The area around the joined lakes of Qian Hai and Hou Hai has traditionally been home to nobles and wealthy merchants. Several grand homes survive, hidden in the labyrinthine old lanes known as hutongs. This is a rare quarter of Beijing where the 21st century is kept at bay, and these back alleys represent one of the most satisfying parts of the city to explore on foot – or by rickshaw.

  • Subway: Gulou Dajie, Jishuitan

Mansion of Prince Gong

  • 6616 8149

  • Open: 8:30am–4:30pm daily.

  • Admission: ¥30 or ¥60 with tour guide, tea, and snack tasting, and traditional opera performance (call ahead for times)

Former Residence of Guo Moruo

  • 6612 5984

  • Open 9am–4.30pm Tue–Sun. Closed Dec 25 until 5th day of Chinese New Year.

  • Admission: ¥20

Song Qingling’s Residence

  • 6404 4205

  • Open 9am–5:30pm (Nov– Mar to 4:30pm) Tue–Sun.

  • Admission: ¥20


Traditional Beijing homes are arranged around a central courtyard. The main dwelling is on the north, with lesser halls on the other three sides. Originally homes of the well-to-do, over time many siheyuan were occupied by poorer families, who squeezed several households into the space formerly occupied by one. Modernization has destroyed many of these dwellings, but there is a movement to preserve those that have survived. A few have been converted into hotels .

Top 10 Features
  1. Lotus Lane

    This is the tourist-friendly name attached to Hou Hai’s main lakeside parade of restaurants, bars, and cafés. Many of these establishments feature attractive waterfront terraces.

  2. Boating and skating

    In summer the lakes are filled with small pedal boats, rented by the hour. By mid-December, they are frozen over and a large area is corraled off for public ice-skating.

  3. Silver Ingot Bridge

    The narrow channel that connects Hou Hai’s two lakes is spanned by the pretty, arched Silver Ingot Bridge, which dates from the time of the Yuan dynasty (1279–1368).

  4. Hutongs

    The lakes lie at the heart of a sprawling old Beijing district, characterized by the traditional alleyways known as hutongs. These alleyways are lined for the most part by the blank outer walls of siheyuan, which are inward-looking houses that are arranged around a central courtyard. Each siheyuan houses several families.

  5. Mansion of Prince Gong

    Built for a Manchu official but seized by the imperial household, the former residence of Prince Gong is the best preserved historic mansion in Beijing. The garden is a pattern of corridors and pavilions, dotted with pools and gates.

  6. Former Residence of Guo Moruo

    Beijing has countless “former residences of,” mostly connected with Party favorites. Moruo was an author and influential figure in the rise of communism in China. His house offers the opportunity to see inside a hutong home.

  7. Rickshaw tours

    One way of seeing the hutongs is from a rickshaw. Prices and length of the tour are negotiable, but expect to pay around ¥180 per person for a two-hour jaunt with stop-offs at several place of interest.

  8. Song Qingling’s Residence

    Song Qingling was the wife of the revolutionary leader Sun Yat Sen. Her former living quarters are now a small museum (note the pistol that Sun Yat Sen gave his wife as a wedding present). The gardens surrounding the house are beautiful.

  9. Yandai Xie Jie

    One of the loveliest streets in Beijing is lined with historic buildings, most of which have been converted into small boutiques and bars, including a temple that is now a café.

    Gaudy lamp shades for sale on Yandai Xie Jie
  10. Drum and Bell Towers

    Just north of the eastern end of Yandai Xie Jie these two imposing towers once marked the northern-most limits of the city. You can ascend the towers for views of Hou Hai and beyond.

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