Houhai Revealed: Beijing’s Serene Escape
Dive into the heart of Beijing’s history at Houhai, a sparkling gem nestled in the Shichahai area, where the past meets the present in a breathtaking display.
Houhai, one of the “three back seas,” shares a piece of old magic over 146.7 hectares of land and water. It whispers secrets from over 700 years ago, back to the Yuan Dynasty!
- Explore Ancient Waters: Glide through the serene waters of Houhai, flanked by lush greenery and weeping willows. This historic lake, stretching from Di’anmen Outer Street to Xinjiekou Street, invites you to journey back in time to the Yuan Dynasty, where it served as a bustling hub for commerce and culture.
- Discover Hidden Treasures: Wander along the banks of Houhai, where traditional residences and majestic mansions stand testament to Beijing’s rich history. Immerse yourself in the sounds of nature and the sight of architectural wonders, offering a peek into the daily lives of ancient Beijing’s elite.
- Taste the Flavors of Old Beijing: Venture into the winding alleys to uncover a world of culinary delights. From the tantalizing aroma of fried tripe and stewed dishes to the unique tang of fermented bean drink, Houhai’s snack bars promise an unforgettable gastronomic adventure.
Explore Enchanting Alleys
Step into the enchanting world of Houhai Alleys, where history whispers around every corner, and the charm of old Beijing comes alive.
This magical area, dating back to the Yuan Dynasty, is a treasure trove of culture, architecture, and timeless tranquility, inviting you to explore its serene streets and discover its secrets.
- Wander Through History: Stroll down the ancient alleys like Jinsixiaojie, Yuer Hutong, and the famous Nanluoguxiang. Each step takes you through centuries-old streets lined with traditional Beijing architecture and over 40 protected cultural heritage sites. Feel the past beneath your feet!
- Meet the Legends: Imagine the lives of historical giants as you pass by the majestic mansions once inhabited by princes and scholars, including the Prince Gong Mansion and Soong Ching-ling’s former residence. The willow-lined banks whisper tales of the eight great marshals who once called Shichahai’s Liuyin Street home.
- Dive into a Cultural Feast: Experience the vibrant life along Houhai’s banks. From the blooming lotus ponds in summer to the quaint tea houses and bustling food stalls, there’s always something to delight your senses. Don’t miss the chance to taste Beijing’s traditional snacks, where the aroma of fried tripe, stewed dishes, and the unique sourness of fermented bean drink fill the air.
Try Recommended Snacks
Whether you’re craving something sweet, savory, or uniquely Beijing, the snack spots around Houhai have got you covered. Here’s where to find the tastiest treats:
- Jiumen Snacks: Dive into a world of flavors with an array of options that’ll satisfy any craving. It’s like a flavor festival in every bite!
- Di’anmen Snack Shop: A must-visit for anyone seeking authentic, affordable Beijing delights. Your taste buds will thank you!
- Fangzhuan Hutong Bun Shop: Warm up with their famous Tianjin buns and wontons, especially the pot wontons bubbling with goodness. Just 8 RMB per person for a taste of winter warmth!
- Gulou Dalian Fire Cake Shop: Explore over 10 kinds of fillings in their fire cakes for a true taste of Beijing. Each bite is a journey through the city’s culinary history!
- Baochao Hutong Large Dumpling Shop: Get ready to be filled with their enormous dumplings, a feast that promises satisfaction in just a few bites.
- Gulou’s Old Xi’an Restaurant: For those adventurous in flavor but not fans of lamb, this spot’s renowned Xi’an pao mo still draws crowds. A Beijing special not to be missed!
- Xinjiekou Area Eateries: Wander into this area for an eclectic mix of small shops offering big flavors. It’s a surprise at every turn!
- Nanluoguxiang: This snack street is not only a foodie’s dream but also a bustling hub of Beijing’s commercial life. From local specialties to modern twists, there’s something for everyone.
Dine at Top Houhai Restaurants
Near the iconic Yinding Bridge, you’ll discover a world of dining that tells the story of Beijing’s rich history and vibrant culinary scene. Here’s where to feast in style:
- Roast Meat Ji: Step into history with this century-old brand, where the flavors of Beijing come alive through pine branch roasted meat. Perfectly situated by the lake, it offers more than just a meal; it’s a journey through time.
- Kong Yiji Restaurant: For those seeking elegance and a taste of Zhejiang cuisine, Kong Yiji won’t disappoint. With its refined atmosphere, yellow wine, and fennel beans, it’s a culinary treasure waiting to be explored.
- South Sea Fish Village: Imagine dining by the lake on a warm summer night, the air filled with the aroma of fresh fish dishes. Though I’ve yet to visit, its lakeside location promises a dining experience that’s as picturesque as it is delicious, albeit with a price to match its quality.
- Fenghua Xueyue Tower: Nestled next to the Drum Tower, this restaurant serves a blend of Yunnan and Beijing home-style dishes. Known for its mustard dumplings, a delicacy introduced on Lüye, it offers an affordable taste of local cuisine at an average cost of 30 RMB per person.
In Houhai, every meal is an opportunity to savor the unique blend of flavors that make Beijing’s culinary scene so special.
From traditional roast meats by the lake to elegant Zhejiang dishes and fresh seafood under the stars, Houhai is a haven for food lovers seeking to indulge in the capital’s best.
Relax in Houhai Bars
From aristocratic lounges to cozy jazz bars, Houhai offers an eclectic mix of spots where you can relax, enjoy live music, and soak in the local culture. Here’s your guide to the best bars in Houhai, each with its own unique charm:
- Left Bank: Experience the elegance of this aristocratic bar, hidden south of Yinding Bridge. With its serene lake views, vintage charm, and an intellectual crowd, Left Bank offers a sophisticated escape from the city’s hustle. Relax in its plush sofas and enjoy a moment of tranquility or an engaging film. Perfect for those afternoons when you need a retreat into comfort and culture.
- The Attic: For a laid-back vibe with a touch of urban sophistication, The Attic is the go-to spot. Post-hutong exploration, it’s the ideal place to kick back with a beer and enjoy soul-soothing folk music. The harmonica-playing singer adds a unique touch, making it a favorite among the city’s young and trendy.
- East Bank Jazz Bar: Just steps from the C exit of Shichahai subway station, this bar is a haven for jazz lovers. Hosting live performances from talented musicians both local and international, East Bank Jazz Bar promises an enchanting evening filled with melodious jazz. It’s more than just a bar; it’s an experience that captivates your senses and elevates your night.
- Bar No. 36: Situated on Tobacco Pipe Street, this cozy establishment is known for its exceptional selection of well-known tunes sung by talented resident singers. It’s an affordable luxury, with set meals averaging around 50 RMB per person, making it a perfect spot for enjoying great music without breaking the bank.
Whether you’re looking to unwind in an atmosphere of refined elegance, enjoy a casual drink with soothing music, immerse yourself in the vibrant sounds of jazz, or simply find a spot where the music speaks to your soul, Houhai’s bar scene has something special for everyone.
Explore Shichahai by Foot, Tricycle, or Boat
Discover the enchanting Shichahai area in ways that weave through the heart of Beijing’s history and beauty.
Whether by foot, tricycle, or boat, each mode of exploration offers its own unique perspective and charm.
- Stroll Through Time: Begin your journey with a leisurely walk from Houhai, moving counterclockwise towards Qianhai, and ending at the serene Lotus Market. This path is peaceful, far from the bustling crowds, offering a tranquil experience amidst the historical backdrop of Beijing.
- Tricycle Tales: After soaking in the quiet beauty of Qianhai, hop on a tricycle for a clockwise adventure back to Houhai. This isn’t just a ride; it’s a journey filled with stories of ancient Beijing, as your peddler guides you through the city’s rich history and folklore. Remember, bargaining is part of the experience – we managed to secure a ride for two at 200 RMB, covering half the Shichahai circumference.
- Boat into the Past: Avoid the crowds and board a boat for a unique view of Shichahai’s splendor. Electric boats are the preferred choice for a hassle-free exploration, allowing you to relax and enjoy the scenery without the exertion of pedaling. Pack some fruit and afternoon tea to make the most of this tranquil hour on the water.
Houhai Boat Rentals
Set sail on the serene waters of Houhai with a boat rental, offering a picturesque way to explore the area’s beauty from a unique vantage point.
Whether you’re planning a peaceful morning voyage or a luminous evening drift, boat rentals are available from 9 am to 11 pm, providing flexibility for your adventure.
- 4-Person Electric Boat: Glide effortlessly across the water in a 4-person electric boat, available at 220 RMB per hour. It’s perfect for a quiet, smooth ride, allowing you to soak in the sights without breaking a sweat.
- 6-Person Electric Boat: For larger groups, the 6-person electric boat at 280 RMB per hour offers more space to enjoy the tranquility of Houhai together. It’s an ideal choice for families or friends seeking a leisurely experience.
- 4-Person Pedal Boat: Embrace a bit of activity with a 4-person pedal boat for 150 RMB per hour. It’s a fun way to engage with the environment and get a little exercise while exploring the area’s natural beauty.
Enjoy Houhai Ice Skating
Get ready for a cool adventure at the Shichahai Ice Skating Rink in Beijing! Split into two fun zones, Qianhai and Houhai, it’s the perfect spot for anyone looking to slide and glide on ice.
- Where to Find the Spot: We’re at No. 5 Qianhai South Bank in the Xicheng District. Just a quick 10-minute walk from either the A1 exit of Shichahai subway station on Line 8 or the B exit of Beihai North station on Line 6.
- How to Join the Fun: Booking your ice time is super easy! Just search “Shichahai Ice Rink” on your favorite app and you’re set.
- Qianhai Zone Fun: Open from morning till night in four shifts, this area lets you ice skate under the stars near the Drum Tower. For just 100 RMB, you can enjoy unlimited ice sled and ice bike rides. Want more speed? Grab an ice electric car for a little extra. Though it’s a bit snug, the views and vibes are unmatched.
- Houhai Zone Adventures: With more room to roam and fewer people, this area offers the same great deals as Qianhai for non-stop fun. Plus, the speed skating area lets you zoom around on ice skates for a small fee, giving you all the space you need to show off your moves.
Pro Tips for a Great Time:
- Beat the crowds by coming early or late in the day, especially if you want awesome sunset photos.
- Dress warmly and don’t forget your gloves to keep cozy.
- Pack snacks in a small backpack to save money and keep hunger at bay.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit is from April to June when the weather is just right and the lotus flowers are in full bloom. It’s so pretty and perfect for exploring!
- When to Go: Spring into early summer is the magic time. But really, Houhai’s great any time of the year.
- How Long to Stay: About 4 hours should do it. Plenty of time to see the sights!
- Cost: Absolutely free! Enjoy all day, any day.
Getting There Is Easy
- By Bus: Hop on routes 5, 60, 82, 107, 124, or 635 at Drum Tower Station and take a short walk from Smoke Bag Slope Street right into the heart of Houhai.
- Another Bus Option: From Beihai North Gate Station, catch routes 3, 13, 42, 107, 111, 118, 609, 612, or 701 and enter through the lovely Lotus Market.
- By Subway: The quickest way? Take Line 8 to Shichahai Station or Line 6 to Beihai North Gate Station, then a little stroll from Lotus Market gets you there in no time.
Houhai is waiting with open arms, ready to show you a good time with its beautiful scenery, fun vibes, and easy-to-navigate routes.
Recommended Hotels to Stay in Houhai
Fancy Option: Ancient City Old Courtyard Boutique Hotel – Dreaming of a royal sleepover in old Beijing? This is the place for you! It’s like stepping back in time, but with all the comfy beds and cool gadgets we love. Explore awesome streets by day and sleep like kings and queens at night! ($250-500/night)
Middle Option: CitiGO Hotel Nanluoguxiang Beijing – Imagine a hotel that looks like ancient Beijing from the outside but is super modern inside. You’re super close to cool, old streets called hutongs. The food is amazingly local! ($100-250/night)
Budget Pick: Peking Youth Hostel – On the lookout for a budget-friendly place to stay? You’ve found it! Jump into Beijing’s history without breaking the bank. Everything from cozy beds to exciting spots nearby is all here, and it’s all for $30-80 a night!
Curious about the best places to stay in Beijing? Explore our guide to 7 must-stay locations in Beijing for an unforgettable trip!
- Prince Gong Mansion: Step into the lavish world of Chinese aristocracy as you explore the exquisite architecture and lush gardens of this historic mansion.
- Former Residence of Soong Ching Ling: Discover the legacy of one of China’s most influential figures as you wander through the former home of Soong Ching Ling, the honorary president of the People’s Republic of China.
- Guanghua Temple: Find tranquility amidst the bustling city as you visit this ancient temple, known for its beautiful architecture and serene atmosphere.
- Lotus Market: Immerse yourself in the vibrant colors and lively atmosphere of this bustling market, where you can shop for souvenirs, snacks, and local crafts.
- Drum Tower: Climb to the top of this iconic structure for panoramic views of Beijing’s historic hutongs and bustling cityscape.
- Jingshan Park: Ascend the scenic hilltops of this imperial park for breathtaking views of the Forbidden City and Beijing’s skyline.
- Nanluoguxiang: Wander through the charming alleyways of this historic hutong neighborhood, lined with traditional courtyard homes, trendy boutiques, and cozy cafes.
Q: What can I do at Houhai?
A: At Houhai, you can enjoy boat rides on the lake, explore traditional hutongs (narrow lanes), try delicious local foods, and visit quaint shops. It’s also a great place for walking, cycling, and experiencing Beijing’s vibrant nightlife with its bars and live music.
Q: How do I get to Houhai?
A: You can easily reach Houhai by taking the subway to Beihai North (Line 6) or Shichahai (Line 8) stations. From there, Houhai is just a short walk away. Alternatively, buses and taxis are convenient options to get there.
Q: Is Houhai suitable for families?
A: Absolutely! Houhai offers activities for all ages, making it a perfect spot for family outings. Kids will love the boat rides and the open spaces, while adults can enjoy the scenic views, cultural sites, and dining options.
Q: What’s the best time to visit Houhai?
A: Houhai is beautiful all year round, but the best time to visit is during spring (April to June) and autumn (September to November) when the weather is pleasant. Summer evenings are also popular for their lively atmosphere, and winter offers the unique experience of ice skating on the lake.
Q: Are there any cultural or historical sites to see in Houhai?
A: Yes, Houhai is surrounded by historical sites, including ancient temples, former residences of famous Chinese figures, and traditional courtyard homes.
Notable spots include the Prince Gong Mansion, the Former Residence of Soong Ching Ling, and the Guanghua Temple. These sites provide a glimpse into Beijing’s rich history and culture.
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