The restrained, grey-stone edifice of the Bell Tower (Zhonglou) is arguably even more charming than its resplendent other half, the Drum Tower (Gulou), after which this area of Beijing is casually named. You can mount the steep steps to get a look at the giant copper bell, and peek out over the hutong from behind safety barriers.
Along with the Drum Tower, the Bell Tower was Beijing’s official timekeeper throughout the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, until 1924. The bell, claimed to weigh over 60 tons, was sounded in sequence together with the drums to mark the changes of the morning and night watches. Time was kept via a water clock (clepsydra), a copy of which is on display in the Drum Tower.
Since 1990, the bell is rung once a year on December 31st.
Buy your ticket for the Bell Tower at the Drum Tower.