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Exploring the bustling Nanluoguxiang area in Beijing

Exploring the bustling Nanluoguxiang area in Beijing

Nanluoguxiang (Chinese name: 南锣鼓巷) is a busy tourist area that is famous for traditional hutongs. Historically, Nanluoguxiang was the dwelling area of aristocrats and elite officers of the Qing dynasty, but today, it is an important tourist spot for foreigners and locals alike that wish to explore the beautiful hutongs and buy souvenirs.

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According to UChinaTravel, “Built in the late 13th century, NanLuoGuXiang was a flourishing commercial street during the Yuan Dynasty. It later became a center of political activity during the last two dynasties. In 2006, the Beijing government decided to protect NanLuoGuXiang and give it a face lift. Since then, it has become famous for its bars, cafes, and culture.”

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What to do and see around Nanluoguxiang

Nanluoguxiang is a walking street, which means there is plenty to see and do in the area. The hutongs are the main attraction, but there is an abundance of shops, cafes, and bars to keep you busy all afternoon. The best time to visit is in the morning, before the streets get packed with tourists. Plan your trip to arrive around 10:30 am and walk the main street first. After walking for about 1.5 hours, stop and have lunch at one of the many restaurants, before continuing to explore the smaller hutongs that connect to Nanluoguxiang.

The afternoon hours between 2-6 pm are the busiest and the main road can become overwhelming. For the best experience, you should stay off the main road during the peak times. If you are up for it and don’t mind paying the price, take a Hutong pedicab tour through the hutongs. These “rickshaws” will take you through the hutongs and some drivers will give you a brief history of the area (Don’t expect in-depth tours. Their English speaking abilities are limited).

Over the past decade, the area has become a popular hangout and drinking spot. Around 8 pm, after many tourists have left, the bars start to fill up. The area is famous for its numerous bars and active nightlife. According to Excel Beijing, “Thousands of tourists and Beijing residents head to Nanluoguxiang Bar Street to have a drink or just to hang out with colleagues or friends at night. The small street with a handful of bars has now become a complete bay of entertainment and thrills. Foreign expats frequent the area to have a friendly business deal while tourists unwind here after a long day of sightseeing and shopping.”

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What to eat and drink near Nanluoguxiang

The area is packed with bars and restaurants, which offer everything from Western style dinning to Chinese specialty dinning (1,000 year eggs, squid, snake, and other specialty foods). There are too many food options to list, but it is not hard to find food. Ice cream is served out the windows of many shops and visitors are happy to stroll while munching on cold treats. Lemonade is also served by the liters to keep you hydrated in the summer heat.

Head over to Mao Mao Chong, if you are looking for some of the best cocktails and pizzas in the area. According to the Lonely Planet, “This small but lively expat favorite has a rustic interior, good-value cocktails and a no-smoking policy. Its pizzas (¥65 to ¥90)* also get rave reviews.” Mao Mao Chong can be found at 12 Banchang Hutong, Jiaodaokou Nandajie (交道口南大街板厂胡同12号). This is a smaller hutong off of Nanluoguxiang, just look for the Banchang street sign and follow the street until the end. *Price edited.

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Mao Mao Chong, Swiss Restaurant, and Tiny Times in Nanluoguxiang

If you are in the mood for Western style food, head over to 芝士蜜 Restaurant. This Swiss fondue restaurant is a cozy place for a quiet evening with your special someone. The restaurant is located at Hutong 69 Nanluoguxiang Xiao ju er Hutong 东城区南锣鼓巷小菊儿胡同69号(近胡同仁酒店). Look for the Central Experimental Drama Theater and head down the hutong until you see the restaurant, you can’t miss the red shutters.

If you are looking for street food, while you walk, try the sticky rice or fried squid. There are many vendors offering sticky rice on a stick and numerous shops selling fried snacks out their windows. Grab something light and have a big dinner at one of the restaurants before heading out for drinks.

Nanluoguxiang area in Beijing

What to buy during your visit

Every traveler is different and we all want different souvenirs, luckily, Nanluoguxiang has something for everyone. If you want traditional “looking” antiques or hand painted pictures, Nanluoguxiang has you covered. If you are more interested in modern souvenirs, fear not, because you can buy everything from music to electronics. There is a little bit for everyone, but a word of advice, everything in this area is 4-5 times more expensive. This is a tourist hot spot and with the tourist traffic comes higher prices. If you are in the mood, you can bargain but don’t expect too much of a discount. Get off the main road and go into the smaller shops that get less traffic for better prices.

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Yvonne drinking lemonade, a vendor making cotton candy, Miguel eating squid, and people buying souvenirs

Where to stay around Nanluoguxiang

There are many hotels in the area. Some courtyard style dwellings have been converted into boutique hotels that offer a unique hutong experience. If you are looking for budget accommodation or hostels in the area, there are two hostels on the main road.

Peking Youth Hostel is located about half way down the 800 meter street, right in the heart of the action. This hostel has a vibrant atmosphere and a popular cafe. The Peking Cafe is a great spot to stop for a cold drink. Be sure to head up stairs to the roof top area to enjoy the view of the street, while drinking a beer. This is a great people watching spot and a relaxing place to spend the night.

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Peking Youth Hostel, Peking Youth Hostel roof-top view, and Beijing Downtown Backpackers

The Beijing Downtown Backpackers is also located on Nanluoguxiang. This hostel is less lively during the day, but according to reviews, the staff is friendly and the accommodations are clean. The best part is you can’t beat the location. If you want to be in the action, we suggest checking out one of these two hostels first.

Final thoughts on Nanluoguxiang

You can spend an hour, a half day, or a lifetime. Okay, not a lifetime that’s just crazy talk, but there are plenty of things to do and see in the area. It is a great starting point before exploring the Beihai area and Bell & Drum tower. Or a great way to unwind after exploring Beijing.

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