Visit Songzhuang Art District – A very Different Day Out in Beijing! Part 1

798 too touristy for you? Nanluoguxiang too commercialised?  Want to get out of the city and actually see something different? Then perhaps it’s time to check out Songzhuang Art District (宋庄画家村) for a fresher art experience!

Read on, and find out what treasures are waiting to be discovered in this fascinating little enclave!

Updated March 28th 2019.

The Songzhuang Art District is located in Tongzhou, in the east of Beijing, and is easy to get to using public transportation. Here you’ll find a large area of galleries, cafes, restaurants, art supplies shops and boutiques, including the CK Culture Centre & Boutique!

For convenience, the area can be divided into two parts: Xiaopucun (小堡村) which is a clearly delineated village with many old courtyard houses remaining, and Songzhuang (the rest of the area). The area is large, so we recommend seeing it in one of two ways.

1) Walk around Xiaopu Village, where many artists live and work, and enjoy the eateries, shops and galleries, some of which are set in old courtyard houses. If you’re having trouble finding anything feel free to drop by the CK Culture Centre & Boutique and we can assist you in finding them!

2) Hire a bike or kick scooter (available from the CK Culture Centre & Boutique; please reserve in advance) and explore the wider area of large art galleries spread out over several square kilometers.

In this article we’ll focus on Xiaopu – stay tuned for more articles on the wider Songzhuang area!

Artists first came here in 1995 after they were evicted from the Yuanmingyuan art district. One of the artists in the first group to leave Yuanmingyuan had a student who recommended a small village on the city limits. At that time Xiaopu was a non-descript village with many of the houses abandoned. There was no mains water, no paved roads or traffic lights, and only one restaurant.

Just twenty four years later, the artists have expanded out into the wider Songzhuang area and it has become China’s biggest art district, with thousands of galleries and as many as 6,000 artists living and working here. The area is changing quickly with the massive growth of Tongzhou, the extension of subway line 6 to the south and numerous apartment buildings under construction nearby. But for now, Xiaopu still retains the feeling of a country village (with an arty twist!)… come see it while you can!

While we have tried our best to confirm opening times, these are all family-run establishments and as a result hours are changeable! In general, restaurants are open for lunch and dinner and closed in the afternoon. Most close for the day around 9.30pm but will stay open until later if they have customers. Shops and bars open around 10-11am, with shops closing around 6pm in winter and 9pm in summer, and bars closing at 11pm.

We recommend avoiding Mondays which is a day off for some small businesses. Contact us in advance if you hope to visit somewhere specific, and we can confirm that the place will be open! Addresses for locations within Xiaopu aren’t given as there are only 4 street names for the entire village, and building numbers are not in order.

Please note: Xiaopu doesn’t have any public toilets. However, most of the restaurants and cafes in the area do have washrooms.

Restaurants

Xiaopu is chock-full of small restaurants, many serving home-cooked food (家常菜), but there are also Guangdong, Yunnan and Japanese restaurants among others. There are restaurants all over the village, but the greatest concentration can be found on what we have dubbed ‘restaurant street’, marked on the map.  Here are some of our recommendations:

Xiang Chuan Dumplings 香传水饺 (11am-3pm, 4.30pm-9.30pm, closed on Mondays) Map: Blue 1

This place serves huge, tasty, succulent dumplings, so order less than you think you’ll want to eat!

Porriginal 原品记 (11am-2pm, 5.30pm-9.30pm) Map: Blue 2

A cosy Guangdong restaurant serving up zhou (Chinese porridge) and a variety of other delicious dishes.

Spring Forever 春常在 (9am-9pm) Map: Blue 3

Decorated with touches from the south-western province, this popular restaurant serves light Yunnan fare and also has a roof terrace.

A Mi Jia  阿米家(11am-2.30pm, 5.30-10pm) Map: Blue 4

Eat inside or al-fresco on the roof terrace at this pretty restaurant which serves generous portions of Xinjiang food. Watch your chuan’r being cooked through the glass walls.

Daybreak Sushi 晓寿司  (11am-9.30pm) Map: Blue 5

Find this restaurant serving standard Japanese fare tucked away down an alleyway just off of Xusong Lu (look out for the bamboo-clad restaurant; it’s behind it).

Bars

Thinking of staying in the village and grabbing a drink after dinner? Well, these bars don’t open particularly late (we are in a village after all!) but there are options for that too!

5 Bay Bar 五桂食堂 (11am-11pm) Map: Purple 1

A cute little bar painted army green outside with just a few tables inside the simply decorated interior. 

Corner Jazz Bar (2-11pm) Map: Purple 2

A cozy jazz bar that periodically hosts live performers. Unfortunately sometimes closed when it should be open so have a backup plan if you plan to go here.

Cafés

If there is one thing Xiaopu has plenty of, it’s cafes! Whatever kind of atmosphere you are looking for, you’ll definitely find it somewhere in the village!

Exile Cafe 出走咖啡 (10.30am-10pm) Map: Green 1

Located in a former courtyard house, this lovely little space is a great place to relax with its many plants and comfortable sofas.

Youjian Cafe 佑见咖啡 (10am-9pm) Map: Green 2

The purple exterior makes this place easy to find! Inside it’s bright and cozy, and they serve simple meals as well as coffee.

Rose Coffee 玫瑰咖啡  (10am-9pm) Map: Green 3

This was the first cafe to open in Xiaopu, and you can sit and enjoy drinks in their shady, plant-filled courtyard.

Sunshine Coffee 阳光灿烂咖啡馆 (11am-11pm)Map: Green 4

A good choice if you want to eat as well as have coffee.  The air-conditioned interior is full of quirky art pieces and art books and there’s a small courtyard for when the weather is nice. 

Xiang Yue Space 享悦空间 (10am-9pm)  Map: Green 5

This spacious bookshop, gallery and cafe is a relaxing, tranquil place to work for a few hours. Unlike most other cafes in the area, no food is served here.

Shopping

Xiaopu is a great place to have a stroll and stumble upon little shops tucked away down alleys.

CK Culture Boutique (Thur-Sun midday-6pm) Map: Our logo

The CK Culture Boutique is your destination for a range of Chinese art, vintage gifts and retro accessories. We sell calligraphy (both ready-and custom-made), paper cutting and paintings by local artists, as well as a range of Feiyue Shoes.

We can also provide bikes and kick scooters for hire if you’d like to see the larger area (please book in advance).

Coming as a group? Then why not consider also booking a cultural activity, such as a painting class or calligraphy workshop, to enjoy while you’re here. Contact us for more information about the classes we offer, or add us on WeChat directly at AJDonnelly.

Please also feel free to stop by during our opening hours if you need any information about the village. We’ll be happy to point you in the right direction!

3 Artists Tibetan Art 3 个艺术家  (Opening hours vary) Map: Red 1

This shop sells exquisite Thanka (Tibetan Buddhist paintings) and is well worth a visit even if you’re not buying.

Shangshou 上手 (by appointment only, 2pm and after) Map: Red 2

While you might be lucky enough to find him open, we recommend pre-arranging your visit to Mr Li’s little shop in a Xiaopu alleyway (contact us for help doing this).  His beautifully minimalist little store showcases carefully chosen vases, teapots and other ceramics.

Zhilu Sanshiwang 纸盧三氏汪 (10am-6pm) Map: Red 3

This elegant store on the outskirts of the village sells various types of paper, painting and calligraphy supplies and paintings on scrolls.  Don’t miss the stamped Han-dynasty bricks for sale at the back.

Morning Trees 草木晨间  Map: Red 4 and A Little Shop 一家小店  (both 10am-9pm) Map: Red 5 

Cute little boutiques selling clothing and other miscellaneous goods.

Saturdays-only shopping bonus!  Chuzou Market 出走咖啡集市

Most Saturday afternoons from April to October see a small market held outside Chuzou Cafe with around 25 local vendors selling all kinds of products ranging from handmade soap to vintage bric-a-brac. In spring and autumn the market is on 11am-6pm, in the summer (June-August inclusive) it’s on 4pm-8pm. The market is outside so it won’t go ahead in bad weather. We  recommend that you let us know if you plan to come for the market and we can confirm if it’s happening!

Art

Most of the residents of Xiaopu are artists who live and work in their studios (工作室).  As you walk around you will see many small galleries and studios. If the door is open you might be able to go into a private studio to have a look around. There are more galleries and art shops on Xusong Lu, located to the east of Xiaopu.

Qi Zhen Art Museum 青古美术馆  Map: Yellow 1 and Oriental Treasures Art Museum 东方珍宝美术馆 (10am-6pm) Map: Yellow 4 

These galleries host rotating exhibitions but will be closed if there is no exhibition on.

Ming Yuan Gallery 名苑画廊 (Opening hours vary) Map: Yellow 2

This gallery exhibits the artist’s distinctive landscape paintings.

Qing Gu Art Museum 青古美术馆  (Opening hours vary) Map: Yellow 3

Easy to find because of the large sculptures outside, this gallery exhibits both paintings and sculptures.

Map of Xiaopu (click for larger version)

Getting here

Bus

Take the 808 or 809 from the bus station under the ring road at Guomao 国贸 (also known as Dabeiyaonan 大北窑南). The 808 and 809 leave from the east side of the bus station. Get off at Xiaopu Shangye Guangchang 小堡商业广场 (pictured above). It’s 2 yuan if you have a Yikatong transport card, or 6 yuan if you pay cash.  

Not all buses have a conductor so exact change may be needed. Depending on traffic it takes around one hour. On alighting, you are on Xusong Lu with the village to your left. Buses run back to Guomao until 8pm. The bus stop is marked on the map above in blue (above the red arrow).

Subway

Take Line 6 to Beiyunhexi 北运河西 and then take a taxi (15 minutes) to Xiaopu Shangye Guangchang 小堡商业广场, where the village is on your left (or Lantian Kindergarten 蓝天幼儿园 if you want to come to the CK Culture Centre & Boutique directly).

Taxi

A taxi from downtown (for example, Sanlitun) will cost around 80 yuan and take about 45 minutes. To avoid an unnecessary toll gate, show your taxi driver the following: 去宋庄小堡村 走京通快速,然后在耿庄出口下高速,谢谢!To get to Xiaopu, have the driver enter Xiaopu Shangye Guangchang 小堡商业广场 in his GPS. The village is to the left of the square. 

NOTE: Non-local taxi drivers and some maps may refer to Xiaopu (小堡) as Xiaobao (小堡) since the second character has two pronunciations.

Private car

Want to get to Xiaopu conveniently, easily and as a group? Then contact us about booking a private minibus to pick up you and your friends. We’ll be happy to help!


Businesses tend to come and go quickly, so for an up-to-date list please check back often for the latest information, or contact us in advance so we can help you plan your visit!

Follow the Instagram hashtag #宋庄 (‘Songzhuang’) to see more from the area!

However you decide to get here, and whatever you decide to come and see, thanks for reading, and we hope to see you soon!

Coming soon: Part 2 of our guide to the wider Songzhuang Art District!




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About Us

Cultural Keys, a registered company in Hong Kong, Beijing and the UK, was founded in 2013 by three expats looking to help people better access, understand and enjoy life and traditional culture in China.

Since then, Cultural Keys has helped hundreds of people do exactly that.

If you are looking to get more out of your stay in China, no matter your reason for being interested in this fascinating country, Cultural Keys can help you experience more. Feel free to get in contact and let us know what you are looking to get out of your time here. We’d be happy to help you in any way we can!

Cultural Keys
191 (North Gate A), Xiaopu North Road
Xiaopu Village, Songzhuang
Tongzhou, Beijing

北街191号 (北门-A), 小堡村,
宋庄镇,通州区,北京

Telephone :
+86 18611558781
010 89595202

 

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