Living in a Hutong in Beijing: A Complete Overview

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Moving to a new country every two years

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If you are moving to China or are already living there and are thinking of living in a Hutong, this guide might help you decide.

Two years of my life were spent in the Chinese capital. The first year in a Chaoyang flat, while the second was in the Hutong district near the Lama Temple. Experiencing life in a hutong was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

A distinctive feature of Beijing is the network of alleyways known as Hutongs. My wife and I spent three years in China between 2019 and 2022 (right in the middle of the Covid era!). For the first two years, we were based in Beijing.

In 2020, we were residents in a Chinese courtyard in a small street called Hutong. It was a tiny, traditional Chinese home. The house was part of a courtyard surrounded by 4 other houses. The landlord and his family lived right across from our cute little home.

We were living right next to the famous Lama Temple, only 4 kilometers above the forbidden city! On certain days we could smell the incense coming from the Lama Temple. Sometimes we went for a run all around the forbidden city. A truly incredible experience.

Table of Contents
Pros and Cons of Living in a Hutong


  • Culturally rich area
  • Experience you will never forget
  • Many hidden bars, fancy coffee places, and public toilets!
  • Right in the center of Beijing
  • Cheap compared to apartments


  • It all depends on how you see things. There are many inconveniences, like a cold floor, dirty streets, tiny houses, and loud neighbors. It’s just part of the experience.

what is a Hutong?

A hutong is actually not a house but a Hutong means a small, narrow street. The traditional courtyard houses are called siheyuan. Si means four because there are four buildings surrounding a small square.

Hutongs have been around for hundreds of years, and you can usually find them in the city’s historic districts in Beijing.

Chinese hutong china seheyuan beijing hutongs painting movingjack • living in a hutong

What's it Like to Live in a Hutong?

Being right in the heart of such a culturally vibrant region is an incredible and eye-opening experience. It is a unique location where you will find the most welcoming local people.

Every day there are new places to discover because there are many restaurants, coffee shops and bars. Especially these hidden bars are great, you will meet lots of young people and also international folks who know their way around the hutong area.


An important thing about living in a Hutong is to be open-minded and not cling too much to comforts. that you might be used to. The streets can be chaotic and dirty but just see it as part of the China experience. If you can do that you will love living in a hutong.

Public toilets in the Hutongs

This might sound odd but I think one of the awesome features of the hutong area are public toilets.

Many houses are so small that they don’t have a toilet in it, so people use public toilets. The great thing is, there are many bars in the area, so it is great to walk around from bar to bar with public toilets everywhere, just like you’re at a festival!

You go outside the bar, walk through a street, and go to a public toilet. You will also meet other people there from other bars where you can have a conversation about all the quirks of the Hutong life in China.

Chinese hutong china seheyuan beijing hutongs toilet sign movingjack • living in a hutong

Privacy in the Hutong

Another interesting thing is that most of the time, these toilets are just holes in the ground. People would go for a number 2 and just sit next to each other without a wall in between! There is just a different view on privacy in China which I actually started to like a lot.

It’s a certain freedom. People are less focused on their ‘personal space’, which is much more present in the western part of the world. You will also notice it in conversations. People can just ask, how much money do you make? Or, you need to lose weight!

The Best Hidden Hutong Bars

At first sight when you walk around in the Hutongs, they might look like an old and often dirty area. But you will find the best bars and coffee places in Beijing when you know where to look.

We called them hidden bars. If you are in Beijing in the Hutong area, make sure to check out these bars:

Camera Stylo: a low-key-underground-feeling bar with a roof terrace, many different beers 

Jing-A: a more modern commercial bar but with a great vibe

Modernista: this used to be an old theater. Nowadays, it’s an awesome hidden bar with several live performances of DJ’s and singers.

El Nido: a hidden bar with a small courtyard in the center of it. It’s half outside and half inside. Nachos are the best over there.

fancy Hutong coffee shops

A great feature of living in a Hutong are the fancy coffee shops. It was fascinating to see the old houses mixed with modern and hip lunch and coffee cafes.

Coffee places:

The Orchid

The Bake Shop

Coffee bars at Wudaoying Hutong street

Chinese hutong china seheyuan beijing hutongs 14 movingjack • living in a hutong
Chinese hutong china seheyuan beijing hutongs 3 movingjack • living in a hutong

Hutong Neighborhood community

There was a neighborhood community watch with super friendly people. Within the first few days, when we arrived, the head of the community came to welcome us and talk about the neighborhood. Everyone knew very quickly that we were living there, because there weren’t many foreigners around if any.

We arrived right at the beginning of the covid era. Only 5 days before the borders of China closed for several years, we came back to Beijing, just in time.

It’s awesome to be immersed and welcomed in this local Hutong community as a foreigner.

-10 degrees in Beijing

One downside of living in a Hutong is the winter! Man… it can get cold in Beijing and especially in a Hutong

When we moved from an apartment to the hutong area, it was snowing, and the temperature dropped to -10 degrees. The floor was so cold that your feet would instantly hurt. The floor was just tiles built right on the ground with no isolation below it.

We underestimated how cold this could be in a house. We kept ourselves warm with two small electric heaters.

Historic Culture

One of the best things about living in a hutong is the culturally rich environment. First of all, the Forbidden City is very close. There are the Drum and Bell towers, Beihai lake, Houhai lake, Lama Temple, Confusion Temple, Ditan Park (地坛公园) and many more locations with historic buildings. 

It’s amazing to be able to go outside and just walk along these cultural landmarks with a coffee on the go.

Chinese hutong china seheyuan beijing hutongs lama temple yonghegong 3 movingjack • living in a hutong

There are even old hidden paintings from the time that Mao was ruling China. Just a 15 minute walk from our home.

Chinese hutong china seheyuan beijing hutongs mao drawing movingjack • living in a hutong
Chinese hutong china seheyuan beijing hutongs beihai hohai 4 movingjack • living in a hutong

What does it cost to live in a Hutong?

The cozy little Hutong we rented was around 25m2, with a toilet and a shower. It costs about 7000 RMB per month. That is about 800 dollars. It was like a loft, but there was enough space for two people. Water and electricity come on top, but that is pretty cheap.

Keep in mind that most of the time, the rent needs to be paid every quarter, so not per month. Sometimes you will also have to pay a deposit so the first amount you have to pay can be large.

Costs for your mobile phone and the internet are really cheap. We paid 100 dollars for one year of internet plus two sim cars for our phone numbers.

If you have a bigger budget of around 12000 RMB per month it is possible to rent a bigger house in the hutongs. Some have a roof terrace, separate rooms, and small backyards.

Below was what our Hutong looked like from the inside when we decorated the place to make it nice and cozy.

Conclusion of living in a Hutong

The thing with living in China is, and more specifically the hutong area, you just have to embrace the things that are happening and go with the flow.

Sure, the hygiene on the street is bad in the hutong area, there is much noise from scooters and people talking loudly, and there are many things that people might consider annoying. 

For example, hot water might not always be available, you will not have much privacy, maybe your house doesn’t have a toilet, and the cold floor hurts your feet. We could hear our neighbor blowing his nose every time! But it’s just all part of the experience of living there.

It’s such a vibrant area; there are temples, local shops, bars, old folks playing mahjong outside and walking around in their pajamas on the street. There is also a nightlife with bars and karaoke clubs that are open until late.

The places you can discover in the Hutongs are almost endless. There is art, music, local food and top-notch restaurants.

A hutong is a great place to call home if you’re an expat in China. You can also do what most foreigners do and rent an apartment in Chaoyang, but then you won’t be in the heart of Beijing and get to experience authentic China. 

This is Guomao in Chaoyang, a financial district.

Once you accept the quirks of Hutong life and find the humor in it, you’ll come to love your time there and wish you could extend your stay. The Hutong area has the friendliest people I’ve ever met. They will be overjoyed to have you as a neighbour and will be happy to lend a hand with anything. Even more so if you can speak a few words of Chinese.

Oh and here are two dogs having a rooftop party in a Hutong.

F.A.Q. Living in a Hutong

They sure do. It’s actually a quite vibrant and busy area. Some times there even were a small traffic jams of scooters in the alleys.

Because of the central location in Beijing, some Hutongs have been demolished. Luckily, the Chinese government realises that it’s a unique cultural heritage area that they have to keep.

It’s hard to find an exact number but it is believed that there around 1000 hutongs in Beijing.

Most house agents can be found on WeChat, the most popular app in China. Contracts will most likely be one year long. Rent payments are every quarter with on the first month one extra month of rent for the deposit.

A man standing on top of a sand dune with his arms outstretched.

About the author

Chris Oberman is the founder and author of Moving Jack and has been traveling the world for over 20 years to 40+ countries.

He lives in a different country every two years which allows him to gain unique in-depth insights and experiences in new places abroad.

Quoted on, NRC Newspaper, Vice,and Feedspot.

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