The area around the Lama Temple (or Yonghegong) is a mix of modern and traditional, featuring both rich historical sights and cutting-edge boutiques. Families will find lots to do in the little alleys and back streets criss-crossing Yonghegong Dajie: Wudaoying Hutong, Guozijian Jie, Fangjia Hutong, and more. Tune up your bicycle, pack a few snacks, and bundle up; Yonghegong has just as much to offer in winter as it does in warmer climes.
Start the day off at the Lama Temple (1), the area’s main architectural and historical feature. The temple is accessible by subway through Yonghegong station on Line 2, exit B. Originally built as a residence for court eunuchs, the site was converted into a lamasery in 1772; half was retained as an imperial palace for the future Yongzheng Emperor. As a result, Yonghegong contains a distinctive mixture of Tibetan and Han Chinese architectural styles. The most significant features are three bronze statues of the Buddha, a hill with 500 arhats (Buddhist disciples who have reached nirvana), and a 26m tall sandalwood statue of the Maitreya Buddha.
Once you’re done, head across Yonghegong Dajie to Wudaoying Hutong – a family-friendly hutong that is home to several restaurants and boutiques. On the right, you’ll see The Veggie Table, Vineyard Cafe (2), and Argo (3) as you walk down the hutong. The Veggie Table offers vegan and vegetarian food with seasonal ingredients and organic produce whenever possible. Vineyard Cafe is a popular brunch spot for young expats and families alike, while Argo offers Greek standards like baba ghanoush, hummus, and tzatziki.
For something a bit different, walk to the end of the hutong for Sand Pebbles Lounge (4), an unassuming Tex-Mex restaurant with a cozy second floor. The eatery serves enormous 10” and 12” burritos for RMB 40-60. Try the Supreme Burrito with seared chicken breast, bacon, and crispy tortilla strips (RMB 52 for 10”). You’ll also find enchiladas, fajitas, tacos, salads, and a selection of bottled beers, juices, shakes, and margaritas.
If you’re a cycling enthusiast, Natooke (5) is definitely worth checking out. This bike shop and community center specializes in fixed-gear bicycles, which contain no freewheel. This means that the rider cannot coast; he or she must pedal as long as the bike is in motion. However, “fixies” offer the advantage of simplicity, as there are fewer parts to maintain. Pop in to chat with shop owner and trick cyclist Ines Brunne, or rent one of Natooke’s fixies for one day (RMB 50, RMB 500 deposit required).
Wudaoying Hutong is also home to a number of quirky shops and boutiques. Stop by Delia for a great selection of vintage leather purses, bags, and other accessories (RMB 500-700). A bit further west, Papabubble (6) is a Spanish brand that produces handmade and customizable hard candy. The colorful creations are offered as swirly lollipops and chopped caramel sticks. The former costs RMB 25 apiece, while the latter come in small and large jars (RMB 30-90).
When you reach the end of Wudaoying Hutong, head south on Andingmennei Dajie until you reach Guozijian Jie. Turn left and walk along the street until you find the Confucian Temple and Imperial College (7). The site is divided into two adjacent parts: the Imperial College, the highest educational institution and administrative organ in imperial China, and Confucian Temple, where the emperor and officials paid their respects to Confucius. Together, they cover about 50,000sqm. Even if you’re not particularly keen on history, the courtyards ringed with old cypress trees offer the perfect place to recharge. If you’re a fan of traditional Chinese culture, there’s a school behind the Imperial College’s Biyong Hall that offers calligraphy, Chinese painting, weiqi, and ancient literature classes for kids and adults (Chinese proficiency required).
Next, take a left outside the temple and walk down Guozijian Jie until you join up with Yonghegong Dajie once again. Walk south along Yonghegong Dajie, then turn right on Fangjia Hutong. This is yet another cute street filled with boutiques and restaurants. The crafty will love Samantha Crafts (8), a cozy and adorable mom-owned shop that carries knitted and crocheted crafts, baby clothes, knitting needles, crochet hooks, high-quality yarn, buttons, and more. Right next door is Paper Talk (9), a boutique for all things stationary and paper-related. Pick up a few sheets of artisan paper (RMB 20-50) to make Christmas cards with, or browse the store’s varied selection of notebooks, tissue paper, postcards, and more.
Looking for somewhere to eat? Keep walking down the street until you come across Fangjia 46, a complex of shops and restaurants. Many Yunnan cuisine fans swear by Aimo Town, which features dishes both tangy and spicy. To get home, simply hail a cab on Andingmennei Dajie. Or, head back to Yonghegong Dajie and head either north to Yonghegong subway station or south to Beixinqiao subway station, depending on where you live.
Lama Temple 雍和宫
RMB 25, RMB 12 (students). Daily 9am-4.30pm. 12 Yonghegong Dajie, Dongcheng District (6404 4499) 东城区雍和宫大街12号
The Veggie Table 吃素的
Wed-Mon 11am-11pm. 19 Wudaoying Hutong, Dongcheng District (6446 2073) 东城区五道营胡同19号
Vineyard Cafe 葡萄院儿
Tue-Sun 11.30am-11.30pm. 31 Wudaoying Hutong (just north of Confucian Temple), Dongcheng District (6402 7961, email@example.com) www.vineyardcafe.cn 东城区五道营胡同31号
Daily 11.30am-11pm. 59 Wudaoying Hutong (100m west of Vineyard Cafe), Dongcheng District (8403 9748) 东城区五道营胡同59号
Sand Pebbles Lounge 沙卵石
Daily noon-11pm. 74 Wudaoying Hutong, Dongcheng District (8404 0767) 东城区五道营胡同74号
19-1 Wudaoying Hutong, Dongcheng District (8402 6925, firstname.lastname@example.org) www.natooke.com 东城区东城区五道营胡同甲19-1号
Daily 2.30-10pm. 54 Wudaoying Hutong, Dongcheng District (6401 9369) 东城区东城区五道营胡同54号
Confucian Temple and Imperial College 孔庙和国子监博物馆
RMB 30, RMB 15 (seniors and kids). Daily 8.30am-5pm (Nov 1-Apr 30), daily 8.30am-6pm (May 1-Oct 31). 13 Guozijian Jie, Dongcheng District (8402 7224, 8401 1977) www.kmgzj.com 东城区国子监街13号
Samantha Crafts 珊米织物
Mon-Fri 9.30am-1pm, 2-6pm; weekends and holidays by appointment. 12 Fangjia Hutong, Dongcheng District (6405 8098, email@example.com) 东城区方家胡同12号
Daily noon-7pm. 12 Fangjia Hutong, Dongcheng District (8403 8935) 东城区方家胡同12号
Aimo Town 埃蒙小镇
Daily 11am-10pm. Bldg G, 46 Fangjia Hutong (just south of Guozijian Jie), Dongcheng
District (6400 1725) 东城区方家胡同46号艺术园区 (国子监南临) G座
This article is excerpted from beijingkids December 2012 issue. View it in PDF form here or contact firstname.lastname@example.org to find out where you can pick up your free copy.