The great Time Out Treasure Hunt

Get out and explore new areas of Beijing with our guided walks

Follow the maps, scour the streets and answer the questions along the way to enjoy great walks around Beijing and top days out exploring new areas of the city, including Huguosi Jie and Rundeli Market, Gulou, Houhai and Beihai Park and the Guozijian Jie area

Dashilan area

This one-hour stroll will give you a glimpse into the rich history of this area. Take a peek at Dashilan's salacious past and bear witness to its newfound status as an artistic hub.

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1 Da Guan Lou cinema
Start at the intersection of Meishi Jie and Dashilan Jie. A few metres up the latter street, to the right, is Beijing’s oldest cinema Da Guan Lou (open 9.30am-11pm). This movie theatre was opened in 1903 by one of the fathers of Chinese cinema, Ren Qingtai. Over a century on, it’s still a working cinema, with a small museum in the foyer.

In what decade was a 16mm projector ‘based on Soviet technology’ used in the cinema?

2 Abandoned brothel
Head west, cross Meishi Jie and walk along Dashilan Xi Jie. Pass Tibetan Art Deco on your right and turn left on to Zhujia Hutong. Walk down the street until it bends sharply to the left. Just before it does, on your right, is an abandoned brothel from the pre-revolutionary era (building number 45). The imposing, pillbox-like structure purports to be a tea house. The sign above the door says as much. Actually, er deng cha shi (二等茶室) – loosely meaning ‘second category tea house’ – was a barely concealed code for ‘second category brothel’.

The four classifications of brothel – based on the attractiveness of the working girls – were actually determined by the local legislature, who decriminalised prostitution after the Boxer Rebellion, in part so they could tax the industry to help pay the huge tariffs imposed by the victorious allied forces.

How many electricity meters are currently on the building’s façade?

3 Former opium den
Head back the way you came and take your first left. Walk along this narrow, two-berth alleyway and turn left at the crossroads (near the public lavatory). You’re now on Zhumao Hutong – follow the winding pathway. As an aside, keep an eye out for the courtyards below street level; these are usually the oldest properties in the neighbourhood. Because of unregulated construction practices over the centuries – building foundations built on top of existing foundations; roads not properly dug out – the oldest buildings along the hutong (or any Beijing hutong) can be identified by the steps leading down to them.

Bear left down Xiyangmao Hutong and you’ll soon see an open door to a ramshackle courtyard with a vast tree jutting through it. This dilapidated old house – all rickety wood and crumbling masonry – is a former opium den:a dark corner of Beijing’s forgotten history.

At the entrance is a case containing several fire extinguishers – how many are there?

4 Three Legged Frog Hostel
Keep walking in the same direction and turn right when you hit Shitou Hutong. Walk until you reach Tieshu Hutong and turn left. On your right you’ll fi nd the bizarrely named Three Legged Frog Hostel(open 7am-2am daily) – a hostel established in a 400-year-old siheyuan.

A small statue of which political figure is on the reception desk?

5 Neiguantang Book Shop
Keep walking along Tieshu Hutong. You’ll see the blue door of Neiguantang Book Shop (open 12.30-8.30pm daily) on your left. This cramped space sells a mixture of tatty old paperbacks and shiny, new Chinese tomes. There’s also a shelf at the back featuring a truly bizarre selection of circa-1970s English-language texts. The best part? The kitsch knick-knacks: Mao-tastic memorabilia and genuinely cool antiques – our favourite is a briefcase-cum-record player – are dotted around the place all higgledy-piggledy.

The welcoming, middle-aged proprietor is something of an accidental Chinese hipster – so hip she doesn’t even know it.

She’s usually to be found crocheting baby booties (a very cool move) sat behind an instrument that acts as her counter – what’s the instrument?

6 Kung-fu massage
Continue west along Tieshu Hutong. To your right you’ll see building number 59, the empty shell of Slow Boat Brewery’s prototype taproom. Look up at the grey, concrete art deco façade; an incongruous architectural feature not uncommon in the area owing to the mishmash of cultural influences at play since as long ago as the opium wars. Opposite is a curious little place that will be a treat for fans of the absurd (we’re talking Sartre-level here).

Over the din of Chinese rock ballads blaring from his speakers, the friendly owner – all of five foot nothing – tells us straight off the bat that he could easily kill a man. But, thankfully, he puts his strength – which he attributes to his celibacy – to a more therapeutic use: ‘kung-fu massage’ (open 9am-10pm daily). And, yes, we’re pretty sure he made it up. He tells us he is trained as a Shaolin monk (although his shoulder-length, bouffant hair suggests otherwise) and that his unique massage technique (100RMB for 30 minutes), which harnesses his ‘kung-fu energy’, will cure what ails you.

The shop is decorated with swords, nunchucks and assorted instruments of death – but how many spears, halberds and other big, pointy pain-givers are to your immediate right upon entering the shop?

7 The Factory
Carry on along Tieshu Hutong and take the next left down Dawailangying Hutong. To your left you’ll see The Factory – a converted, well, factory, that’s one of the creative hubs of the annual Beijing Design Week.

The venue is easily recognisable from the large, colourful letters painted on its exterior. What do those letters spell?

Lovingly renovated and repurposed, it now hosts exhibitions and pop-up events throughout the year and is, hopefully, demonstrative of the area’s redevelopment.

Guozijian Jie area

Take this two-hour stroll to find beautiful temples, chic boutiques and a few surprises along picturesque alleyways.

1 Wuyutai Tea Shop
Start at exit C of Yonghegong subway station (Lines 2 and 5). Cross the road and head left – you’ll find Wuyutai Tea Shop (open 8.30am-9pm daily) on your right. Reputedly established in 1887, this 190-store chain is ubiquitous across the city. What makes this tea house stand out from the others, however, is the surprisingly tasty green and jasmine tea soft-serve ice creams (6RMB) sold from the adjoining, street-facing booth – a perfect pre-hunt power-up. 

As well as the ice cream, the booth also sells three flavours of hot tea – name one of them. 

2 Lama Temple
Cross back over the street and continue walking south until you hit the entrance to the Lama Temple (open 9am-4.30pm daily) on your left. It was originally built in 1694 as the official residence of Prince Yin Zhen and became a monastery when he was anointed as Emperor Yongzheng in 1723. 

Walk straight ahead, past the ticket booths on your left, to the hut selling English-language audio guides – how much is it to rent the know-it-all headphones?

If you have time,enter the temple (25RMB) to explore the hidden treasures within its grounds, including saucy statues of Tibetan gods getting it on with human ladies, and a sandalwood statue of the Maitreya Buddha which, at 26 metres tall, is in the Guinness World Records as the largest carving made from a single piece of wood. 

3 Samantha Crafts
Leave the temple from whence you came and head left on Yonghegong Dajie. Cross the road and turn right down Fangjia Hutong. Continue until you see Samantha Crafts (open 9.30am-1pm and 2-6pm Mon-Fri; weekend opening times vary) on your left. This darling, broom cupboard-sized emporium sells materials for crochet and knitting enthusiasts, as well as the fruits of the eponymous owner’s stitching – including ornate garments and cute cuddly toys. 

But which knitted fairy-tale heroine – a favourite of the proprietor’s – is perennially displayed in the bay window?

4 Fancy Massage and Nails
Leave the shop and head left for just a few metres until you come to Fancy Massage and Nails (open 10.30am-10.30pm daily) on your right (opposite the 46 Fangjia Hutong complex). Body massages are offered in its three private treatment rooms (60-minute body massage 118RMB), but the appeal here lies with the manicures (68RMB) and foot massages (88RMB for 60 minutes) given in its bright and airy siheyuanspace. 
How many comfy armchairs are in the courtyard? 

5 Confucius Temple
Keep going west and take your first right (Gongyi Xiang). Continue until you hit Guozijian Jie. Turn right and walk eastwards until you arrive at the entrance to The Confucius Temple (open 8.30am-5pm daily) on your left (ignore the first entrance you come across – it’s for tour groups only). You don’t have to pay the entrance fee (30RMB; open 8.30am-5pm) to be able to answer the question; be cheeky and poke your head through the gate to peer at the statue of Confucius in the distance (in front of Dacheng Gate). 

What is the famed family man doing with his hands?

6 Songtang Museum
Carry on eastwards and look out for the barely signposted Songtang Museum (open 9am-6pm daily) – a tiny, ramshackle courtyard full of offi ces housing myriad fortune tellers, TCM practitioners and a couple of small museums. The entrance fee of 50RMB each for the porcelain and art museums – the latter is more of an exhibition of traditional stone tablets and woodwork – is a bit steep, especially considering a reflexologist with an offi ce in the courtyard claims to be able to identify any diseases you have, from touching your hand alone, for less than that. 

According to the sign on the door, exactly how much does this miracle, bargain-basement diagnosis cost?

7 Chez Gérard Boucherie Francaise
Turn around and go back down Guozijian Jie the way you came until you hit Jianchang Hutong. Turn right at the hutong and walk until you hit Chez Gérard Boucherie Francaise (open 10am-10.30pm Sun-Thur; 10am-11.30pm Fri-Sat) on your right. This imported goods store is frequently packed with nearby residents – proof that hipsters can’t live on absinthe and paninis alone. The fact that the imported cheeses, meats and hard-to-get foreign produce are messily stacked in the kind of dingy, small corner store you’d usually pick up your sweet tea, Oreos and cheap cigarettes in only adds to the allure of the place. 

Its baguettes are particularly tasty and are some of the cheapest in town – but how much are they?

8 Change
Keep going up Jianchang Hutong, past The Vine Leaf on your left (see ‘Pit Stops’, below). Just past the crossing with Wudaoying Hutong is Change (open midday-9pm daily) – a swap shop with a hodgepodge of bizarre bric-a-brac. Patrons are encouraged to bring in their unwanted clothes or possessions and barter with the owner – in English or Chinese – for an exchange of goods, money, or a combination of the two that both deem fair. Come in with a circa mid-’90s Norwich City FC rucksack (as one patron clearly had done before we visited), for example, and leave with anything from a mint-condition designer purse to a frayed board game. From vintage style to dog-eared old tat; this madcap thrift shop is a real Aladdin’s cave of possibilities. 

Change is a colourful shop – but what colour is its ceiling? 

9 Sirena
Leave Change and head east along Wudaoying Hutong until you come to Sirena (open 2pm-2am daily) on your right (opposite The Veggie Table). Although it’s decked out like a Greek taverna – all blue mosaics and terracotta tiled floors – Sirena is in fact a cat bar; a refuge for the owner’s many furry friends as much as a drinking spot. We’re not kidding; there are usually more felines than drinkers in this wacky watering hole. The coffees are good (20-35RMB), but the cocktails (martinis 50RMB) are far from purr-fect (sorry, couldn’t resist). 

Ask a waiter how many cats they currently have in total.

Pit stops

Rest up and replenish at one of these nearby eateries.

Xianlaoman Dumplings Nearby Mr Shi’s Dumplings may be in all the guidebooks for its unconventional fillings and limelight-seeking owner, but Xianlaoman (open 11am-10pm daily) has been quietly filling locals’ bellies for years with its delectable dumplings. The best part? Enough tasty parcels to fill the hungriest of hunters won’t set you back more than 25RMB (but other dishes on the menu hike the price up considerably). The pork and scallion dish is our carnivorous critics’ choice. 

The Vine Leaf This gastro pub is popular with those with a taste for classic British fare. An offshoot of the wildly popular Vineyard Café, the menu at The Vine Leaf (open 4-11.30pm Mon; 4-11.30pm Wed-Fri; 11.30am-3.15pm and 6-10.15pm Sat and Sun) is decidedly more Anglicised, with staple pub grub on the menu such as fish and chips, cottage pie (both 68RMB) and a custard-covered apple crumble (36RMB). Wash it all down with their brewed-onsite craft ales (25-35RMB) for an authentic taste of Blighty.

Gulou, Houhai and Beihai Park 

This three-hour gander through the heart of old Beijing features historical monuments, houses of worship, plenty of local colour and, er, vampires. 

1 Huangwa Temple
Start at the intersection of Nanluoguxiang and Gulou Dong Dajie. On the north side of the latter street you’ll see Huangwa Temple. This tiny temple – originally built in the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) – is currently closed to the public. But you can still admire the colourful, ornate awnings from the street. According to the sign, which emperor rebuilt the temple after a wish he made there was granted?

2 Former residence of Mao Dun
Head down Nanluoguxiang and take the third left on to Houyuan’ensi Hutong. You’ll soon come across Mao Dun’s former residence (free; open 9am-4pm Tue-Sun) on your left. This small, modest house once belonged to Mao Dun (1896-1981) – pen name of Shen Dehong, the celebrated novelist, critic and former minister of culture most famous for writing the modern classics Rainbow and Midnight. To the left of the courtyard are his former living quarters, and straight ahead and to the right is a museum featuring some of Mao’s original manuscripts and writing tools. In the courtyard is a bust of the great wordsmith; what facial hair does he have? 

3 Vampire in Beijing
Get yourself back to Gulou Dong Dajie via Nanluoguxiang, avoiding the bustling crowds and hawkers slinging the inexplicably still-popular clip-on rabbit and cat ears. In fact, if you’re hunting with friends, try to see who can spot the most pairs of the non-ironic, hideous hair accessories – double points if a girl’s boyfriend is begrudgingly sporting a pair too. 

But we digress: cross Gulou Dong Dajie and turn left. Walk past the famously popular mantoushop on your right – where local residents queue for literally hours for what are regarded as the best steamed buns in the city – and past the entrance to Baochao Hutong until you come across Vampire in Beijing(open midday-9pm) on your right. 

Once a small stall selling neon-coloured novelty drinks in IV bags near Mao Live House, it’s now moved down the road and expanded to become a general one-stop cool shop crammed with rock ’n’ roll iconography, geeky collectables, ironically ugly ceramic fi gurines and, of course, the obligatory overpriced notebooks and herb-smoking paraphernalia. All good fun. But it hasn’t given up on its trademark: the aforementioned IV bags full of gloop. How much is a bag of one of these non-alcoholic, sugary cocktails? 

4 Drum and Bell Towers
Keep heading west on Gulou Dong Dajie. At this point you should start to hear a lo-fi recording that repeats the same irritatingly catchy cadence from dawn to dusk – how the local residents don’t smash it to pieces is beyond us. In case you were wondering, it’s not political sloganeering – it’s just a recording of a guy shouting ‘Chestnuts fried in sugar!’ to advertise his nut shop. Turn right down Zhonglouwan Hutong to get to the quad between the Drum and Bell towers (30RMB for both towers; open 9am-5pm daily). 

Since the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) these noisy neighbours were the city’s official timekeepers. Bedtime was signalled at 7pm by the striking of the drum and then the bell; and the same for wake-up time at 5am. Cast during the Ming Dynasty, the bell purportedly weighs 63 tonnes and is the biggest in China; no snooze button on that bad boy. According to the sign, in what year did the two towers stop making a racket at the crack of dawn?

5 Guanghua Temple
Head south down Dianmenwai Dajie and take your first right under the colourful arch at the entrance to Yandaixie Jie. Literally translated as Tobacco Pipe Street – named for the tobacconists that congregated down the narrow alleyway to sell their carcinogenic wares – it’s now a bit of a tourist trap full of milk tea shops, ‘I (heart) BJ’ T-shirts and sundry kitsch souvenirs. When you get to a crossroads, keep going straight, down the quieter Ya’er Hutong for quite a distance – you’ll eventually see Guanghua Temple (free; open 9am-5pm daily) on your right. China’s last eunuch lived here until his death in 1996. Outside the temple is a two-storey-high stone pagoda-like pillar: what colour are the Chinese characters inscribed on the monument? 

6 Prince Gong’s Mansion
Say a quick prayer, then exit the temple and turn right. Take the first left and turn left again when you hit the lake. Walk along the shore – past a line of bars on your left – and cross Yindingqiao (the first bridge on your right). Head left and continue to follow the lake (which should now be on your left, with bars and shops on your right). Keep going straight, past the entrance to Lotus Market on your left, until you hit a fork in the road. Walk straight ahead on Qianhai Xi Dajie until you get to Prince Gong’s Mansion (40RMB; open 7.30am-4.30pm daily). 

This well-preserved property is the former residence of – yep, you guessed it – Prince Gong. ‘Mansion’ sums it up; this place is huge. But, according to the information, exactly how large is the whole property – including the gardens?

7 Guo Morou’s former residence
Leave the mansion and turn left. Do your upmost not to uppercut the vendors discordantly screeching in shrill, nasal tones outside the exit – though no one would blame you if you did. Head back the way you came and take your first right (what was your left when you first came to the fork in the road approaching from Houhai). Walk past lines of rickshaw drivers looking for a fare (or just dozing in the afternoon sun) until you find Guo Morou’s former residence (20RMB; open 9am-4.30pm Tue-Sun) on your right. 

The revolutionary author and high-ranking communist official lived in this plush double-courtyard from 1963 until his death. But until 1963 it served as an embassy for which nation?

8 Hall of Spiritual Peace
Head south until you hit the crossing with Dianmen Xi Dajie. Cross the road and head for the north gate of the walled Beihai Park (just to the left). Enter (10RMB; 6.30am-9pm) and go down the shady, bamboo-covered pathway until you see the lake. Turn right as you hit the water; The Hall of Spiritual Peace (10RMB; open 9am-4pm) is immediately on your right. 

Despite its name, this place is actually a garden – a beautiful exemplar of traditional Chinese horticulture. If you can, find the time to amble along the tranquil walkways and admire this centuries-old cultivated space. According to the sign, who ordered the renovation of the garden in 1885? 

Pit Stops 

12sqm Bars come and go on Nanluoguxiang, but 12sqm (open 5pm-1am daily) has remained a go-to spot for almost seven years thanks to its wide whiskey selection, welcoming bar staff and snug environs (the bar is so named because it was 12 square metres in size when first opened – it has now expanded to a staggering 45). Their beef pies are a ‘ripper’ taste of Australia, as are the bottles of antipodean ale Coopers (30RMB) – a rarity in this city of mostly European and US imports. What’s more, the no-smoking policy makes it a great place to catch your breath after the long walk. 

Nuage The neon sprawl of bars belching cigarette smoke and boozehounds onto the tarmac around Houhai might trick you into thinking that there are no decent places to eat or drink in the area. But you’d be wrong – Nuage (open 11.30am-2pm and 5.30-10pm daily) has been serving up fantastic Vietnamese cuisine for years. Nestle down in the gorgeous retro interior and tuck into the spicy lemongrass chicken (55RMB) and orange duck (60RMB), among other tasty treats. It’s not enormously cheap, but the food’s consistently excellent and the views of the lake are fabulous.

Huguosi Jie and Rundeli Market

Expect a culinary adventure including tasty street snacks, juicy local secrets and a few spicy characters along the way in this 90-minute foray into Huguosi Jie.

1 ‘Chinese hamburgers’
Leave Ping’anli subway station (Lines 4 and 6) by the northeast exit (exit B) and turn right. Walk up Xinjiekou Nan Jie and take your first right onto Huguosi Jie. This street has been known since time immemorial as the place to get treats from across the country, not to mention more pancakes than you can shake a stick at. Hit up the second store on the right (open 6am-8pm daily; look for the characters 山西烧饼, which is also the burger’s slangname) for your first nibble. 

Known among Beijing’s foreign community as a ‘Chinese hamburger’ (along with popular Shaanxi street snack roujiamo) this traditional snack is a toasted flatbread packed with pork and an egg, and garnished with lettuce and hoisin sauce. How much are these meaty treats? 

2 Huguosi Xiaochi 
Keep heading east along Huguosi Jie. The imposing building on your right is The People’s Theatre. Opposite it is Beijing institution Huguosi Xiaochi (open 5.30am-9pm daily; street number 93). Enter this frantic canteen (seriously – prepare to do the battle of the elbows), grab a tray and start making your way through the sometimes sweet, sometimes savoury – but almost always dough or soy-bean-based – pick-and-mix of traditional Beijing snacks. On the second floor you’ll find pictures of the restaurant’s former celeb-diners. How many pictures are hanging on the wall? 

3 Mei Lanfang’s former residence
Leave the restaurant and turn left. Continue along Huguosi Jie until the end of the street. Legendary Beijing opera singer Mei Lanfang’s former residence(10RMB; open 9am-4pm Tue-Sun) is the last building on your left. Widely regarded as one of Chinese opera’s four all time great dan (a general term for the female roles traditionally played by men), Mei is also recognised as Beijing opera’s first ambassador – he toured Japan, North America and Europe extensively in the 1930s, piquing the Western world’s interest in the art form. 

The courtyard property is part museum, part shrine to the great warbler, in which his humble living quarters remain untouched. He does have a snazzy bust at the entrance, though. In what year was the sculpture completed? 

4 Backstreet dentists
Head back along Huguosi Jie and take your second right onto Mianhua Hutong. On your left as you turn (opposite a butcher’s) is a small hatch that serves a mean version of the Beijing classic, jianbing (4.5RMB; open 6.30am-7pm daily; look for the characters 老汤酱肉). Walk up the hutong for quite a way; you’ll pass a hospital on your left and an ICBC bank on your right. If the sweet snacks en route have got to you and you’re in the market for an impromptu root canal without anaesthetic, you’ve come to the right hutong – several shady ‘dentists’ set up shop (well, rickety tables) every day all along the street looking for patients. 

The affable, if dangerously under-qualified (we didn’t ask to see their credentials, but it seems like a fair guess) medical men will look at your gnashers for a reasonable price. There’s no question here, by the way – we just think this is cool. 

5 Lao Jiu Tang wine shop
Squeamish types are going to need a stiff drink after that. Luckily for you, the Lao Jiu Tang wine shop is nearby (to the left, after the intersection with Hangkong Hutong; look for the large ceramic containers by the door), and fearsome Chinese spirits baijiuand huangjiucan be bought by the jugload at this big booze boutique (open 8am-7.30pm daily). 

Prices start at a liver-hurting 5RMB for half a litre and go up to 400RMB for the top-shelf stuff. Check out the big jar of yaojiu (literally ‘medicine alcohol’) in the middle of the window display. A TCM-approved intoxicant, it’s said to warm up your body if you have a cold. We’ll drink to that! This tipple is infused with a snake carcass, sea horses, ginseng and what red berry?

6 Lao San Donkey Sandwiches
A few metres up the street to the right is Lao San Donkey Sandwiches (open 9am-midnight daily; look for the characters 老三驴肉火烧 above the door). While its wares may not sound appetising – you’re probably not champing at the bit to chow down on mule meat – it’s actually surprisingly tasty and very lean. It has an almost gammon-like texture and is healthier than most other red meats. 

Be brave and order a donkey sandwich, or lurouhuoshao(驴肉火烧, 6RMB). The low-fat meat is mixed with green peppers and sandwiched in crispy, toasted bread, and tastes great. Trust us – you’ll feel a real ass if you turn it down (thank you, thank you – we’ll be here all week). Pop inside and have a look at the chopping board – what does it look like?

7 Rundeli Market
Keep going up the street and turn right on to Sihuan Hutong. After a few metres you’ll see the indoor section of Rundeli Market (open 7am-7pm daily) on your left. Walk through the entrance under the sign with white Chinese characters (水产大厅) on a red background. This part of the market sells freshly caught fish as well as meat and poultry. What is the first stall on your left selling – fish or meat?

Keep an eye out for the black chicken, sold by a few different vendors. Rarer than their white cousins, black chickens are a TCM ‘superfood’ for their purportedly high levels of anti-oxidants. Exit from the opposite end you came in and bear right to the fruit and vegetable market. Pick up some fresh, seasonal fruit (strawberries 20RMB per kilo) and mosey around the market. You’ll also find stands selling teas and spices. Head to one of the biggest tea stalls (as you walk in it’s at the beginning of the third row on your right). The prices are labelled on the jars. How much is 100g of Pu’er tea?

Hias Gourmet lent us Victoria, an expert guide, to help us unlock the tasty secrets of this history-rich area. To book your own culinary tour, visit
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