For my fourth and final instalment of Where Rebecca Travels: Beijing I travel Beijing soaking in the local culture.
Having visited Beihai Park, the Great Wall of China, Tianenmen Square, Forbidden City and all the temples in my previous Where Rebecca Travels Beijing travel guides, my final instalment is all about taking my time to travel Beijing and enjoy the local culture ranging from the traditional hutongs to the new age cat cafes in the upscale Sanlitang district.
Traditional Beijing: Hutongs
To experience Beijing you absolutely must experience the hutongs.
Rated as a top 10 in my Lonely Planet Beijing Travel Guide Book as something to see (remember this is alongside the Great Wall and Forbidden City) you can’t appreciate all sides of Beijing without visiting hutongs
Hutongs are a type of narrow street or alley made up of traditional courtyard residences. They remind of me visiting a caravan park, annex next to annex with communal areas to form a community.
In central Beijing there are two main hutong areas of which I visited the South Gong and Drum Lane area near the Drum and Bell Towers.
Wandering through the area is incredible.
You get such a mix of the very traditional—this residential area watching people go about their daily life including using communal public bathrooms—with the more modern—a Starbucks and gelato cafe.
It’s a really buzzy vibe and a whole other side of Beijing I hadn’t seen before.
New age Beijing: Sanlitang
Before travelling to a new country we all have a stereotype in our mind or a way in which we envision our new destination.
Before visiting Paris I expected to walk into a Parisian dream of fluffy dogs, Carrie Bradshaw-esq outfits and music playing all around me.
Before visiting London I expected to hear ‘Governor’ a lot, see nothing but black cabs on the road and be surrounded by the poshest of posh people.
Before visiting New York I expected to see nothing but suited and booted men and women screaming into cell phones and hailing cabs to their very important meetings.
And before visiting Beijing I expected to see traditional ways of life, almost rural.
I know that seems silly as Beijing is a major city, but in my head I expected to almost hit the sticks with chickens and dirt roads. While this isn’t that far from the hutongs (no lose chickens though), for Sanlitang it could not be further apart.
Sanlitang is the cool aunt that’s about 15 years younger than your parents. She brings with her trinkets from foreign places that suddenly gleam in your jewellery box. She smokes and drinks espresso and eat affogatos and knows of the coolest bars. She listens to jazz and hangs out in cat cafes. She shops in the latest trendiest places and is always on point.
This is Sanlitang.
With a brand new multi story mall full of Pandora, Adidas, Apple, Gap etc. this area is all about the new age Beijinger.
Within the mall is an abundance of coffee shops—with very tasty coffee, London could learn a thing or too!—with or without cats or owls or other small animals for you to pet and play with over a coffee and cake.
If beer and archery are more your thing, there is an archery shopfront with a bar where you can go and try your arm at a few rounds. Oh and because archery isn’t archery without a tiny animal, there’s also a miniature pet pig that you can pat.
Just outside the mall are bars upon bars. There are those on the strip with stripper poles in the window.
To those that had I not been with an actual Beijinger I never would have known that these dilapidated buildings that seem to be in the midst of a construction project with wires coming down from the roof and metal grids coming up from the concrete floors are actually trendy bars with delicious cocktails made even more delicious of the 60RMB price tag.
And then there’s those on the ground floor of the resident complexes that look like someone thought that could turn a few quid by putting some mode lighting into their front room and offering up some themed cocktails.
Moving slightly away from the mall is the new Interconntiential that projects a light show every night. It’s under and around this new hotel where you’re find bars and restaurants of exceptional quality, all with exceptional price tags.
With decadent cocktails bars and Duck de Chine the French Chinese fusion restaurant with the most amazing delicious peking duck this area is anything but rural with lose chickens running around.
Of course if you’re short on time in Beijing, there are the must sees: Great Wall of China, Forbidden City, Lama Temple. But if you can stay a little longer and are looking for authentic Beijing, the hutongs and Sanlitang are where it’s at in equal parts authentic and equal parts opposite.
If you’re planning a trip to Beijing view my full Where Rebecca Travels: Beijing series for inspiration and tips.
- Where Rebecca Travel Beijing: Part I The journey to Beijing and discovering Beihai Park
- Where Rebecca Travels Beijing: Part II Hiking the Great Wall of China
- Where Rebecca Travels Beijing: Park III Tiananmen to temples: How to see the top sights of Beijing in a day