The old road: How to cycle around Beijing

The old road: How to cycle around Beijing

Yes, cars rule the roads now, but by following these biking routes, you can still pedal through the best of China's capital
cycling in beijing
Best way to keep warm and see the city.

Over the last few decades, many well-to-do locals in China’s capital have swapped their Yongjiu (Forever) bicycles for ego-enhancing cars.

But in Beijing today, cycling is back.

The city’s youth are hopping back on two wheels -- from road bikes to fixed-gear cruisers -- and discovering that Beijing is one of the best cities in the world to ride.

Here are five of the best biking routes in Beijing.

1. Lama Temple to Hohai Lake 雍和宫到后海

beijing biking route -- inline 1From former imperial residence to modern hutong life.

Start: Lama Temple 雍和宫
End: Great Leap Brewing, 6 Doujiao Hutong 豆角胡同6号

Distance: 6.8 kilometers

Lama Temple was the residence of Emperor Yongzheng before he was enthroned in Forbidden City in the Qing Dynasty. Occupying more than 66,000 square meters, it's now the largest Tibetan Buddhist temple in the city.

From Lama Temple (A in the map), head west through lively Wudaoying Hutong (B), home to dozens of cafés, restaurants and shops.

Veer south to Guozijian Jie (C) and take a quick tour of the Confucius Temple.

Weave your way through the hutongs west of Andingmen Inner Street (D) and stop in Baochao Hutong (E) to relax on The Orchid hotel’s rooftop patio. Or grab some of Mr. Shi’s succulent dumplings just across the alley.

Cycle past the Drum and Bell Towers (F), which kept time in the city for centuries, and head to nearby Houhai Lake (G).

Stop and chat with the old guys who swim here every day -- come sleet or snow -- then head back east toward Doujiao Hutong (H). Grab a hoppy beer in the quiet courtyard of Great Leap, a local brewery opened by American Carl Setzer.

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Lama Temple, 12 Yonghegong Da Jie 雍和宫大街12号; +86 10 6404 9027; open daily 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m.; admission RMB 25 (US$4)

The Orchid, 65 Baochao Hutong, Gulou East Street, near Nan Luogu Xiang 鼓楼东大街宝钞胡同65号, 近南锣鼓巷; +86 10 8404 4818; rates from RMB 680; www.theorchidbeijing.com

Mr. Shi’s Dumplings, 74 Baochao Hutong, Gulou East Street, near Nanluogu Xiang 鼓楼东大街宝钞胡同74号, 近南锣鼓巷; +86 10 8405 0399; open daily 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m.; 5 p.m.-10:30 p.m.

Great Leap Brewery, 6 Doujiao Hutong 豆角胡同6号; +86 10 5717 1399; open 7 p.m.-midnight (Tuesday-Friday), 3 p.m.-midnight (Saturday), 2 p.m.-9 p.m. (Sunday); www.greatleapbrewing.com

2. Nanluoguxiang to the Forbidden City 南罗故乡到故宫

beijing biking route -- inline 2See Tian'anmen Square the local way -- bike through it.

Start: Nanluoguxiang Hutong 南罗故乡胡同
End: Forbidden City 景山前街4号故宫

Distance: 5.7 kilometers

Take a quick trip down Nanluoguxiang (A). The first commercial hutong in the city, it has dozens of small shops, restaurants and bars. Most bars are cookie cutter and not worth a stop, but Salud and 12 Sq. Meters bar both remain popular drinking spots.

Travel south down Di'anmen Inner Street (B) until you reach Jingshan Park. Stop here and climb the hill in the center of the park for a remarkable view of the Forbidden City.

Ride along the Forbidden City’s moat and stop at the ancient palace’s front gate -- Tian'anmen (C). Join the legions of tourist groups and snap a photo of yourself in front of the iconic portrait of Chairman Mao.

Head West along Chang’An Avenue (D) to check out the National Centre for the Performing Arts, aka “The Egg,” before looping back to Tian'anmen Square.

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Jingshan Park, 44 Jingshan W St., Xicheng District 西城区景山西街44号; +86 10 6403 8098; open 6:30 a.m.-8 p.m. (winter), 6 a.m.-9 p.m. (spring and autumn), 6 a.m.-10 p.m. (summer); admission RMB 2

National Centre for the Performing Arts, 2 Xi Chang’an Ave. 西长安街2号; +86 10 6655 0000; open Tuesday-Sunday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.; www.chncpa.org

3. Tian'anmen and Dashilan'r 天安门到大栅栏

beijing biking route -- inline 3Whiz through some of Beijing's oldest hutongs.

Start: Tian'anmen Square 天安门广场
End: Qianmen 前门

Distance: 4.5 kilometers

Do a lap of Tian'anmen (A), the largest public square in the world, and marvel at the grandiose Great Hall of the People and the National Museum, before heading south through some of the oldest hutongs in Beijing.

Many this area’s alleyways were demolished around the time of the Olympics, but a number of great ones remain. Simply pick and choose which looks the most interesting and get lost in old Beijing.

Make your way to Dashilan'r (B), a once-notorious red light district. The area is now a refurbished shopping street made to look traditional, but it's still surrounded by a few charming, run-down hutongs -- great to explore on bike.

Then head back to Qianmen (C) to see what happens when hutong preservation goes commercial. Located just south of Tian'anmen Square, the traditional neighborhood is now a crowded pedestrian shopping street, featuring international brand stores and a replica trolly. 

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4. Tian'anmen to Andingmen Nei Da Jie 天安门到安定门内大街

beijing biking route -- inline 4Shopping, eating and drinking all on one ride.

Start: Tian'anmen Square 天安门广场
Finish: Fangjia Hutong 方家胡同

Distance: 8.1 kilometers

Cycle east along Chang’An Avenue (A) and stop for a walk up bustling Wangfujing Avenue (B), a major pedestrian shopping area.

Hop back on your bike and meander through the hutongs in the Di'anmen (C) and Meishuguan (National Art Museum) neighborhoods until you hit Jiaodaokou. Here you'll find Mao Mao Chong on Banchang Hutong (D), the best cocktail bar in Beijing.

Continue north up Andingmen Inner Street (E) until you hit Fensiting Hutong (F). Stop for some delicious dandan mian -- chili oil, Sichuan pepper, minced pork and scallions served over noodles -- at Zhang Mama, a ridiculously popular hole-in-the-wall serving some of the best Sichuan fare around.

Head directly east to Fangjia Hutong (G) and stop in at El Nido, a tiny bar owned by affable young Chinese entrepreneur Xiao Shuai ("Little Handsome") with fridges full of imported beer. El Nido is the de facto home of the "hutong hipsters," a growing breed of expat in Beijing.

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Mao Mao Chong, 12 Banchang Hutong 板厂胡同12号; +86 10 6405 5718, 86 138 1035 1522; open 7 p.m.-midnight (Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday), 7 p.m.-1 a.m. (Friday-Saturday); www.maomaochongbeijing.com

Zhang Mama, 5 Fensiting Hutong, Andingmen Inner Street 安定门内大街分司厅胡同5号; open daily 10 a.m.-11 p.m.

El Nido, 59 Fangjia Hutong 方家胡同59号; +86 10 8402 9495; open 4 p.m.-late

5. Lama Temple to the Bird’s Nest 雍和宫到鸟巢

beijing biking route -- inline 5On the trail of the Beijing Olympics.

Start: Lama Temple 雍和宫
Finish: Olympic Forest Park 奥林匹克森林公园

Distance: 11.3 kilometers

From Lama Temple (A), bike across the ring road to Ditan Park (B). Stop here and buy a ticket to one of Beiing’s best public parks, home to the Temple of Earth.

Head north along Heping West Street several kilometers until you hit the north fourth ring road (C).

Bike west until you see the unmissable site of the 2008 Summer Olympics. The Bird’s Nest (D) and Water Cube (E) stadiums are still as impressive as they were four years ago.

Head north until you reach Olympic Forest Park (F).

Here, you’ll find Beijing’s serious bikers, who meet in the evenings to cycle laps on the open road circling the 6.8-square-kilometer park. It’s fast, fun and free of traffic -- a rarity in Beijing.

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How to rent a bicycle in Beijing

1. Bike shops around the Drum and Bell Towers and other tourist areas rent bikes for approximately RMB 50 for two hours, with a deposit of around RMB 200. Most hotels and hostels in the area also have bikes for rent. Check out the bike rental rules and tips by Beijing government.

2. The city is currently installing public bike rental meters, similar to those found in Hangzhou.

3. Bicycle Kingdom, a bike tour and rental company, organizes several city bike tours.

Mitch Moxley is a journalist based in Beijing. He's written for publications including Time, The Globe and Mail, Foreign Policy and The Guardian from China, Mongolia, Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines.

Read more about Mitch Moxley
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