Visiting the Drum and Bell Towers (they stand opposite each other across a courtyard) is just one of those things you should do when you go to Beijing, China.
As you can see, it’s definitely worth it to be there during a performance, which is almost hourly, though check the schedule before you go.
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The drums are impressive and the view from the tower is well worth the climb. Be warned, though, there are stairs outside and a very steep staircase inside. If you’re at all mobility impaired, this might be a tough climb.
Blind Man Tim made it, but it was slow going, and tiring.
If you can’t make the climb, the performance can still be heard below. But these drummers are a joy to watch if you can. They are absolutely spot on in their performance and precision.
I love the way they use the drumsticks in so many different ways. I tried to show as many of their different stick techniques in this clip as I could. I wish the show was more than a single song. I’m not sure if it’s the same every time, or if you went to multiple shows you’d hear different pieces.
It’s worth it to go to the top of the Drum Tower for the view, too. You get to see Beijing from a whole new angle.
While you’re at the Drum and Bell Towers you’ll probably be offered a tour of the hutong neighborhood in a tuk-tuk style vehicle. Having seen the hutong, on foot, in 2007, and seen them now, after the government ‘cleaned them up’, we can say that while the tour isn’t a rip off, and it’s kind of fun, the area isn’t nearly as interesting as it used to be. Essentially it’s been cleaned of all its character, the ultimate gentrification.
So take the hutong tour if you like, but don’t expect any great cultural insights. It’ll just be a nice ride and you’ll get to see the town a little bit.
Oh, and there’s a dumpling place around the corner that you might stumble onto while you’re at the Drum and Bell Towers. It’s nice, and local, and unassuming. And depending on what you order, they might serve you a soup that smells like old gym socks. Let me assure you, the soup tastes better than it smells. I finished the whole bowl.