They often say, 不去长城非好汉 - if you haven't been to the Great Wall, you're not a good man. Well, having been there twice myself, I'd say Beijing isn't all about the Great Wall, or even the Forbidden Palace. If you're the sort who likes to go to those must see attractions, then you can stop reading here. However, if like me you like a bit of strange and quirky, or peace and quiet in your itinerary, I'd be more than happy to share them with you.

Last winter, work brought me once again to the capital of China. This time, instead of the standard stuffy business hotel, I choose to stay in a no frills bed and breakfast called Hutongren (review at the end of this post) as a base to explore the touristy-but-quirky Nanluogu Alley 南锣鼓巷, Yandai xie jie 烟袋斜街 and Shichahai, North lake 什刹海北海.

How to go: For direct access to the shichahai area, get off at metro Xisi station, or Beihai north station. It also makes for a nice walk from nanluogu alley (get off from nanluoguxiang station and walk over) or from Tian An men (get off at Tian An Men west or east- west is nearer to the shichahai area). Yandai xie street is also connected to the Beihai area. For a comprehensive map of the entire area, refer here or here

A stone's throw away from the famous Tian An Men, Shichahai (什刹海) is an scenic area which consists of three lakes Qianhai (前海), Xihai (西海) and Houhai (后海) in the north of central Beijing in China. Shichahai is also connected to beihai via pedestrian/bicycle pathways. 
There are famous Taoist and Buddhist temples round the lake- most notably, the Prince Gong Mansion (恭亲王府) and the Prince Chun Mansion (醇亲王府).

live band/music venues

The lake areas are a famous scenic spot and a favourite amongst the elderly who like to go jogging around the area (it's huge!) in the mornings, couples who like to go dating there, and expats/working professionals and tourists who like to hang out at the bars/live music venues there at night. In the summer tourists can rent boats to paddle on the lakes, whilst winter ice-skating is a popular activity.

I visited the area twice- once in the early hours of the morning (8-9+am) and it was nice and peaceful all around, perfect for nice strolls or picnics. The second time i visited (5+pm) the crowd had started to kick in and you could see all the stores, restaurants and pubs starting their business. 

yummy milk drink that can be easily found around this area

Houhai is also connected to the charming Yan Dai Xie Jie, or "Slanted Tobacco Pipe Street ". The 232 meter-long street runs from the northeast to the southwest, and used to house many stores selling tobacco pipes. Along the street today you can still find some stores selling pipes, however majority of the stores sell souvenirs, food or knicknacks. 

slanted alleyway

Some interesting finds at the alley include locally-made t-shirts with funny slogans, retro mugs similar to those used by factory workers/people from the 60s, and some notebooks. 

kaopu, or 'dependable', slang used by locals

Some of the things i got (all cost less than $5 each) include: a wuxia-manual like notebook, a retro-60s-looking ceramic-looking worker cup, 2 notebooks with funny slogans on them. 

for fans of wuxia novels, and for those who like quirky cups

funny notebooks that make perfect gifts for friends/your dad/mom

From the yandai xie street it's an easy 15 minute walk to the 800m-long nanluogu alley, which, in recent years, has become a popular tourist destination with many bars, eateries, bnbs, stores and galleries. To make traveling to Nanluoguxiang more convenient, the Nanluoguxiang Station of Beijing Subway was opened in 2012 and is located near the south entrance of the street.

The alley can be completed in less than an hour easily on foot, however there are many interesting stores/cafes, eateries worth a visit along the alley. One of the must-try eats is 文宇奶酪, a sweet yoghurt like food that can come with various toppings such as red bean. 

Some people may find naluoguxiang very touristy or made-up, but I found the place very charming and really loved going back home to it. The place where i stayed, Hutongren, is a small boutique hotel/bnb was along Xiao Ju'er Hutong, one of the smaller alleyways that was connected to Nanluoguxiang. With so many alleyways connecting to the main street, it can be easily to get lost or walk past the hutong, but follow the hotel map on the website and you won't be lost. 

Hotel Review: I travel quite frequently to Asian countries such as china for work, but this time i wanted to stay in a different kind of hotel in Beijing to experience local culture and a more laid-back setting. Let me say that Hutongren did not disappoint. From the moment i stepped in and Blackie (hotel dog) barked and later pounced at me welcomingly, i felt really at home. The front yard is serene and beautiful and the girl at the front desk (i think it was seven) had a really wonderful and genuine smile on her face as she welcomed me. 

Blackie, the active dog                        courtyard/living area where you can dine

lovely see-through glass roof

The roof-top terrace is small but lovely, and i expect it should be amazing to dine upstairs during spring/summer but during my stair it felt a bit chilly so i only went up a bit to take photos. 

The room i stayed in was Hidden time, which was a simple double bed with a small sitting chair, bench desk and lovely skylight. The room is a little small- not much space left after you place your luggage on the floor! And it's based on an 'open concept' toilet, in which there is no proper door separating the bed from the toilet/shower, save for a curtain. The room is quite nicely decorated- simple but adequate. the beds are very comfy, towels very good, interior very clean and well-maintained. I like the touch of nature (small plants) they place all around the hotel and in the rooms as well. They provide 2 bottles (1 per person i expect) of drinking water daily, which is a nice touch. There is also a fully-functioning heater/air-conditioner in the room, and a ventilator to prevent dampness and suck away any bad odor from the room. 
Room size was perfect for me, but if the bf were with me I might have opted for a larger room or chosen to stay in another place. Room i stayed in was Hidden time, which is just off the backyard. 

Upon arrival, the staff kindly welcomed me with a cup of tea (you get to choose from a selection of the teas they carry!!) and three small snacks/biscuits that tasted lovely. 

Breakfast on the other hand, was hit and miss. It took forever for breakfast to be served, so best you tell the staff what time you'd like to eat first, have them prepare breakfast, then you can eat in the dining/hall area. 

For the price i was also expecting a better spread for breakfast, or at least a hearty meal. The first day i had western-style breakfast, which was alright but nothing to shout about. 

standard western breakfast- you won't go wrong

On the second day, I ordered the cong you mian (noodles done chinese style) which other reviewers on tripadvisor had raved about and was slightly disappointed by the taste (nothing amazing) and how stingy it felt (very little sauce, a few cucumbers, noodles, served on a western style plate). The saving grace of breakfast was the tea, which was excellent.

cong you mian - skimpy and forgettable

Overall, on the whole i was happy with my stay there, and also would recommend this to others. Convenience is one fact that made me feel more reluctant to make a return trip- during my previous stay, the nearest subway stop was a 15-20 minute walk away. However, now with the opening of the nanluoguxiang subway stop, it makes traveling a breeze. Do consider staying here if you'd like to stay in somewhere more different.