The area north of the Forbidden City has a scattered collection of sights, many of them remnants of the imperial past, when this area was the home of princes, dukes and monks. Beyond the imperial parks of Jingshan and Beihai is the one part of the city that is truly a pleasure to walk around – the well-preserved hutong district around Houhai. Tucked away here you’ll find Prince Gong’s Palace, Song Qingling’s residence and the Bell and Drum towers, all within strolling distance of one another.
A few kilometres east of here, you’ll find the appealing Nanluogu Xiang, a street where the artsy set hang out, and, right next to the Yonghe Gong subway stop, the Yonghe Gong Tibetan lamasery – one of Beijing’s most colourful (and popular) attractions. While you’re in the vicinity, don’t miss the peaceful – and unjustly ignored – Confucius Temple and Ditan Park, within easy walking distance of one another.
West of this area, you’ll find a number of little museums; the homes of two twentieth-century cultural icons, Lu Xun and Xu Beihong now hold exhibitions of their works, while the Baita Si functions as a museum of religious relics as well as a place of pilgrimage.Read More
There aren’t, to be frank, too many streets in Beijing that could be called appealing, so north–south hutong Nanluogu Xiang (南锣鼓巷, nán luó gŭ xiàng) is a little oasis. Dotted with laidback cafés, boutiques and restaurants, it has become a playground for the city’s bobos (bourgeois-bohemians). Still, in the alleys around you’ll see enough open-air mahjong games, rickety stores and old men sitting out with their caged birds to maintain that ramshackle, backstreet Beijing charm. If there seems to be a surfeit of bright and beautiful young things, that’s because of the drama school just around the corner. All in all, it’s a great place to idle over a cappuccino.
Though it is a little touristy, the colourful Yonghe Gong, Tibetan Lama Temple (雍和宫, yōngghé gōng), is well worth a visit; it couldn’t be much easier to reach – Yonghe Gong subway stop is right next door. It was built towards the end of the seventeenth century as the residence of Prince Yin Zhen. In 1723, when the prince became the Emperor Yong Zheng and moved into the Forbidden City, the temple was retiled in imperial yellow and restricted thereafter to religious use. It became a lamasery in 1744, housing monks from Tibet and also from Inner Mongolia, over which it had a presiding role, supervising the election of the Mongolian Living Buddha, who was chosen by lot from a gold urn. After the civil war in 1949, the Yonghe Gong was declared a national monument and for thirty years was closed; remarkably, it escaped the ravages of the Cultural Revolution.