If (when) the construction site that is much of Beijing becomes too much, the tour groups at the major sites—Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven, the Great Wall, etc.—too overwhelming, it is time to head to the Back Lakes area.
It is close to downtown, green, a bit funky, has a great hutong, and is quiet. And, perhaps in an odd twist of fortune, the Back Lakes area is with one exception a bit of a walk from the nearest subway stop.
The Back Lakes area consists of three lakes—Xi Hai (西海), Hou Hai (后海), Qian Hai (前海)—that are strung together north of Bei Hai (北海), which is a large lake south of Dian Men Xi Daijie street.
There is a lot of greenery and the buildings in the area area still on a human-scale.
The hutong in the Back Lakes is well preserved and its narrow alleys make for great exploring.
There are also many restaurants and bars in the area.
Places to See
Prince Gong’s Mansion
This is the best-preserved royal residence in Beijing. Located on Longtoujing Jie a ten-minute walk from the Silver Ingot Bridge, a small bridge that spans Hou Hai and Qian Hai lakes.
Great for strolling and getting lost.
A short walk from the Silver Ingot Bridge, the Drum Tower is on Dia’n Men Wai Daijie. Climb up to the top for great views of the surrounding area.
Mei Lanfang Guju
This is the residence of the great Mei Lanfang, a legendary opera star. A beautiful courtyard residence, it is on Meidaije west of Prince Gong’s Mansion.
Jishuitan Station is close to Xi Hai, the northernmost lake.