Editor’s Note: With so little traffic during Chinese New Year, now is the perfect time to explore the city by bike. Just make sure to be home by sundown or you’ll have to contend with stray fireworks! Here’s a bike guide for the Gulou area from our archives written by former editor Ellis Friedman.
With all the cars and scooters on the road, it sometimes seems bicycles in Beijing have gone the way of the floppy disk. But when you’re looking for a different sort of family day out, there’s no better way to see Beijing’s old-style neighborhoods than on two wheels. So pump up your tires, fasten your helmets, and peddle around the Gulou area.
It will be a big biking adventure if you’re pedaling all the way to Gulou. Depending on your pace, you can reach the Zhangzizhong Lu subway station in under 30 minutes from Sanlitun, and within an hour from CBD. From Zhangzizhong Lu metro station, ride west on Di’anmen Dongdajie. The first place to investigate is a neat little area called the Tonghuihe Yuhe Ruins. These are not ruins at all, but rather a peaceful spot with a small canal and newly-built, traditional-looking houses. Originally constructed during the Yuan Dynasty in 1291, this section once served as the north section of the biggest grand canal. It’s a pretty small area, but if you want to rest your legs, this is a picturesque spot to do just that.
Once you jump back on the bike, keep heading west on Di’anmen Dongdajie. At the next large intersection, about 150m later, turn right on Di’anmen Waidajie. Enjoy the historic view as you pass Houhai on your left and approach the Drum Tower head-on. When the road hits the Drum Tower and splits, head left and make your first right on the small street that circles to the back of the Drum Tower.
It may seem a bit touristy to long-time Beijingers, but one might be surprised at how many Beijingers haven’t actually ascended the Drum and Bell Towers. Take advantage of your geographical location and get ready for one of the greatest views in the city.
Both towers feature a short flight of very steep stairs. While strollers won’t cut it, toddlers can make it with a parent’s help and older kids shouldn’t have a problem. At the top of the Drum Tower, there are numerous drums and drum performances at various times throughout the day. Once upon a time, these drums (and the bells in the other tower) were used to mark time; in fact, they operated as China’s official clock until 1924.
Atop the Drum Tower, you’ll get great views in every direction except the north (which is closed to the public). Jingshan Park is to the south, Beihai Park’s white pagoda to the southwest, and some mountains to the west. Inside the tower, drums are on display with a few small things like incense twisted into funky shapes.
The next stop is the Bell Tower, which is the brick tower directly north of the Drum Tower. It’s not quite as high, but you’ll get a great view of a large bell, the Drum Tower and the CBD skyline.
Jump back your bikes and head out for some food. The surrounding hutongs have an abundance of delicious food. A few highlights include Yunnan food at Dali Renjia, a taste of the Caribbean at Jamaica Me Crazy, or delicious dumplings at the ever-bustling Xianlaoman.
Dali Renjia is the closest, and boasts a comfy rooftop dining area. To get there from the Bell Tower, ride a bit north of the tower, then turn right onto Doufuchi Hutong at the supermarket where the road ends. Turn right on Baochao Hutong and Dali Renjia will be on your left. You’ll have plenty of options to refuel, as the menu is extensive.
Now is the ideal time to take your bike and meander through all the hutongs, which are full of small shops. To the south, just across Gulou Dongdajie, is the ever-popular Nanluogu Xiang, but stay on the north side of Gulou Dongdajie if you want to avoid the crowds and check out Beiluogu Xiang instead.
Next, head west on Gulou Dongdajie, past the Drum Tower and onto Gulou Xidajie. Take your first right onto Jiugulou Dajie, which has more cool shops and restaurants. This is your chance to introduce your children to music from before the digital era. Indie Music, a nifty, slightly hipster music store sells a few vinyl records and tons of CDs by Chinese and international artists from the past few decades.
Just next door is Clown Fresh Flowers. Fill your bike basket with a bouquet of stems, or just get a laugh from the clowns doing magic tricks outside the store.
If you’re looking to relax for a bit before heading home, head to Penghao Theatre, which in a hutong off of Nanluogu Xiang. Get there by heading east on Gulou Dongdajie, then turn right and head south on Jiaodaokou Nandajie. Make a right on Dongmianhua Hutong, then make another right on a small alley called Jiaodaokou Nanqitiao. In addition to being a theater at which Beijing Improv frequently plays, Penghao has a delicious restaurant and cafe with plenty of comfy seating, international food, and baked goods. Check beforehand to see if there will be any shows on the day of your Gulou outing.
Now that you’re good and saddle sore, bike yourself home and collapse on the couch. A bonus from your day of exertion: everyone will surely get a great night’s sleep.
Tonghuihe Yuhe Ruins 通惠河玉河遗址
Daily 24 hrs. Di’anmen Jie (near Ping’an Dajie), Dongcheng District 东城区地安门大街(近平安大街)
Drum and Bell Towers 钟鼓楼
9am-5pm. RMB 30 (through ticket to both drum and bell towers). (8402 7870) 钟楼湾临字9号
Dali Renjia 大理人家
Daily 10.30am-11pm. 80 Baochao Hutong (100m north of Gulou Dongdajie), Dongcheng District (158 1039 2366) 东城区东城区宝钞胡同80号（鼓楼东大街往北走100米）
Jamaica Me Crazy
Tue-Sun 10am-10pm. 1 Cheniandian Hutong, Andingmen Neidajie, Dongcheng District (6592 1254) 东城区安定门内大街车辇店胡同
Daily 11am-10pm. 252 Andingmen Neidajie, Dongcheng District (6404 6944) 东城区安定门内大街252号
Daily noon-10pm. 17 Gulou Xidajie, Dongcheng District (159 0108 0625, 6402 2692) 东城区鼓楼西大街17号
Clown Fresh Flowers
Daily 8am-10pm. 196 Jiugulou Dajie, Xicheng District (5351 0077) www.bjxcxh.com 西城区旧鼓楼大街196号
Penghao Theatre 蓬蒿剧场
35 Dongmianhua Hutong, Dongcheng District (6400 6472, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com) weibo.com/theatrepenghao 东城区东棉花胡同35号
Photo by Ellis Friedman