Ideal for a sunny day, this itinerary to explore Beijing‘s historic hutongs (alleyways formed by traditional courtyard residences) is a pleasant 3km-long stroll. It take you on a circuit of Houhai Lake and the historic hutong (alleyways) that surround it. The Beijing walk starts and finishes at the landmark Yinding Qiao (Silver Ingot Bridge), a small, and often very crowded humpbacked bridge that marks the meeting point of Houhai Lake and Qianhai Lake.
Cross the bridge from south to north (you should be able to see the Drum Tower in front of you in the distance), and turn left down quiet Ya’er Hutong, where you’ll soon reach the serene Buddhist Guanghua Temple, dating from the far-off Yuan Dynasty, and open to the public. As the hutong bears sharp right, you need to turn left (at No 46) down a narrow alley, which will take you to the lakeside, past Dazanglonghua Temple (on your left), built in 1719 and now a kindergarten.
Turn right at the lake and push on past Prince Zaifeng’s former stables (at No 43) and Prince Chun’s Mansion (at No 44), where China’s last emperor, Puyi, was born. You’ll also pass groups of locals on your left here, playing lakeside table tennis, working out at Houhai Exercise Park or indulging in a spot of lake swimming.
Just after the lake swimmers, you’ll see the large gated entrance to Song Qing Ling’s Former Home, once also part of Prince Chun’s Mansion, and now a museum open to the public. Following the lake anti-clockwise, you’ll soon reach Golden Sail Boathouse on your left; an unassuming bar with a lovely lakeside terrace; perfect for a quick beer break. Keep following the lake anti-clockwise until you reach a small public square called Houhai Park; a popular spot for formation dancing, particularly in the early morning or early evening.
Walk up the access ramp at the far right-hand corner of the square, past pet songbirds hanging from trees in their bamboo cages, and then turn left onto Yangfang Hutong, before taking the first right into Liuyin Jie and then the third left into Daxiangfeng Hutong.
Here you’ll begin to follow the huge grey-brick back wall of Prince Gong’s Palace on your right, before the extra-wiggly hutong fun really begins:
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Turn right (still following the big wall) into Zhanzi Hutong and then bear left. But then, as the hutong bears right, walk straight on for 50m or so before turning right at the very end into the narrowest of narrow alleys. Continue down this alley, bearing left, then right, before taking the first left into Dongmeichang Hutong.
In this hutong, you’ll bear left, and then right, before you need to turn left at the tiny hutong crossroads onto Qianjing Hutong. About 50m up here on your left is No 13, an unmarked shared courtyard where travel writer Daniel McCrohan, who put together this walking tour, used to live with his wife, children and six other families. Immediately after his former home, on your right, you’ll see the surprisingly innocuous, red-painted entrance to No 8 (also unmarked). This courtyard, sadly closed to the public, is the former residence of Emperor Puyi’s sister, Yunxin. Incredibly, Puyi, who once called the Forbidden City his home, lived here briefly in 1959 after being released from prison.
Follow Qianjing Hutong back to the lakeside, bearing right, then left. Once at the lake, you can turn right to head back towards Yinding Qiao (Silver Ingot Bridge), past a plethora of bars and cafes. Beijing at its best.