A few blocks north of the Forbidden City, just east of Houhai, lays a quaint alley, or hutong, unlike any other in the massive confines of Beijing. The hutongs, maze-like lanes that encompass traditional Chinese, communal courtyard houses, are rapidly being torn down and stripped away to make way for newer, sterile surroundings; however, one particular strip, Nan Luo Gu Xiang, has managed to avoid the mighty force of the wrecking ball, and re-invent itself as a bohemian hub, full of trendy stores, inviting cafes and eclectic eateries. Also known as "centipede street," Nan Luo Gu Xiang offers an amazing juxtaposition, meshing Ming-era architecture with the emerging tastes of 21st-century China. Muslim merchants sell traditional snacks and young Beijingers queue for ice cream. Spanning less than 300 meters, Nan Luo Gu Xiang spills out onto Dianmen Dongdajie, but its confines seem miles and centuries away from the ordinary bustle of downtown Beijing; coffee shops and cafes sit in place of teahouses, while unique arts and crafts and collector toys are the local artisans media of choice. Of course there is no substitute for the grandiosity and magnitude of Beijing's top tourist attractions, but Nan Luo Gu Xiang is an excellent escape from the sometimes overwhelming aura of China's mysterious capital. Additionally, its close proximity to Jinshan Park, Beihai and Gugong assure that at some point during your Beijing visit, you will be nearby. Other highlights of Nan Luo Gu Xiang include the Central Academy of Drama, alma mater of actress Zhang Ziyi, Lao Wu, a popular bar at number 66, and Anna's, the self-proclaimed "smallest bar in Beijing."