Like other major cities in China, most citizens of Beijing live in flats and you will see these blocks of flats and skyscrapers all around the city. However, merely half a century ago, before the Economic Reform and before skyscrapers dominated the landscape, almost 80% of local residents in Beijing lived in Hutongs (胡同). Hutongs were a cultural symbol of life in Beijing for nearly 800 years.
The Chinese Quadrangles in these Hutongs were once the most common type of residential house found in Beijing and they have been around since the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368), which means they have also survived for nearly 800 years.
In the past, each Quadrangle Courtyard was designed to house only one family. However, since the establishment of “New China” in 1949, most Quadrangle Courtyards have been divided into several smaller courtyards and re-allocated to citizens. An elderly local in Beijing could tell you many wonderful childhood stories about life in a Chinese Quadrangle.
People who have lived in a Hutong cherish many fond memories of their lives during that peaceful period. Residents who share the same courtyard have strong relationships with one another. They often enjoy balmy summer evenings together in the open yard, under the trees or the grape vines. In these courtyards it is common to see adults relaxing and chatting whilst their children play together.
Fortunately, there are still a number of people living in Hutongs nowadays, and their daily life does not differ much from the lives of previous generations that once lived there. So visiting these ancient Hutongs is like taking a step back into old China.
Alternatively, if you are more interested in the ancient upper class lifestyle associated with more luxurious Chinese Quadrangles, you can visit some of the surviving mansions and houses in the Hutongs. Many of these mansions have been well preserved. Some of them are still used as residential houses whilst some of them have been converted into hotels or museums.
If you are fascinated by the way of life in a Hutong, the architecture of quadrangle courtyards and the 5,000 years of history behind one of Asia’s most mysterious and captivating countries, then please join us on our journey to uncover the culture and customs behind the Hutongs of Beijing.
To get more information about Hutong, please read the article entitled : Hutongs in Beijing.
The purpose of this tour:
- To experience daily life in a Hutong;
- To enjoy the art and architecture of a Chinese Quadrangle;
- To learn about the history of Beijing city (from the Yuan Dynasty onwards);
- To sample authentic Beijing-style cuisine and traditional snacks;
- To exchange thoughts and opinions about Beijing with other members of the tour group.
If you are interested in a real tour of Beijing’s Hutongs, you won’t be able to find any tour that compares to ours! We promise to provide you with more unforgettable experiences and cultural insight than any other tour on offer.
- A tour of all of the Hutong districts in Beijing;
- The services of an English speaking guide who has in depth knowledge of Hutongs and the history of Beijing;
- Small group sizes (no more than 10 people);
- Meetings with locals who live in the Chinese Quadrangles;
- Enough private time for you to explore Beijing and the Hutongs alone;
- A pdf file with important and interesting information about the Hutongs.
Further details of the tour
It is a 4-day group tour. We provide 5 nights of accommodation (including the night before the first activity). During the 4-day tour, we will visit the five major Hutong districts, including one well-known culturally significant Hutong that has many long-standing shops, which sell traditional Chinese study tools, traditional Chinese painting and other handcrafts , and the largest open antique market in Beijing. We will visit 6 different tourist sites in total.
What makes our tour special?
- On top of visiting the crowded, popular Hutong districts that all tourists flock to, we will also take you to the real, unaltered Hutongs that are currently occupied by ordinary locals and show you what daily life is like there.
- We will arrange a meeting with local people who still live in the Hutongs to hear their stories and the history behind their beloved homes.
- We will visit a real mansion that was once used by members of the Royal family in order to see what an upper class Chinese Quadrangle looks like. Following that, we will visit a nearby Confucian Temple and the Imperial College. All tickets for the named attractions are included in the tour price.
- Throughout the tour we will have the full services of our English-speaking guide, who has in depth knowledge of the Hutongs, their history and their architecture. Our guide can also act as a translator if you want to communicate with local people to find out more information about something you are interested in (first of all, they will help you initiate a conversation with a local resident if they consider it appropriate).
- We will present you with an opportunity to try authentic traditional Beijing-style food.
Accommodation: we will stay in a Chinese Quadrangle hotel that has been equipped with all modern amenities. We will spend 5 nights in total at this hotel, including the night before the first official day of the tour.
- Since our hotel is in one of the Hutong districts, there will be plenty of time and ample opportunity for you to explore the Hutongs by yourself.
- The photo of the Chinese Quadrangle hotel shown here is just an example, we cannot guarantee that this is the exact hotel you will stay in. However, they are all very similar in style and appearance.
Food: we will provide a welcome dinner on day 2 consisting of authentic Beijing-style cuisine. We will also provide you with several traditional Beijing-style snacks. After that you will be given the opportunity to explore the local food by yourself. Should you need help communicating with waiters or choosing what to eat, our guide will be on hand to help you.
There is also an optional choice to try some luxurious royal cuisine in a huge mansion that was built during the Qing Dynasty. It costs approximately £35 per head and is not included in the original tour price. We can arrange this special dinner for anybody on the tour that is interested in trying this type of food and experiencing the ‘royal’ treatment. Please look at the following photo to get an idea of what this luxury restaurant is like:
Transportation: We will mainly rely on taxis and the Underground to get around Beijing. The brave ones among you may also like to try the Underground during rush hour, which makes peak-time on the London Underground seem quiet.
Daily schedule: This tour is designed to be as relaxing as it is informative. Generally speaking, we will start the tour each day at around 9:00 am and finish at around 6:00 pm, with an extra hour and a half added in the evening if we are having dinner together.
- £570 per person
- £720 per person if you would like a single room in the hotel rather than a shared room.
Both of the above prices include: 5 nights’ accommodation in a Chinese Quadrangle hotel; 2 dinners, Chinese afternoon tea and several traditional snacks; all entrance fees for the named attractions; all transportation costs during designated tour times; the services of an English-speaking guide; meetings with locals; a trishaw (pedal cab) tour of the Hutongs; a pdf file with important and interesting information about the Hutongs; information for further travel in Beijing; help with any further traveling you may do around China after the tour.
Minimum number of participants required to run the tour: 4
Maximum number of participants for this tour: 10
Duration of the tour: 4 Days and 5 Nights (plus potentially one day before the first official day of the tour)
Tour Dates: 16th of June – 19th of June 2015
A trip to the royal mansions in the Hutong districts — Shicha Lake （什刹海）.
On our first day, we will set you off on a relaxing trishaw tour of the Hutongs. A trishaw is a rickshaw-like, three wheeled pedal cab that is commonly used in the Hutongs, so you’ll look just like a regular visitor! After the tour, we will take you to visit the largest surviving mansion from the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) – Prince Gong’s Mansion.
In the afternoon, we will visit some of the surviving Quadrangle Courtyards and talk to their current owners. Then we will throw ourselves hungrily into Jiumen Snack Street and sample some of the authentic, time-honoured local snacks, such as fried dumplings, soft bean curd, cooked offal and Chinese sticky cakes. Please let us know in advance if you cannot or would not like to eat certain things.
We will also visit Yandai Xiejie as part of the first day’s tour.
Tips: Many pubs are nearby, so feel free to include their happy hour in your evening plans!
A trip to the most archetypal Hutong districts – Dongsi（东四）and Guozijian（国子监）
A trip to the most popular Hutong district – Nanluogu Alley（南锣鼓巷）
Dongsi（东 四）and Guozijian（国子监）do not attract as many tourists so they are not as crowded as the other three Hutong districts on our tour. The buildings there are more authentic as they have not been altered to attract tourists. We will take a leisurely walk through the Hutongs and make a special stop at the Confucian Temple and Imperial College. However, in spite of all of these awe-inspiring sights, your favourite part of the day may very well be simply taking traditional Chinese afternoon tea in one of the Quadrangle Courtyards.
After our afternoon tea, we will head for the bustling streets of Nanluogu Alley.
There is so much history behind Nanluogu Alley that there’s simply not enough space to fit it all in here, so you’ll just have to see it for yourself! Some buildings on Nanluogu Alley are protected by the government, so here you can see complete, untouched Chinese Quadrangles. You will find that this Hutong attracts many more foreign visitors than other places in Beijing.
In the evening we will have our welcome dinner.
A trip to the old high street that was used during the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties — Dashilan or “Outside the Front Gate” (前门大栅栏) and the old financial centre — West Heyan Street (西河沿儿街).
You will find that this area is made up of a mixture of artificial “old-style” buildings and authentic old buildings. Luckily these two kinds of buildings are not on the same street. All of the long standing shops that once sold their time-honoured brands still exist and can be found on these streets. Although the newly built, artificial street is prettier, we don’t recommend that you spend too much time there as it is expensive and doesn’t provide the kind of authentic experience that the older streets do.
If you want to enjoy a traditional Chinese cross talk performance, please let us know in advance and we will help you book a ticket.
In the afternoon, we will focus on visiting the smaller Hutongs. This district was once inhabited by merchants, peddlers, prostitutes and ordinary citizens. The Hutongs and houses in this district appear shabby as it is in a poorer area. The Quadrangle Courtyard hotels here are smaller and cheaper than in other famous Hutong districts. Thus you will find many young tourists from all over the world staying here.
The plan for day 3 is to take a walking tour of these small but very authentic Hutongs. The most distinctive Hutongs here are Shijia Hutong and Jiuwan Hutong. Shijia Hutong was once the main street for the old banks, while Jiuwan Hutong has the most bends of all the Hutongs in Beijing.
A trip to the most well-known culturally significant street – Liulichang Street（琉璃厂）, and the antique market – Panjiayuan（潘家园）
If you want to buy some traditional Chinese study tools, now is your chance to do so! However, if you want to buy some antiques, please be cautious as some of the ones at the market may be fake.
You can choose to stick to this tour entirely, or you can just incorporate it as part of your wider plans to travel across China. We can provide you with information and help you with any other travel plans you may have if you need us to. We also provide a hotel booking service and a flight or train booking service for all of our members’ traveling in China outside the 4 designated days of the tour. We will also provide a consultancy service for you, which will help you to plan your journey across China and give you useful tips on traveling in China. All of these services are free for all of the members that take this tour or any of our other tours. If you have any special requests, please let us know as soon as possible.
We hope that you will have a wonderful time traveling with us!
For further information, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.