Beijing’s hutongs are narrow, sometimes hundreds of years old alleys that lie deep in the busy city. Here you can see the local life of the Chinese people; people sitting in front of their houses on stools, chat with passers-by, hang their laundry to dry on the power lines, selling homemade sweets in the street, playing games in the street and a get a bite to eat at local improvised terrace. This is a real piece of China that you should not miss.
You also find the traditional Siheyuan in many hutongs; a complex of four buildings (residential multi-family buildings, small shops and workshops) build around a central square, the ‘courtyard’. Everything is walled off, but often you can look in through an open door and find that locals do not mind if you ask (with gestures and a smile) if you can take a look at the courtyard.
The Beijing hutongs came up for debate extensively during the Olympics in 2008 because the government wanted to tear down many streets and wanted to place modern houses especially for the Games. That happened partially, but fortunately, many hutongs have been preserved.
Visit the hutongs
Some hutongs have gotten so much name recognition, that they have become real tourist attractions. Eg Nanluogo Xiang (LINK) and Dashilan West Street. But also Maoer Hutong and Fangjia Hutong are worth a visit. Most neighbourhoods with hutongs are located in and around the Dongcheng District. Most hotels and hostels in Beijing provide you with a map after arrival where the neighbourhoods and metro stations are listed on (if not, buy it on the spot). You can take the metro to go and walk around the neighbourhood until you get lost, this is how you find the most fun kind of places!