These streets are made for walking

Updated: 2012-01-06 20:37

By William Daniel Garst (

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No, we're not talking about Beijing's dwindling number of hutongs. While I enjoy strolling through them as much as anyone, the capital also boasts a number of interesting streets showcasing the old and new Beijing that are best toured on foot.

Even Haidian, whose roads consist mainly of wide avenues, has one good walking street, the pedestrian Shuangyushu fashion alley. In addition to its slew of small shops selling chic and funky clothing at bargain prices, the alley has good cafés, while the UME International Cinema is nearby, on Keyueyuan Nanlu.

Shuangyushu is about the new Beijing and its consumer culture. To get a taste of old Beijing, one can head southeast to Xicheng District, get off at the Fuchengmen subway station and walk east down Fuchengmendajie. The Baita temple, with its distinctive white stupas, is on the north side of the street, while two historic residences, the Lu Xun and Cheng Yanjiu residences, are close by. And the stroll down this avenue ends at the fantastic China National Geology Museum, which displays land deeds dating back to the Zhou Dynasty.

Moreover, unlike nearby Finance Street, Fuchengmendajie is lively and crowded with pedestrians not just on weekdays, but on the weekends as well.

Going farther east, into Xicheng's neighbor district, Dongcheng, we arrive at the hippest walking street in Beijing, Gulou Dajie. This journey can be started at the Beixinqiao subway station, as the short walk west to Gulou takes one past several cool art cafés, including one that is improbably named "Waiting for Godot."

Gulou is also filled with such establishments, as well as numerous bars and good restaurants. However, the street’s distinctive and edgy character stems from its many guitar shops and funky clothing boutiques, and shoppers will have no problem finding the perfect outfit to wear to a rock concert at Mao Live House.

From the Beixinqiao subway station, one can also head north or east for interesting street walks. Going north, up Dongsibeidajie, leads to the historic Lama Temple, Guozijian and Confucius Temple. After visiting these places, one can dine at one of the numerous cheap but good Chinese restaurants, or sample French cuisine at Café de la Post.

Dining has long been the main attraction of the famous "Ghost Street" and its numerous shuizhuyu (fish) and hotpot restaurants, which are lit with colorful lanterns at night. However, it is now also home to a newly opened Russian Cultural Center housed in the Naga Life Apartment complex. And the small but lovely Nanguan Park is also in the vicinity of Ghost Street.

Of course, the capital's most famous pedestrian mall, Wangfujing, is not too far south and west of Ghost Street. But while it is still a fun place to visit, the old night market is a shadow of its former self, having been squeezed out by the high-end shops and indoor malls that now dominate Wangfujing.

Fortunately, pedestrians searching for both something different and wanting to escape from Wangfujing's crowds need not go far. The adjacent Dongsi Street boasts a row of art bookstores selling nice coffee table art books at very low prices. And speaking of art, China National Art Museum is not far away, on the northwest corner of Wangfujing and Chaoyangnei avenues.

After admiring the art museum's special exhibits, one can head west down the latter street and walk past the original site of Peking University, which still has the library building where Mao worked after coming to Beijing, before arriving at Jingshan Park.

Like Haidian on the opposite corner of town, the CBD lacks good walking streets. The one exception is Dongdaqiaolu. Walking south from Worker’s Stadium to where Dongdaqiaolu "T's" into Jianguowaidajie, I can admire Beijing’s new architecture and high-rises, eat and drink at numerous good restaurants, cafés and bars, visit high-end shops at The Place, or hunt for bargains at Silk Street. The combination of tall buildings and heavy foot traffic makes a stroll down this avenue the closest equivalent in Beijing to walking about Midtown Manhattan.

So despite its sprawl, the capital is surprisingly walkable, at least within the 3rd Ring Road. And Beijing’s gridlocked streets and jam-packed subways make walking short distances a healthy and practical alternative to driving or using public transportation. City planners will have to work hard not just to preserve, but further enhance the capital's walkability.

The author is an American corporate trainer in China.