Travel Report: Nanluoguxiang, Beijing.
September 2018. “What the heck is a hutong?” a friend of mine asked when I told him about my plans to visit Nanluoguxiang in Beijing. It’s a question I’ve had a lot over the years, so I made sure to pencil in a hutong flavoured article for my Beijing page. The Chinese capital used to be crammed full of hutongs, which are basically mazes of narrow, crisscrossing lanes full of traditional buildings.
Home to traditional, grey-tiled buildings and walled alleyways, visually the hutong has the look and feel of ancient Beijing.
Today, in Beijing’s endless quest for urbanisation, very few of the old hutongs remain.
However, there is Nanluoguxiang, an 800-year-old street that, although completely redeveloped and highly gentrified, still succeeds in offering visitors an insight into Beijing’s old way of life.
Today the street is packed with bars, cafes, restaurants, shops, art galleries and even boasts a renowned pottery workshop and traditional theatre.
Above all, it’s great to see that a lot of care has gone into honouring the original architectural style. Furthermore, there are statues, plaques and artwork all along the street focusing on the hutong’s traditional role in Chinese culture.
The area is very well signposted and mapped out. Therefore, if you feel like Nanluoguxiang is a bit overwhelming, why not dip into one of the many side streets. In most cases things are much less hectic and make for better photo opportunities.
The street is great for people watching and just about every element of society is in the mix. I saw students in cafes hunched over books and wealthy, brand-wearing shopaholics flashing their credit cards. Elsewhere there were working class locals, holidaying foreigners, desperate beggars and grubby street kids. It really is quite the melting pot.
This old dude sitting in his tuk tuk caught my eye. He was making virtually no effort to draw in customers and seemed to be watching the crowds buzz back and forth with a kind of detached bewilderment. I’m guessing he’s seen some huge changes here over the years and still doesn’t quite know what to make of it all.
Back in 2014-2015, when I lived in Beijing, I used to love coming to Nanluoguxiang with friends for a coffee. I can highly recommend Wiggly Jiggly’s. They do free refill on Americanos before 18:00.
There are also plenty of bars and the scene is getting trendier as the years go by. Craft beer is becoming incredibly popular and you’ll certainly have to dig deep in your pockets for a proper night out. Reef Bar is one of many good options.
For a taste of Nanluoguxiang’s famous ice cream, check out Ice Story set at the end of a courtyard cul-de-sac. The store itself is a poky little place, but there are plastic tables and chairs peppered around the courtyard and some cool wall art.
Nanluoguxiang is in Beijing’s Dongcheng District. You can get here on the subway, getting off at the station of the same name on lines 6 and 8. If you want to base yourself here, check out the well reviewed, budget-friendly Peking Youth Hostel at 113-2.
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