As I wrote about must see and most famous locations in Beijing city there are many beautiful places to visit in Beijing that are not so famous but are worth visiting and maybe even more interesting than those popular places. These places are less crowded and less commercialized. I wrote about amazing almost untouched and half empty places for hiking such as Xiangshan and Badachu. But even within Beijing city there are many many places that you can visit. There are so many hutongs, temples and gardens. Just imagine how many there are interesting places in Beijing suburbs and around Beijing such as hills, temples, gardens, villages… Just imagine whole China. How many cities( their temples, palaces, gardens, old quarts), villages, mountains, temples, lakes, rivers… One life is not enough to discover whole China. Even if you try hard there will be always hutongs for which you wont have time to enter and some gates of temple that will be closed at some moment.
First of all hutongs there are really still remaining seas of hutongs in which you can easily get lost. Before there were many authentic hutongs around Shichihai still by beginning of 2000s. But today they are commercialized as I spoke before similarly as QIanmen street and Nanluoguxiang street. Also Liulichang is quite commercialized street about which I spoke before. But still you can find some uncommercialized hutongs between Beihai, Shichihai and Jingshan parks( about these hutong section I wrote), around Drum and Bell Tower, northeastern part of Shichihai, around Qianmen, around Liulichang and in Northwestern suburbs of Beijing. Every hutong is a story itself. Every hutong street hides road to another street, to door of another courtyard, hidden temple and to old locals. It is best to enter hutong randomly and continue dwelling around wherever road takes you. For me dwelling through hutongs is really magical and spountaneous thing.
That’s what I did in June 2015. It was late afternoon.fter visit of Beihai park I wanted to reach commercialized hutongs at shore of Shichihai lake to buy some souvenirs and have dinner there. I crossed the street towards hutongs knowing direction of Shichihai. I didn’t want to look at map but I have said I will go randomly and let the spirit of hutongs to bring me to lake wherever and whenever. So adventure started. Already street was tight and with a lot of dusty and faded facades. I was passing further. At beginning there were quite a lot of visitors and rickshaw drivers passing every second. Many motorbikes passed too and occasionally some car so I had to pay attention in order not to be hit by car, motorbike or rickshaw. I passed next to tall red wall and gate on which was written Prince Gong Mansion. It is famous palace and garden that dates from end of 18th century. It was closed already since it is open until 5pm. I have never been there but I plan to visit it once. You see how hutongs bring you to unexpected places. As I was advancing deeper there were less and less people who were also passing through hutongs. There would occasionally pass one or two bicycles or one rickshaw that would beep in order to pass faster since streets were becoming tighter. 3 young Chinese guys were passing in same direction as I did. Occassionally one or two restaurants would appear with not many people in them. In front of one courtyard there were two older ladies speaking and laughing while small children were playing in courtyard. Streets were so tight that you had to stick to walls when bicycle appeared. Smell of garlic, cooked noodles and baked buns was felt intensively from several directions. It seems it was dinner time in hutongs. One old man without t shirt and barefoot was sitting on small chair in front of courtyard and cooling with simple fan. Behind in courtyard was one tree with wooden cage in which thrush was happily singing. Old man seemed patient, kind and happy with simple things. Few children run through street chasing cats. In front of several courtyards there were small wooden tables around which were sitting many neighbors drinking tea or beer, speaking loudly and playing chess. Behind them few were standing and watching game and commenting few times. More and more it started to remind on labyrinth since from every direction were hutong streets appearing. Simply there are too many streets and too little time for each of them. I was randomly choosing streets instinctively hoping to reach lake. As further I was approaching in every street were groups of neighbors, few tables, few cages with birds and of course chess. In one or two courtyards I saw through half opened doors few people doing Tai Chi. I already started to think whether I am going to right direction. I felt partially lost. 20-30meters in front of me I saw two women standing and eating peaches while their dogs which seemed unpredictable since they barked were running a lot around. At the end of that street were two directions. I turned back and saw policeman passing by motorbike. He continued forward and I started to follow him. When we passed dogs I asked him where is the lake. He pointed to the left. In less then one minute I appeared in crowded commercialized and restored hutong next to the lake. All this happened in about 30min of time. 30 minutes can really enrich you a lot and raise your adrenaline even. I got it hutongs are amazing and real adventure. When it seems you are far from the aim just look behind a corner and you will be there.
There is another interesting hutong experience. It was last morning in Beijing in 2013 me and my family headed around old hutongs of Drum and Bell Tower towards Shichihai lake. It was so beautiful and calm. People were sitting on chairs in front of doors, speaking to neighbors… Old group of people were smoking pipes next to lake. They had long white beards and were old as hutongs. We were searching for one temple which we visited once in 2001. After 20minutes of wandering through hutongs which seem similar we noticed the temple. I definitely recommend you to choose your hutong and discover as much as possible of it!!!
Below you will find many places very interesting but less famous places in Beijing.
Ritan Park: It is former Temple of the Sun that served for worshipping Sun during imperial China. Today it is a public park located in the center of Beijing. It is very beautiful park and good opportunity for meeting locals. In that park you have great opportunity to relax after job as it is located in CBD so potentially your office isn’t far from the park. There is nice lake and a pavilion where you can have rest and where you can see many locals enjoying in parks silence or playing erhu( some kind of Chinese violin). You can sit on bench or rock next to small lake. Also there is large altar in the park where in past worshipping of sun was conducted. But unfortunately altar is closed for visitors. You can just stand behind its tall and red walls. In this park there is amazing restaurant that I can recommend Xiao Wang Fu restaurant food is extremely good there. It is amazing park where I went often with my family when I was child. I played there a lot with my friends When I came back there in 2013 it was very touching. I was thinking about that while I was sitting on stone next to lake. Water wasn’t visible from big number of lotus leaves, flowers were closed as sunlight wasn’t visible today anymore. Small pavilion was there on another side of shore in which few people were lying like drugged from this wet heavy air. I was sitting there digging through my memories related to this place. I was thinking why there wasn’t t at least one man with trush in cage hanged on tree. I was thinking on so many things related to this park which I did and saw before – such as throwing small gum balls in the altar, and watching kites in the blue sky which were flied by people in altar. I remembered how kites were balancing through wind and disappearing in the heights, becoming less and less visible like memories by years are fading in your head until you try to refresh them by your thoughts or visiting place to which this memories are connected. That’s what I did now. I came to Ritan with aim to refresh my memories of this what I did there and also to see if I will perceive this place in same way like at that time. Like many other places in Beijing which I visited few days ago didn’t had just value of my memories from childhood but also bigger historical and cultural importance which are related to ancient China. I realized importance of this place for Taoist ceremonies and past, but here in Ritan I wanted my memories from childhood to dominate. I stood up finally and I started running around another bit bigger lake. I was running like I did it when I was 6. I was still running. Behind me was my brother. I was leading him around this lake, running over traces of my childhood, running over path over which I run and played so many times. I led him to climb over rocks which were standing next to lake. We passed through small cave and we climbed on top of rocks. I continued running towards stone bridge on another side of lake. I took him to bridge and I told him how I threw my bus toy into water there, when I was 3 and half old. No one, even me didn’t knew why I did it that day long time ago.
Last summer there was interesting club of Tai Chi which practiced there. If I live in Beijing I would come there every morning for a tai chi before job.
Entrance is free and it is open from 6 until 22 in summer and 21 in winter. Park is located 1km from Jianguomen subway station where you can get by Line 1 or Line 2.
Ditan Park- It is former Temple of Earth and it had function of worshipping Earth during imperial China. It is also public park today but less beautiful than Ritan Park. This park is famous for altar determined for worshipping Earth and it is square altar as square symbolized earth in ancient China. My personal recommendation is to visit it in autumn to enjoy perfect scenery of yellow leafs. Also during Spring Festival there is temple event such as dragon dancing and lion dancing in honor of Chinese New Year. During winter it is open from 6 until 21 and during summer until 21:30. Entrance fee is just 2RMB. You can reach the park by subway line 2 or line 5 and get at Yonghegong station exit A.
Taoranting– it is not so famous but it is very beautiful park in Beijing. When you have free time you must visit it. Park is composed of beautiful lakes and pavilions that are hidden in shadows of trees. On one of the islands of the lake there is very old pavilion that dates from XIV century. It is called Taoran pavilion. In past scholars and poets used to gather there and enjoy tea and moonlight. Today many citizens enjoy in leisure activities there. Entrance fee is just 2RMB and it is open from 6 until 21:30. You can travel there by Line 4 and get out at Taoranting station exit C and walk for less than 1km until entrance.
Grand View Garden( Daguanyuan)- It is not old place but is determined to look like an old palace. It is made according to description of Chinese novel “Dream of Red Mansion” written by Cao Xueqin in XVIII century. This novel is one of Chinese masterpieces and known part of Four Great Classical Novels. It is a story about emperors concubine who had her own palace and garden given by emperor to her. In 1984 as a part of filming TV Serial this gardens were built that you can visit today. Today you can find here few lakes, pavilions and mansion where in novel concubine lived. There are also halls were other members of palace have lived. There is part of garden where peacocks are moving freely and you can hear them yelling in almost all palace. You can enjoy scenery of lake and willow trees above it from a stone bridge or a bench. Palace halls are open so you can see the ambient where according to book aristocracy lived. Ambient is even more interesting thanks to life-size figures of concubines and aristocracy dressed in rich and traditional clothes. So you can feel ancient aristocratic atmosphere very well here. If you want to see ancient style show with music and costumes come at night and enjoy this amazing atmosphere specially decorated with red lanterns.
How to get there: Subway Line 4 until Taoranting station. Then walk around 30 min to the area. https://www.google.sk/maps/dir/Taoranting,+China/Grand+View+Garden,+12+Nancaiyuan+St,+Xicheng,+Beijing,+Chinaemail@example.com,116.3616512,16z/data=!4m14!4m13!1m5!1m1!1s0x35f04d7519fd6c21:0x1d946e8b6a9fe032!2m2!1d116.374386!2d39.878496!1m5!1m1!1s0x35f04db7369a6721:0x595425e7aa73d6e1!2m2!1d116.3561502!2d39.8712889!3e2 In order not to get lost check this map
Opening Hours and Entrance fee: 7:30-17:30 40RMB, Night show 18:00-21:00 70RMB
WOFO Temple: It is temple of sleeping Buddha located in Beijing Botanical Garden 20km from Beijing. This temple is 1300 years old and dates from Tang dynasty. It is most famous for big statue of Buddha in state of nirvana. Also there is a tree in courtyard that is transplanted from India in ancient times. I was there few times in 2000 and 2001. But in 2013 after visiting Xiangshan I came there same afternoon and door was already closed. As I said there will always be temple whose gates will be closed for you one day. I was standing in front of closed red gate of Wofo Si ( Temple of Sleeping Buddha ) ancient temple famous for statue of Buddha which lies and sleeps.. It was on my plan for today to visit this silent and isolated temple. I am standing in front of closed gate because I spent all day on Xiangshan. I didn’t had time to come to Wofo Temple before it was closed for visitors. By standing on fingers I was trying to see at least something inside. I saw, only few stairs, and some red door, and one grey wall. That’s all. Light wasn’t enough bright there to see everything better. “What is behind that door?? Sleeping Buddha or room for praying or something else.??” I wanted to visit it in 2015 but I had some health problems that day. Next time I will come definitely. Than I will write you about my experience of returning to that temple.
Opening hours: Apr. 1 – Nov. 15: 08:30 to 16:30,Nov. 16 – Mar. 31: 08:30 to 16:00
Entrance Fee: 5RMB for temple and 5 for Botanical Garden.
How to get there? Take a Line 4 and get out at Beigongmen station and take a bus 331 there. Get out at Yuntong Station.
NANLUOGUXIANG: It is a must see broader hutong in Beijing. It is very popular but isn’t often mentioned in media. Nanluoguxiang goes paralelly with Shichihai lake but is separated from lake by more hutong lanes. . It is a bit wider, similar to those hutongs which are full of shops and which are closer to this lake and non-similar to those tighter, quite and unchanged which are surrounding those wider hutongs. It is well restored and revived hutongs. Nanluoguxiang is very interesting street and full of Chinese traditional souvenirs. While you are walking through Nanluoguxiang on both sides are traditional houses with hanged red lanterns on walls. Most of these houses are serving as souvenir or clothes shops, pubs, street food kitchens and tea houses. There is sold almost everything from Chinese souvenirs in this street. I advise you to try amazing Beijing sweet and sour yoghurt on the street and bao zi.
There were also rickshaw drivers who you could rent to take you through hutong area. Street was full of Chinese and foreign tourists and customers. Despite its similarity to other souvenir, clothes and food streets about which I wrote already it was good to know that one more such street exists where you can walk around and chill out. While I was passing through this street, on both sides of Nanluoguxiang between houses were often entrances to narrower hutong streets which were calling me to get in to discover them. I was just looking in each of them as much as I could see while I was passing straight towards Shichihai. You can come in the evening there and have a tea or beer and speak to many young people that hang out there. Nanluoguxiang is amazing example how tradition and modernity coexist in harmony. For example tables of pub where people drink beer and traditional teahouse are separated less than 1meter. It is so lively at night with so many lights of lanterns and advertisements.
How to get there? Take subway Line 5 to Beixinqiao station and exit at exit D and walk westwards for about 10-15 minutes.
Guanghua temple- Temple dates from XIII century. It is very specific as it isn’t overcrowded but isn’t out of city. It is located in middle of hutongs near Shichihai lake. So if you are passing through this area. Legend says that on that place was an Buddhist monk was begging at place of todays temple and was helping people in need. In his honor authorities decided to build a temple on that place. Passing through hutongs you will never guess that there is temple as it is located in an ordinary hutong courtyard. But if you pay attention you will see that there is a small board on which is written name of temple. Also two stone lion figures are standing in front of temple as they symbolize guardians. In the temple courtyard there is incense burner where you can pray and burn incense if you desire. There are several golden colored statues of Amitabha Buddha in the temple. Also there are 3 small white porcelain statues of Guanyin- goddess of compassion. In halls there are several paintings of Buddhist Monks and Chinese calligraphy. Temple atmosphere is silent and mystical. When I was there in 2013 I noticed several monks passing in their orange robes. Also there was one cat family there mother cat with 4-5 little kittens. It was visible that monks care about them as I saw water and food for them on few places. Also within temple there is library with old Buddhist scripts.
How to get there: Line 8 and get out at Shichahai station and follow this map temple is less than 1km. https://www.google.sk/maps/dir/Shichahai,+China/Guanghua+Temple,+ShiChaHai,+Xicheng+Qu,+Beijing+Shi,+China,+firstname.lastname@example.org,116.3911164,17z/data=!3m1!4b1!4m14!4m13!1m5!1m1!1s0x35f05322996efa69:0x3002eded093c4b28!2m2!1d116.396247!2d39.937563!1m5!1m1!1s0x35f053174f0fa977:0x5446d6c3cb7fe1!2m2!1d116.3904553!2d39.9410493!3e2
Bamboo park: Is amazing park famous for great amount of greenery. There are many bamboos and willows. Few canals and lake make scenery very beautiful. Park dates from 18th century and today is public park. If you come in early morning you will see locals practicing tai chi, exercising various body exercises, playing ping pong, dancing or anything else for good health. In evening you will see locals sitting, chilling out and some of them next to cages with thrushes, singing or dancing as well.
How to get there? Take Line 4 to National Library station.
Opening Hours: 6-21
Some more parks and temples in and around Beijing that I know but haven’t been there yet, Parks: Prince Gong Mansion, Zhongshan Park, Milu Yuan Park, Jingyi Park, Longtan Park Tuanjiehu park, Temple of the Moon park, Chaoyang park, Yuyuantan Park,
Buddhist Temples: Jietai Temple, Hongluo Temple, Fahai Temple, Dajue Temple, Fayuan Temple, Big Bell Temple, Wanshou Temple,Yunju Temple, Tanzhe Temple, Guangji Temple,
Taoist Temples: Xuanren Temple, Dongyue Temple, Huode Temple, Luzu Temple, Goddess Bixia Temple( at Miaofengshan )