Fifteenth-century Beijing was a city of thousands of narrow hutong lined with courtyard houses made of stone. Most of these snaking arteries have been demolished to build sky-piercing towers or turned into tourist traps like Nanluoguxiang. But around 600 of these charming passageways still represent local life in Beijing and exploring at least a few is a must. Take the Subway Line 6 from Hujialou station four stops to South Luogu Alley, following the signs to Exit B. After four minutes on foot you’ll arrive at Beijing Bike where you can rent whatever two-wheelers suit your speed: bike, electric bike, or tandem bike. Their English-speaking team will even tailor an imperial hutong tour based on your interests and abilities. Thanks to them, we found our way to Paper Talk, a small boutique stuffed with handmade sheets from Yunnan and the Himalayas as well as traditional Chinese paper-cuts of the 12 zodiac animals. For some of Beijing’s most delicious dumplings— plump cushions of lotus root and pork, lamb with shiitake, even cheese—cycle on to Mr. Shi’s Dumpling. Don’t stop now: Pedal on just a few more minutes to Great Leap Brewing for India pale ale or the Honey Ma Gold crafted by an American brewmaster and served in a classic Beijing courtyard. Mao Mao Chong is a closet-size bar hidden further down the alley, with a menu that features locally inspired concoctions like the Bloody Mao (shaken with chili) and the Mala Mule (crafted with a generous helping of Sichuan peppercorn).
From South Luogu Alley, head down Di’anmen East Street. Then take the first right turn after the China Minsheng Bank into Beiheyan Street. Beijing Bike runs adjacent to the park, just after the turning for Daqudeng Hutong.
BEIJING BIKE: 81 Beiheyan St.; 86-(0)10-6526-5857; bikebeijing.com
PAPER TALK: 12 Fangjia Hutong; 86-(0)10-8403-8935
MR. SHI'S DUMPLING: 74 Baochao Hutong; 86-(0)10-8405-0399
GREAT LEAP BREWING: 6 Doujiao Hutong; 86-(0)10-5717-1399; greatleapbrewing.com
MAO MAO CHONG: 12 Banchang Hutong; 86-(0)10-6405-5718