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HOU HAI

The area around the joined lakes of Qian Hai and Hou Hai has traditionally been home to nobles and wealthy merchants. Several grand homes survive, hidden in the labyrinthine old lanes known as hutongs. This is a rare quarter of Beijing where the 21st century is kept at bay, and these back alleys represent one of the most satisfying parts of the city to explore on foot – or by rickshaw.

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Hou Hai

NEED TO KNOW

prac_info Subway: Shicha Hai, Jishuitan, Beihai North

prac_info Mansion of Prince Gong: 8328 8149; open Apr–Oct: 8am–6:30pm daily, Nov–Mar: 9am–6:30pm Tue–Sun; adm ¥40 (¥70 with tour guide, tea and snack tasting, and traditional opera performance; call ahead for times); www.pgm.org.cn

prac_info Former Residence of Guo Moruo: 6612 5984; open 9am–4.30pm Tue–Sun; closed Dec 25 until 5th day of Chinese New Year; adm ¥20

prac_info Song Qingling’s Residence: 6404 4205; open Apr–Oct: 9am–5:30pm daily (Nov–Mar: to 4:30pm); adm ¥20

Google Map

  • Visit Hou Hai by day to explore the hutongs and historic residences, but come back later to dine and see the lake glimmering with the flotilla of tea-candles floated out on the water each evening.
  • The Hou Hai area has several excellent bars and restaurants.

1. Boating and skating

In summer the lakes are filled with small pedal boats. By mid-December, they are frozen over and a large area is cordoned off for ice-skating.

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Visitors enjoying at an ice skating rink

2. Silver Ingot Bridge

Google Map

The narrow channel that connects Hou Hai’s two lakes is spanned by the pretty, arched Silver Ingot Bridge, which dates from the time of the Yuan dynasty (1279–1368).

3. Former Residence of Guo Moruo

Google Map

Beijing’s many “former residences of” are mostly connected with Party favorites. Moruo was an author and key figure in the rise of Communism in China.

4. Hutongs

Google Map

The lakes lie at the heart of a sprawling old district, characterized by traditional alleyways known as hutongs. These alleys are lined for the most part by the blank outer walls of siheyuan, which are inward-looking houses arranged around a central courtyard.

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Traditional hutongs with visitors in the lake

5. Drum and Bell Towers

Google Map

Google Map

Just north of the eastern end of Yandai Xie Jie, these two imposing towers once marked the northernmost limits of the city. You can ascend the towers for views of Hou Hai.

6. Song Qingling’s Residence

Google Map

Song Qingling was the wife of the revolutionary leader Sun Yat Sen. Her former living quarters are now a small museum. The surrounding gardens are beautiful.

7. Lotus Lane

Google Map

This is Hou Hai’s main lakeside parade of restaurants, bars, and cafés. Many of these establishments boast attractive waterfront terraces.

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Restaurants by the lake at Lotus Lane

8. Rickshaw tours

Google Map

One way of seeing the hutongs is from a rickshaw. Prices are negotiable, but expect to pay around ¥180 per person for a two-hour jaunt with the occasional stop-off.

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Visitors taking a tour in the Rickshaws

9. Yandai Xie Jie

Google Map

One of the busiest tourist streets in Beijing, Yandai Xie Jie is lined with historic buildings, most of which have been converted into small bars and boutiques, including a temple that now functions as a café.

10. Mansion of Prince Gong

Google Map

This former residence of Prince Gong is a preserved historic mansion in Beijing. The garden is a pattern of corridors and pavilions, dotted with pools and gates.

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Historic mansion of Prince Gong

SIHEYUAN

Traditional Beijing homes, known as siheyuan, are arranged around a central court-yard. Originally homes of the well-to-do, over time many siheyuan were occupied by poorer families, who squeezed several households into the space formerly occupied by one. Modernization has destroyed many of these dwellings, but there is a movement to preserve those that have survived. A few of them have recently been converted into hotels.

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