Visitors to Beijing looking to enjoy some outdoor activities should head to Houhai Lake, positioned directly north of Tiananmen Square and nestled in a bustling cloister of hutong alleyways. Due to its proximity to the Forbidden City, this area was historically home to court officials and the city’s ruling and intellectual elite. These days, the lake is largely known for its al fresco restaurants and rambunctious bars, encircled by throngs of wispy trees which add an organic element seldom found in the rest of Beijing’s urban tangle. Visitors making their way around the lake will come across vendors selling paper lanterns and other traditional Chinese paraphernalia, as well as food stalls and street performers. This is a great area to idle away the afternoon hours, shop around, and grab a bite before Houhai turns up the heat at night with its rows of bars showcasing musical performances and waterfront views.
The lake is also popular for its diverse assortment of seasonal activities, making Houhai one of Beijing’s best places to people-watch or engage with locals. From spring to summer, the lake is lined with grizzled locals kneading live bait onto their fishing hooks before casting their rods into the lake in hopes of landing a big catch, and line dancers and yoga practitioners fill the many plazas bordering the lake. Once winter blows in and Houhai freezes over, where large sections of the lake are covered with a swarming mass of ice skaters; in fact, it isn’t out of place to see some locals bringing out makeshift sleds and even office chairs as they haphazardly launch across the ice. Topping things of is a brave assemblage of taciturn seniors who don speeds and go on leisurely swims in Houhai year-round, dodging paddle boats and stray ice floes as they wade back and forth across the lake. Regardless of what season you visit Houhai Lake, you are sure to catch some interesting sights.