Beijing is full of one that that many other modern Chinese cities lack– hutong communities. A hutong is a community of traditional courtyard homes. Today, many courtyards have been divided into smaller dwellings. Often, these hutongs are reasonably self contained. They have shops, vegetable and fruit stalls, restaurants, bars and even entertainment. In short, these small communities are a rare thing as they get replaced with the more space-efficient super housing compounds and high rises. With space at a premium in China, the most populated country, you might be wise to view the hutongs while you can. That space has a price and in most cities the hutongs have been demolished in favor of modernism.
One of the most delightful little hutong alleyways in Beijing is called Nanluoguxiang, or South Luogu Alley. This alley is positioned in an epically historical location, adding to its importance and charm. Located north-east of the Forbidden City and directly north of Jingshan Park, this alleyway was once home to one of the princes of the royal family. More importantly, it was the processional alley for those ringing the bell and gonging the drum at the northern Drum and Bell Towers, which marked the northern most point of the city’s linear organization. (From south to north, the Temple of Heaven, Qianmen Gates, Tiananmen Square, Forbidden City, Jingshan Park and finally the Drum and Bell Towers).
Nanluoguxiang offers a great deal in the way of eating and drinking, and is an especially romantic place to stroll with a date while you explore the alley’s charm. You’ll find many well-known cafes varying in genre and price. Cheap and adorable bars dot the street where you can expect to pay around 20rmb a beer or 30rmb a mixed drink. Nanluoguxiang is in within a short walk of the Drum and Bell Towers to the north and Hou Hai Lake to the West. You can stroll down the alley and then check out the lake and towers before catching a cap back to your hotel.