It’s August in Beijing; the city’s expat community has shed its departing families and welcomed a fresh batch. Whether you’re new to Beijing, or just returning from vacation, walking the city’s streets is a great way to acquaint, or reacquaint, yourself with the capital. We spotlight four walking itineraries across the ‘Jing selected by some of its best tour guides. Get out and explore before school starts! This part two of a four part series, find part one here.
Featured Guide: Nelly Alix (Beijing by Heart)
Nelly Alix, a scholar of Chinese studies, has been living in Beijing and exploring its captivating history for seven years. She is the co-founder of Beijing by Heart, a company specializing in tailored tours and history walks.
Beijing by Heart offers private tours and small group walks in English and French. The history walks are suitable for small groups of two to eight people and cost RMB 300 per person (RMB 150 for ages 8-16). For more information, email email@example.com, call 5873 0051 or 186 1130 2864, or visit www.beijingbyheart.com.
Shichahai – which encompasses the three lakes of Houhai, Qianhai, and Xihai – is one of the most pleasant areas of Beijing, and definitely one best covered on foot or by bike.
Starting at Jishuitan subway station (line 2, exit B), enter the small garden immediately to your left. During the 13th century, the northern shore of Xihai served as the city port as well as the commercial center of Dadu (as Beijing was known during the Yuan Dynasty).
This crucial period of the city’s history is commemorated with a statue of Guo Shoujing, the hydraulic engineer who designed the waterways, which allowed boats to bring grain from the southern provinces to the capital via the Grand Canal. Atop the hill, you can see the Huitong Ancestral Temple, which currently has a small exhibition about Guo Shoujing’s achievements.
The western shore, Xihai Xiyan, is ideal for a leisurely stroll. On any given day, you will see local Beijingers fishing. Ask them if they caught anything to get the conversation started.
Cross the stone bridge. A few steps to the north is Poetry Café on the ground floor of the Sleepy Inn Downtown Lakeside Hostel – perfect for a relaxing drink or bathroom break.
Then, follow the northern shore of Houhai. You can stop for a chilled yogurt by the lake or, if you are ready for the next step of your adventure, enter the snack hub of Jiumen Xiaochi, where 12 renowned local xiaochi (snacks) brands banded together in a bid to preserve their culinary knowledge.
Navigate from one stall the next and choose what you’d like to try. One of the most famous – and delicious – snacks here is the milk pudding from Nailao Wei, located at the very end of the central corridor to the left. Before you can buy any snacks, you will need to charge a card at the cashier; you can get back the balance before you leave.
Continue your stroll along Houhai Beiyan, where several prestigious old residences have been well-preserved. On the left, you will see the entrance of the former residence of Prince Chun, where the last emperor Puyi was born in 1906 before he moved to his new quarters, at age 2, in the Forbidden City. A part of this gigantic mansion was later given to Song Qingling, the wife of Sun Yat-sen and honorary president of the CCP. This site is open to visitors; its main attraction is the charming garden surrounding the residence.
Just a few meters south, you can try the outdoor equipment at the people’s gym for some family fun, or simply sit back and watch the locals stretching and exercising. In the summer, get some fresh air by renting a pedal boat or a tandem bike.
Turn left on Ganlu Hutong, then right on Ya’er Hutong. At number 31 stands Guanghua Temple, a Buddhist temple first built during the Yuan Dynasty. As late as the 20th century, the temple was still a place of retirement for imperial eunuchs. The last one, Sun Yaoting – who served the child emperor Puyi – lived here for 20 years until his death in 1996.
Turn right again, back towards the shore, and cross Yinding Bridge. Back in the Qing Dynasty, it was said that on a clear day, you could see the Western Hills from this spot. Today, this is a great (albeit slightly risky) place to watch the fireworks from on Chinese New Year.
Time for a well-deserved rest. For good Yunnan food and a great view of the neighborhood, head to the rooftop of No Name Restaurant. This is my favorite stop on this itinerary; you get a perfect view of the Bell and Drum Towers, the ancient markers of the city. They used to be the highest points of old Beijing. Today, they still stand out clearly above the surrounding traditional one-story houses.
Huitong Ancestral Temple and Guo Shoujing Memorial 郭守敬纪念馆
Free. Wed-Sun 9am-4pm. All exhibits are in Chinese. 60 Deshengmen
Xidajie, Niching District (8322 4626) 西城区德胜门西大街甲60号
Poetry Café 壹探险
Daily 9am-10pm. 103 Deshengmen Neidajie (main entrance on Xihai Dongyan), Xicheng District (6455 3957) 西城区德胜门内大街103号（入口西海东岩）
Jiumen Xiaochi 九门小吃
Beihai Shore, 1 Xiaoyou Hutong, Xicheng District (both numbers found on Baidu were out of service, but shop exists) 西城区孝友胡同1号后海北沿
Former Residence of Song Qingling 宋庆龄故居
RMB 20. Daily 9.30am-5.30pm (closes at 4.30pm in the winter). 46 Houhai Beiyan, Xicheng District (6404 4205) 西城区后海北沿西端46号
Guanghua Temple 广化寺
Free. Open to visitors on the 1st and 15th of each lunar month. 31 Ya’er Hutong, Xicheng District (6407 6395) 西城区什刹海北边的鸦儿胡同31号
No Name Restaurant 无名餐厅
Daily 10.30am-10.30pm. 1 Dajinsi Hutong (near the southern end of Yinding Bridge), Xicheng District (8328 3061) 西城区后海大金丝胡同1号（银锭桥往南侧）
This article originally appeared on page 58-59 of the beijingkids August 2015 issue. Click here to read the issue for free on Issuu.com. To find out how you can get your own copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos: Courtesy of Beijing by Heart