NORTH OF THE FORBIDDEN CITY

An almost contiguous run of lakes, either set in parkland or surrounded by charming hutongs, stretches through the neighborhood north of the Forbidden City. It’s a rewarding area to explore on foot: along its narrow streets you’ll find ancient temples and grand old courtyard residences, and the recent influx of restaurants, bars, and shops has not spoiled the picturesque setting.

TopTen

1. Bei Hai Park

A classic imperial garden, Bei Hai was a summer playground for successive dynasties that ruled from the neighboring Forbidden City. Now open to the public, it is thronged by locals who come here to socialize. There are a couple of small temples, a fine, small ornamental garden, and a noted restaurant. This is arguably the loveliest of Beijing’s many fine city parks.

TopTen

Boating in Bei Hai Park

2. Drum Tower

prac_info Gulou Dong Dajie • 8403 6706 • Subway: Zhonglou • Open 8:30am–9pm daily (Nov–Mar: to 4:30pm) • Adm

Drum towers (gu lou) were once found in all major Chinese towns. They housed large drums that were beaten to mark the hour, keeping the city’s civil servants on time for work. This structure dates to 1420. Visitors can inspect some 25 drums here and be entertained by drummers delivering skin-thumping performances. Call ahead for performance times.

TopTen

Inside the 15th-century Drum Tower

3. Bell Tower

prac_info Gulou Dong Dajie • 8403 6706 • Subway: Zhonglou • Open 8:30am–9pm daily (Nov–Mar: to 4:30pm) • Adm

Dating from 1745, this replaces an earlier tower that burned down. The heavy bell it contains used to be rung to mark the closing of the city gates in the evening. During Spring Festival visitors are allowed to ring the bell for a donation of ¥100. The views from both the Drum and Bell Towers are well worth the exhausting climb.

4. Nan Luogu Xiang

Close to the Drum Tower, Nan Luogu Xiang is arguably Beijing’s hippest hutong. Though in line for redevelopment work, it still has a traditional feel, and is home to small hotels, interesting clothing and craft boutiques, and a number of cafés and bars. Baochao Hutong, nearby, is a hipster hangout that’s popular with the locals.

TopTen

Boutique in Nan Luogu Xiang

5. Xu Beihong Memorial Museum

prac_info 53 Xinjiekou Bei Dajie • 6225 2187 • Subway: Jishuitan • Open 9am–4pm Tue–Sun • Adm (audio guide ¥10, plus ¥100 deposit)

Set back from the road with a sign on top in green characters, this museum is dedicated to the man regarded as the founder of modern Chinese painting. It exhibits a collection of the lively watercolors of horses that made Xu Beihong (1885–1953) internationally famous.

6. Lama Temple (Yonghe Gong)

About a 30-minute walk east of the Drum and Bell Towers, or just a few minutes south of the Yonghe Gong subway station, the Lama Temple is Beijing’s largest working temple complex. It is filled every day with about an equal number of visitors and worshipers.

TopTen

Red-and-gold pavilion at the Lama Temple (Yonghegong)

7. Confucius Temple (Kong Miao)

prac_info 13 Guozi Jian Jie • 8402 7224 • Subway: Yonghe Gong • Open 8:30am–5pm daily • Adm

Located to the west of the Lama Temple, the Confucius Temple was built in 1302 during the Mongol Yuan dynasty, and expanded in 1906. Around 200 ancient stelae stand in the courtyard in front of the main hall, inscribed with the names of those who successfully passed the imperial civil service exams. On a marble terrace inside the hall are statues of Confucius and a number of his disciples.

TopTen

Statue at the Confucius Temple

8. Hou Hai

The most visitor-friendly neighborhood of Beijing, Hou Hai consists of three joined lakes surrounded by an expansive and labyrinthine sprawl of age-old hutongs (alleys). Visit to admire a handful of well-preserved mansions, as well as for the opportunity to see a more humble form of Beijing life as it has been lived for centuries.

TopTen

Willow-lined lake in Hou Hai

9. Former Residence of Mei Lanfang

prac_info 9 Huguosi Jie • 8322 3598 • Subway: Jishuitan • Open 9am–4pm Tue–Sun • Adm • www.meilanfang.com.cn

This was the home of Beijing Opera’s greatest ever performer (1894–1961). The rear rooms have been left with their traditional furniture as it was when he died. Others contain a hagiographic account of his life, as well as diagrams of the stylized movements required by the form, and a video of Mei, aged 61 but still playing the young girl roles for which he was famous (see Mei Lanfang).

10. Di Tan Park

prac_info North of Lama Temple • Subway: Yonghe Gong • Open 6am–8:30pm daily (Nov–Mar: to 9pm daily) • Adm • www.dtpark.com

The park was named for the Altar of Earth (Di Tan), which was a venue for imperial sacrifices. The altar’s square shape represents the earth. These days, the park is always full of pensioners strolling, chatting, and exercising. A lively temple fair is held here at Chinese New Year.

CONFUCIUS

Born during an age of war, Confucius (551–479 BC) was prompted by the suffering around him to develop a philosophy built on the principle of virtue. Finding no audience among his native rulers, he set off in search of a ruler who would apply his rules of governance. He never found such a person and died unrecognized.

A DAY IN THE HUTONGS

TopTen

MORNING

Take an early morning stroll along Wudingyao Hutong, where you can have breakfast at one of the cafés. Then continue on to the Lama Temple. On leaving, cross over the main road and pass under the pailou (gate) at the entrance to Guozi Jian Jie for the Confucius Temple. Afterward, sample Guozi Jian’s many cafés, or browse through the city’s best traditional craft shops. At the western end of Guozi Jian Jie turn left onto Anding Men Nei Dajie, a wide, shop-filled avenue, follow it south across Jiaodaokuo Dong Dajie and take a right on Dongmianhua Hutong, one of the more vibrant of the city’s old alleys. Take the first left onto Nan Luogu Xiang, cross Gu Lou Dong Dajie to Bei Luogu Xiang, and stop for a Yunnan lunch on the terrace of Yun Er Small Town before hitting the boutiques.

AFTERNOON

Head west along Mao’er Hutong until you reach Di’an Men Wai Dajie, where you turn right and up the street for the Drum Tower and the Bell Tower. Climb the towers to see the route you’ve just taken. Retrace your steps back down Di’an Men Wai Dajie taking the very first right, a tiny opening (usually marked by waiting taxis) leading into Yandai Xie Jie. At the end of this crooked alley is the Silver Ingot Bridge; cross and bear left for Lotus Lane. For dinner, head east back into the hutongs for a cozy Italian meal at Mercante.

Bars

1. Capital Spirits Baijiu Bar & Distillery

prac_info 16 Xinsi Hutong • 6409 3319

With a stripped-down bar and a cozy lounge, this remodeled traditional siheyuan offers great views. Try the house gin, vodka or fiery Chinese baijiu, fresh from the copper still.

TopTen

Capital Spirits Baijiu Bar & Distillery

2. Nuo Yan Rice Wine

prac_info 7 Banqiao South Alley • 134 2628 6012

With a sophisticated air about it and a unique, expansive rice wine list, Nuo Yan has secured a place among the top bars in town. You can also learn about rice wine production here.

3. Ramo

prac_info 64 Fangjia Hutong • 8403 5004

A casual bar with minimalist, polished-concrete decor, this place is often filled with young foreign residents. It serves decent pizza, and a variety of imported ales.

4. Mao Mao Chong

prac_info 12 Banchang Hutong, off Jiaodaokou Nanje • 6405 5718

This laid-back and affordable hutong bar offers a selection of creative cocktails, plus gourmet pizzas. The owner is friendly and speaks English.

5. The Tiki Bungalow

prac_info 46 Fangjia Hutong

This roomy, popular hutong bar brings the tropics to Beijing. There are over 60 cocktails, and the staff have an intimate knowledge of rum.

6. Modernista

prac_info 44 Baochao Hutong • 136 9142 5744

Keep the winter chill at bay with the delicious warm wine served at this 1920s-themed jazz and piano bar (see Modernista). In summer, try their sangria.

7. Arch

prac_info 3 Zhangzizhong Lu • 6409 3319

An intimate, classy bar tucked in a corner away from the bustle of central Beijing. Enjoy their potent cocktails made from the choicest of liquors.

8. Mai

prac_info 40 Bei Luogu Xiang • 138 1125 2641

Visit this tiny bar (see Mai) to choose from a wide range of cocktails prepared by a trained mixologist.

9. East Shore Live Jazz Café

prac_info 2 Qianhai Nanyan Lu • 8403 2131

Opened by famous jazzman Liu Yuan, this bar has steep wooden stairs, four walls of floor-to-ceiling windows and a roof terrace, plus live music.

10. Great Leap Brewery #6

prac_info 6 Doujiao Hutong, off Di’an Men Wai Dajie • 5717 1399

Located on a quiet hutong, this craft beer pioneer offers a pleasant courtyard and comfy sofas.

Restaurants

1. Dali Courtyard

prac_info 67 Xiaojingchang Hutong, Gulou Dong Dajie • 8404 1430 • ¥¥

This charming, little, laid-back restaurant is one of the city’s most unique outdoor venue and perfect for meals in summer in a beautiful courtyard. Book ahead for the spicy Yunnan dishes.

2. Cafe Sambal

prac_info 43 Doufuchi Hutong, off Jiugulou Dajie • 6400 4875 • ¥¥

An old-style courtyard house serves exquisite dishes cooked by a talented and creative Malaysian chef. The focus here is on modern Malaysian cuisine, with an influence from Southeast Asia.

3. Georg

prac_info 45 Dongbuyaqiao Hutong, nr Dianmen Dajie • 8408 5300 • ¥¥¥

Run by the Danish brand Georg Jensen, this place attracts Beijing’s A-list crowd. European dishes created with Scandanavian sophistication are on offer here.

4. Kaorou Ji

prac_info 14 Qianhai Dong Yan • 6404 2554 • ¥¥

This exquisite restaurant majors in Qingzhen– Hui or Muslim – cuisine, which means mutton. The specialty here is barbecued lamb, and sesame seed bread.

TopTen

Grill skin Beijing duck

5. Kong Yiji

prac_info Desheng Men Nei Dajie • 6618 4917 • ¥

A lovely lakeside restaurant with a range of exquisite dishes from the Yangzi River delta.

6. Nuage

prac_info 22 Qian Hai Dong Yan • 6401 9581 • ¥

A well-respected Vietnamese restaurant with a lovely location just south of the Silver Ingot Bridge.

7. Yun Er Small Town

prac_info 84 Bei Luogu Xiang • ¥

A cheaper option, Yun Er has a rooftop terrace and the best Yunnan fried cheese in town.

8. Toast at the Orchid

prac_info 65 Baochao Hutong, Dongcheng District • 8404 4818 • ¥¥¥

Toast boasts a relaxed, ambience and fusion food that blends flavours of the Middle-East with those of Asia and North Africa.

9. Mei Fu Jia Yan

prac_info 24 Daxiangfeng Hutong • 6612 6845 • ¥¥¥

This restaurant is set within a gorgeous courtyard house lavishly filled with antiques. Set menus of sweet and rich Shanghainese cuisine are also available.

10. Mercante

prac_info 4 Fangzhuanchang Hutong, Dongcheng District • 8402 5098 • ¥¥¥

This little Italian restaurant serves a top selection of dishes, and also has an expansive wine list to choose from (see Mercante).

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