Hangzhou, a poetic city reputed as “Heaven on Earth,” has inspired countless poets, scholars, painters, pilgrims and photographers during the past millennia. Combining the best of East and West flavors, it complements Beijing as one of the top two tourism hotspots in China.
First timers might try visiting some classic locations, such as West Lake, the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal, Leifeng Pagoda, Lingyin Monastery and Qinghefang Historical Street. Afterward, visitors could spice up their experience by visiting such historical sites as Huqingyutang, the Former Residence of Hu Xueyuan, and Xixi Wetland National Park. After covering the essentials, visitors may try lesser-explored destinations, such as Six Harmonies Pagoda and Meijiawu.
There is no lake in the world can rival Hangzhou’s West Lake in terms of cultural significance. The countless pagodas, pavilions, parks, museums, monasteries, arched bridges, islands, causeways and memorial halls are just a few features of this culture-rich lake. For the past millennia, this open air garden has been revered by the ruling elites, monks, poets, and artists. To enjoy West Lake’s natural charm, begin with the Top Ten Scenes: Spring Dawn at Su Causeway, Breeze-ruffled Lotus at Quyuan Garden, Autumn Moon over the Calm Lake, Lingering Snow on the Broken Bridge, Orioles Singing in the Willows, Viewing Fish at Flower Pond, Three Pools Mirroring the Moon, Twin Peaks Piercing the Clouds, Evening Bell Ringing at Nanping Hill and Leifeng Pagoda in Evening Glow. The best way to enjoy West Lake is by bike or boat. Gondolas and paddleboats are available for rent. Also, you can catch a ride on a sightseeing golf cart that will take you around the perimeter of West Lake, providing a relaxing way to soak up the beauty of this quintessential Hangzhou attraction.
Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal
Meandering for over 1,794 meters, this artery connects the two most important cultural cradles of China: Beijing and Hangzhou. This extensive and complicated marvel of engineering is the result of backbreaking labor and dredge effort throughout its 2,500 years of history. Along this artery, water towns, silk factories and villages emerge and thrive.
The Grand Canal is still used today along its southern stretches, including the Hangzhou section. In the region, the slope is gentle and the water is sufficiently deep. In many places, the canal is over 100 feet (30 meters) wide, and its banks are lined with time-worn stone bridges and modern ones spanning the canal, while memorial arches and lofty pagodas share its banks with factories and apartment complexes. To showcases its greatness, the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal Museum was built. The museum is a great destination for those wishing to get acquainted with the Grand Canal’s history. For those who want to savor its lingering charm and antique flavor, the beautifully decorated cruises operated day and night will fulfill their wishes. Using the canal as a means of traveling to or from Hangzhou is the best way to get a true appreciation of the canal.
Leifeng Pagoda is the icon of West Lake’s southern shore. This five-story pagoda, made of brick and wood, contains Buddhist scriptures written on silk and features an underground room dedicated to 16 arhats and Buddha statues. According to Lady Snake White, the most enduring Chinese love story, it was the prison built by a monk named Fa Hai to enslave Lady White who chanced upon her husband on Broken Bridge and started their ill-fated interlude. It survived fires, wars and other damage during the past millennium and did not succumb to disrepair until 1924, having been weakened over the years by Hangzhounese’s customs of removing the bricks from its lower sections for use as souvenirs. This pagoda shrouded in mystery also constitutes one of the Top Ten Views of West Lake: Leifeng Pagoda at Evening Glow. Leifeng Pagoda is famous for the silhouette it casts against a background of misty hills at sunset, but the so called “evening glow” is even more impressive and breathtaking. Look out from its balconies and you can see urban Hangzhou spread out for a distance in one direction, the lakes glistening in another, and the verdant hills stand tall in the south; Leifend Pagoda offers an amazing panorama.
Also known as Temple of the Soul’s Retreat, Lingyin Temple is Hangzhou’s most famous Buddhist temple and one the most important in China. Established in the fourth century by Hui Li, an Indian monk, it harbors 9 buildings, 18 pavilions, 72 halls, and is home to over 3,000 monks. Because of its fame and popularity, it is not a place to seek serenity, but a place to experience the Buddhists’ mindset first hand.
Qinghefang Historical Street
Tucked away at the southern end of downtown Hangzhou, Qinghefang Historical Street is the best place in Hangzhou to buy souvenirs and sample local delicacies. It was the imperial boulevard during the Southern Song Dynasty. The main thoroughfare is lined with shops selling traditional crafts like silk, fans, chopsticks, snacks, tobacco, tea, umbrellas, scissors, ham and clothes. It is also a center of fun and games. You can see Chinese yo-yo tricks, antique puppet shows and clay and stone sculpting here. For globe-trotting foodies, it is a heaven. Various snacks offered here may challenge your definition of culinary propriety, including duck heads, silkworm pupae on skewers, giant snail, scorpions, chicken feet, pigs’ feet and numerous stews bobbing with unmentionables. It is not for the fainthearted.
Hu Qing Yu Tang
Initially founded by Hu Xueyan in 1864, the Hu Xueyan Pharmaceutical Workshop (Hu Qing Yu Tang) was a famous state pharmacy and workshop devoted to the production of traditional medicine. Today, the beautifully preserved building, an excellent example of Qing Dynasty architecture, serves as the location of Hangzhou’s traditional Chinese Medicine Museum. This sprawling complex, just off Qinghefang Historic Street, also houses a traditional Chinese clinic and pharmacy.
The Former Residence of Hu Xueyuan
The residence of Hu Xueyan ranks as the most exceptional of the former abodes. This gorgeous architectural complex is the largest, most delicate and best-preserved among its local counterparts. A visit to it will be both visually rewarding and enlightening.
Xixi National Wetland Park
Xixi National Wetland Park is the last remaining example of the traditional water towns of Hangzhou. It features a network of crisscrossing streams and ancient Persimmon trees. An astounding number of 150 species of birds call this haven home. This park is rooted in literature and legends, China’s two most famous novels "Dream of Red Chamber" and "Outlaws of the March", include scenes from Xixi Wetland National Park. Today, this park hosts various festivals, such as the Huazhao Festival and Dragon Boat Racing, which occur during spring and summer respectively. Recent years have seen the addition of many tasteful tea houses, cafes, bars and cinemas, bringing much vitality to the location.
Pagoda of Six Harmonies
To subdue the mighty tidal bores of the Qiantang River and to restore a balanced relationship among the six directions of the universe (north, south, east, west, earth and heaven), Pagoda of Six Harmonies was built and finished in 970 AD. This poem highlights the Pagoda’s beauty: “The setting sun behind the Western Hills glow, And towards the East Sea the Qiantang River flows. You can enjoy an endless sight, By ascending to a greater height.”
Meijiawu Tea Plantation
Your visit to Hangzhou won’t be complete without a visit to Meijiawu, one of the most famous tea plantations gracing Hangzhou. In this tranquil village, you can see how Longjing green tea is picked, processed and prepared. Featuring a rustic environment consisting of rolling tea plantations, verdant hills and white-washed and black-tiled folk residences, it deserves an afternoon’s exploration. Being only 7.5 miles (12km) from downtown Hangzhou, it is accessible by bus or taxi.
The sun is shining and the autumn wind is just right. In such good weather, it is a good idea to travel back in time in the Hangzhou Confucius Temple. Here, you can cultivate your mind and soul. In the temple, tablets can be seen everywhere, positioning people instantly in the ancient seat of learning in the capital city of the Southern Song Dynasty. Here, you can stop and appreciate the ancient moss-covered stone tiles, which seems to narrate the thousands-of-year history of the Confucius Temple.