Generally, China’s tourism hub is concentrated in Shanghai, Beijing and Xi’an. But China has much more to offer with very well-kept cities and beautiful places. Hangzhou has been surprising Western travelers for quite some time. Legend has it that Marco Polo (1264-1324) called Hangzhou “the most charming city in the world”. And according to a traditional Chinese proverb, Hangzhou is the representation of heaven on Earth.
Hangzhou is the capital of Zhejiang province and has about 8 million inhabitants. Recognized worldwide by the supreme organization in its civilization, the city is perfectly balanced in the financial aspect and known for being quite luxurious.
Hangzhou is internationally recognized for its historical monuments and natural beauties. Packed with wonderful temples, vast areas of unspoiled nature and beautiful tea plantations on the outskirts of the city.
It is also the birthplace of Alibaba, the largest e-commerce company in the world. Many times, the westerners refer to Hangzhou as the China’s Silicone Valley.
What is not lacking in Hangzhou are cultural attractions and gastronomic discoveries for you to do in the city. Here are the 14 highly recommended things to do when you visit Hangzhou:
1. West Lake
Western Lake, or Xihu (Xī = West, Hú = Lake) is undoubtedly the main and most famous tourist attraction of Hangzhou. The West Lake includes some of the most remarkable historical and scenic places of Hangzhou, which is why it is included in the list of World Heritage of UNESCO.
In fact, the lake is one of the most beautiful in the whole of China and is still divided into 3 islets. In the summer (June to August) it is covered with lotus flowers; simply amazing to look at. And in the winter, the weather is cold and wet. When the snow falls and covers the bridge in white, it became a scene where the locals call it, “Remnant Snow on the Bridge in Winter”.
One of the nicest ways to get to know and explore this huge lake is to take a traditional boat trip through the most beautiful and quiet part of it.
There are different options available for you to enjoy the peace and harmony that the place offers. The most common option is to take the “community” boat and stop at all islets. Or you can rent boats just for you (comparable to Venice gondolas).
For more info about West Lake boat ride and tour, visit this website.
However, the disadvantage is that it comes out a lot more expensive than the alternative. Taken as one of China’s most famous lakes, getting to know it by boat is a must for anyone visiting Hangzhou.
Try to catch the smaller boats and thus escape the crowds that visit the city every year. The boats sail all day across the West Lake, which covers an area of nearly 6 square kilometers and is surrounded on one side by the city of Hangzhou and on the other by the hills and mountains.
Strolling around the islands you will find several stone pagodas and at night candles are lit inside the pagodas making the environment even more beautiful.
Around the West Lake you will find typical Chinese architecture, traditional shops, musicians with typical instruments, bridges and more bridges and trails with wonderful views.
From the islands you will have the most beautiful view of the city itself, however take into consideration that you are in China and the fog will be present in all the city’s look.
In addition, each bridge and each location have a specific legend (quite typical of Chinese culture). So, stop, contemplate the place and its beauty and read about the legends.
2. Leifeng Pagoda Tower
The Leifeng Pagoda is a five-storey Octagonal tower located on Sunset Hill in the southern portion of the West Lake in Hangzhou.
Originally built in 975 AD, it collapsed in 1924, but was rebuilt to the original mold in 2002. Since then it has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city and can be visited daily from 7:30 to 21h.
The incredible thing is to climb up to its 5th and last floor where there is an open belvedere and you can see the entire lake. Inside the pagoda, you can still find the original pagoda structure from a thousand years ago and a series of passages of Chinese history in gold.
3. Baochu Pagoda
Known as one of the landmarks of the Western Lake, the Baochu Pagoda is located north of the West Lake at the top of the “Precious Stone Mountain”.
Upstairs offers panoramic views of the West Lake and the city of Hangzhou. To get there, there are numerous paths that lead to the top of the hill.
Just hop on one of the trails that run from the right side of Beishan Road on the northern portion of the lake and enjoy this free of charge attraction.
4. Hangzhou Old Street
Hefang Street is one of the oldest streets in Hangzhou and is practically the only street that persevered almost intact with its historical characteristics of the time of the Qing dynasty.
The street these days is full of vendors and shops selling traditional Chinese handcrafts. It is possible to find several super traditional tea houses, men dehydrating the famous Chinese, right there in front of you.
If you want to know what are the souvenirs to buy in Hangzhou, check out this article.
Trades of everything that is typical of China and a giant golden Buddha right in the middle of the street will be part of your tour. This is a great place to buy souvenirs in Hangzhou, where only pedestrians travel.
5. Lingyin Temple
The Linggyin Temple is translated from Chinese as “temple of the soul retreat”. It is the main Buddhist temple in Hangzhou and is considered one of the largest and richest temples in the province of Zhejiang, in China.
Originally founded in 326 AD, throughout its history, it was destroyed at least 16 times. The temple has incredible statues of different Buddhas, including the largest seated Buddha of the entire country.
But when you take the tour there, purchase also the ticket to get to know the park around the temple and Mount Feilai. It is a huge area of forest with dozens of incredible buds carved directly into the stones and caves throughout the park. There are numerous figures to admire.
The most famous one if of the chubby buddha, laughing and full of money that is the most traditional Buddha of China.
The hours of visitation are from 7h to 18h, daily. In addition to the temple of Lingyin, there are several other temples in the vicinity that are also worth a visit such as Taoguang Temple.
6. Visit the tea plantations, Longjing
Considered one of the most famous and appreciated tea producing regions of China, Longjing is a region that produces the special high green-tea found in China and around the world.
During your visit to Hangzhou in Zhejiang province, one of the most interesting programs is to visit Meijiawu Longjing Village. A charming, typically Chinese village in the middle of a valley surrounded by huge tea plantations.
The village of Meijiawu is a quintessential destination, whose slopes have produced one of the world’s finest Longjing Tea since the Qing Dynasty.
Its picturesque streets and beautiful landscape, teeming with tea plantations on its slopes, make the village a perfect place to attend a tea ceremony and learn a little more about the different varieties of Chinese teas. Read this before you buy any authentic
The tea villages and plantations in Longjing are located on the outskirts of Hangzhou and are an unforgettable journey through the culture of Tea in China.
Besides the very interesting cultural aspect of tea production, preparation and consumption. Walking among the plantations of Camellia sinensis, a plant species used to produce this type of green tea, is a therapy itself.
7. National Museum of Chinese Tea
Sticking to the tea subject, the National Tea Museum is the only state museum specializing in tea culture in China.
The museum is located around the tea plantations of Longjing. The museum has an interesting collection and its proximity to nature makes it even more magical. It is open from 8:30 to 16:15, from Tuesday to Sunday.
8. Guo’s Villa
Completed in 1861, this elegant mansion/garden was built as a private retreat for a wealthy silk merchant of the Qīng dynasty.
Villa Guo is a fine example of architectural aesthetics and Chinese landscaping in which man and the natural environment blend in a harmonious balance following the precepts of feng shui. Guozhuang Garden is open from 8h to 17h and the visit takes approximately 1:30h.
9. Path of bamboo in Yunqi
The paths through the “forest” of bamboo in Yunqi are well known for their tranquility and beauty. The “forest” of bamboo is breathtaking!
It really makes you realize just how insignificant we are in front of these giant grasses. This free admission location renders beautiful photos.
10. Hangzhou Silk Market
Hangzhou silk is considered one of the best silks in the world and has been so since the times of the Tang dynasty and the Song dynasty.
For over a period of 1,000 years, this is one of the best places to purchase silk articles in China. With more than 600 companies directly associated with Sericulture in the region, this is the place to buy handcrafts, scarves, ties and other silk articles.
11. Xixi Wetland National Park
Xixi Wetland is a waterlogged and very picturesque area that has long been considered by successive generations of Chinese intellectuals as a pure place of contemplation on earth.
One of the best ways to explore the Xixi Wetland is by taking a boat trip through the numerous canals surrounded by lots of green, bridges and historic buildings.
12. City God Temple
A seven-storey temple located on the peak of Mount Wu and which stands out on the horizon of the eastern portion of the West Lake. The path to the temple on Mount Wu is filled with centuries-old camphor trees and counts also with some Taoist temples.
On the way, visitors can visit several outdoor tea houses, which are quite interesting places to observe the traditional lifestyle of local people and enjoy a good beverage.
13. Lotus Qu Yuan Garden
Considered one of the top ten views on West Lake, Qu Yuan Garden is the largest lotus park in China. With more than 200 species of lotus and nymphs, it used to be a park exclusively for the Emperor. The best time to visit it is at the end of summer when the plants are at the height of their exuberance. There are no entrance fees to the Qu Yuan Garden.
14. ”Impression West Lake”
An unforgettable show that happens every day at dusk, the “Impressions of West Lake” tells the story of
The show is directed by Zhang Yimou, the famous Chinese filmmaker who also directed the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics in 2008. This show is an absolute must-see!
Check out more info about West Lake “Impression” Show here.