roads and alleyways of Beijing’s backstreets offer an unforgettable cultural experience, as well as a fascinating cast of characters. Located just off the beaten path, they offer a unique, intimate, and vibrant look at the many facets of Chinese life.
7. Finding the Best Shopping Deals
Backstreets of Beijing are a great place to find amazing shopping deals. With the advent of mobile commerce and the rise of online stores, the power of the traditional backstreets has been somewhat overshadowed. But if you know how to look, these hidden gems are here to make sure you get the best possible purchase at the lowest possible price.
From clothing to homeware and electronics to accessories, the variety of products offered at Beijing’s backstreets is staggering. It doesn’t matter what your budget is, as these narrow lanes hold something for everyone.
Haggling is an art you’ll need to develop if you want to make the most of your purchases. Being able to drive down prices is the bread and butter of the backstreets, so don’t be afraid to negotiate. Don’t be embarrassed about the price being asked – it’s expected!
You should also try to avoid counterfeit goods. As long as you don’t go for the ultra-discounted merchandise, then you should be safe. Don’t trust a seller too readily, especially if they know exactly what you’re looking for. If you think something isn’t genuine or you sense something is off, definitely don’t buy it.
If you want to get the real Beijing experience, set aside a couple of days and explore the winding backstreets. Here’s a practical guide to help you out:
- Wangfujing is the oldest pedestrian shopping street in China. If you’re looking for international brands, this is the place to go.
- Houhai is a great spot if you’re looking for street food. You can also find art, jewelry, antiques and folk handicrafts here.
- The Donghuamen night market is one of China’s most popular markets and has hundreds of vendors selling everything from exotic foods to clothes.
- Qianmen Street has a blend of traditional shops selling antiques, souvenirs, and everyday items, plus modern fashion brands, cafes, and restaurants.
- The ghost market at Yashow Clothing Market is a great place to explore. You’ll find a variety of used items, including clothes and old electronics.
Whether you’re looking for souvenirs, fashionable clothes, or inexpensive goods, Beijing’s backstreets are the ideal places to look. Put your negotiation skills to the test, explore the markets, and find some of the best deals Beijing has to offer.
8. Exploring Beijing’s Art Scene
1. Art Corridor at the Olympic Village
Famous for being the setting of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, The Olympic Village and its art corridor is also an art lover’s paradise. Located in the delightfully secluded Chaoyang District, the walkway is full of rich history and art, both from traditional Chinese creative minds and modern western influences. The outdoor exhibition is both captivating and serene, a wonderful way to explore Beijing’s eclectic art scene.
2. Art Alley Xizhimen
Bursting with vibrancy, Art Alley Xizhimen is an eclectic treasure trove of art, music, restaurants, and street performances. Whether you’re looking for traditional artwork, street art graffiti, or something more out-there, this narrow but lively alleyway is the perfect destination. There are plenty of thrift shops for those looking for unique finds, as well as a lively food market that features some of Beijing’s most beloved snacks.
3. 798 Art District
798 Art District is simply one of Beijing’s must-sees. Its distinct cobblestoned streets are brimming with life. With its incredible collection of galleries, workshops, fashion houses, bars, and restaurants, visitors can truly get an immersive experience of Beijing’s art scene. Even if you’re not looking to buy any art, this district is chock-full of stunning visual spectacles that will transport visitors to an entirely different world.
Nanluoguxiang is a charming backstreet that winds between old Beijing hutongs and charismatic brick alleyways. The surrounding shops showcase some of Beijing’s best scraps of culture, boasting artworks, trinkets, and vintage clothing. The narrow lanes are lined with bright street art, souvenir stands, and delicious street food vendors, making it an exciting escape truly unlike any other.
9. Enjoying Local Cuisine
From street vendors to hole-in-the-wall diners, Beijing’s captivating backstreets are teeming with unique, flavorful cuisine. Take a walk through the city and explore the local eateries for a true taste of old Beijing! Here are some of the best places to check out:
- Donglaishun: This popular Muslim eatery serves a variety of dishes, from simple dim sum to spicy lamb skewers. Try their renowned niangao (salty cake), a Beijing specialty.
- Shao Kao: Shanghai-style Barbecued Skewers, often served in a simple stand-alone stall, are a delicious snack. Various marinades make these irresistible — try the special spicy sauce!
- Quanjude: Winner of the 2019 Michelin Star, Quanjude is widely known as the best spot to get Beijing-style roast duck. Make sure to head there early, as the line can get quite long!
If you’re looking to try the authentic Beijing street food experience, you’ll find numerous outdoor food markets that offer just that. Donghuamen Night Market, for instance, is a great place to try a variety of regional dishes, from pancakes to dumplings and even crayfish!
These backstreet eateries offer an abundance of unique flavors. Stay open-minded and explore – you’ll never know what surprise you may find!
10. A Visit to Beijing’s Breathtaking Parks
Though the Chinese capital of Beijing might be renowned for its hustle and bustle, crowd-filled streets and bustling energy – there is much to be uncovered if you are willing to get out and explore the backstreets of the city. Venturing off the beaten track can offer a multitude of captivating sights and breaths of fresh air.
The Enchanting Fragrance of Lotus Pond Park
Perhaps the most enchanting of all these areas is Lotus Pond Park, situated amongst the shadows of the world-famous Great Wall. The park’s picturesque lake and grand temple make it a must-visit on any trip to Beijing. The sweet smell of lotus flowers is quite mesmerizing and adds an extra layer of delight for guests. Take a leisurely stroll along the the intricate pathways winding around the lake and through the small clusters of trees, and take in the tranquil views over the park.
Peaceful Contemplation at Beihai Park
Nearby, Beihai park is one of Beijing’s largest imperial garden landscapes. Surrounded by rolling hills and a vast lake, it offers the perfect environment for those seeking a peaceful escape from the city’s clamour. Go in the late afternoon and admire the last rays of sunlight over the placid lake. Along the jade-green garden pathways, visitors can find plenty of nooks and crannies to rest in peaceful contemplation and drink in the beauty of the park.
Secret Gardens and Hidden Temples
Exploring Beijing’s backstreets and secret gardens also reveals a different side of the city. Follow off-the-beaten path alleys and discover hidden temples tucked far away in the lanes. Silken-wig boutiques and traditional pharmacies offer a nostalgic glimpse of Beijing’s old style. And if peckish, seek out local street foods such as roasted chestnuts, oyster pancakes or sweet Chinese doughnuts.
A plethora of Parks
From gardens with gurgling fountains and ancient trees, to underrated temples hidden in the streets of Beijing: the city has plenty of hidden gems to uncover. Whether you’re looking for a tranquil escape to admire lotus blooms, or a chance to explore winding alleyways and revel in some local cuisine, Beijing’s backstreets and parks offer something for everyone. If you want a break from the hustle and bustle of China’s modern metropolises, Beijing’s backstreets offer an array of incredible experiences. With its unique cultural backdrop, its captivating historical sites and its array of hidden culinary gems, this is an oasis of exploration that should not be missed. So find yourself in the heart of the city and take a walk – you’ll be sure to find something incredibly unique and memorable!