The restrained, grey-stone edifice of the Bell Tower is arguably even more charming than its resplendent other half, the Drum Tower, after which this area of Běijīng is named. It also has the added advantage of being able to view its sister tower from a balcony.
Along with the drums in the Drum Tower, the bells in the Bell Tower were used as Běijīng’s official timekeepers throughout the Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, and on until 1924. The Bell Tower looks the older of the two; in fact both are of similar vintage. First built during the Mongol Yuan Dynasty in 1272, the Bell Tower was rebuilt in the 1440s after being destroyed in a fire. This current structure was built in 1745.
Like the Drum Tower, the Bell Tower can also be climbed up an incredibly steep inner staircase. But the views from the top are even better here, partly because the structure is set back more deeply into the surrounding hútòng, and partly because you can get great photos of the Drum Tower from its viewing balcony. Marvel, too, at the huge, 600-year-old, 63-tonne bell suspended in the pleasantly unrestored interior. Note how Chinese bells have no clappers but are instead struck with a stout pole.
Inside the tower, on the ground floor (south side), is the Bell Tower Tea House, where you can sample a selection of Chinese teas as well as buy tea and tea sets.
Buy your ticket for the Bell Tower from the Drum Tower; a small ticket office inside the entrance to the Bell Tower only sells packaged tickets, which include an overpriced hútòng rickshaw ride.
The Drum and Bell Sq, between the two towers, is a fine spot to stroll, take photographs and take in local life. For national holidays and special events, the towers are lit up beautifully at night.