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Did you know that Hangzhou was one of the Seven Ancient Capitals of China? Located at the southern end of the Grand Canal, the longest and oldest artificial canal in the world. Due to both its historical and cultural importance, Hangzhou is on many travel itineraries of visitors. Plus you can see two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in one place.
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As the fifth-largest city in China, Hangzhou has many great places to see and things to do. An easy hour train ride from Shanghai makes Hangzhou an easy getaway destination for travelers looking for a quick getaway. Spring and fall are the best times to visit this beautiful destination. Once you’ve arrived, check out these popular things to do and see in Hangzhou.
Cruise the West Lake
One of the highlights of Hangzhou is West Lake. West Lake has influenced poets for centuries and it became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011. The Lake is fringed with beautiful gardens, pagodas, and a paved walking path.
One of the best ways to experience West Lake is to cruise it by boat. There are a number of different boats you can choose from, take your pick, as long as it has an engine. The rowboats won’t take you far and you’ll see much more of West Lake on a larger tour.
The lake is mesmerizing and full of action, especially in the summer. Music will be playing, there will be singing, flowers will be in full blossom and every cafe will be opened with outside seating. Whether you explore West Lake by boat, by bike, or by foot you’ll soon applaud her for her beauty just as many Emperors did before you.
Jess from I’m Jess Traveling
Visit the Drum Tower
The Drum Tower in Hangzhou is not quite as large or impressive as the drum towers in Beijing or Xi’an, but it’s definitely worth a visit. Many cities in ancient China had a drum tower (gǔlóu) as well as a bell tower (zhōnglóu), and the drums and bells were more than just musical instruments.
They were used for official timekeeping purposes. Much like the way church bells ring on the hour in Christian countries, the huge drums that were kept in the drum tower would be struck on the hour.
An imposing crenelated wall surrounds the tower, which is decorated with colorful lanterns and masks. When you climb up the tower, you will even find a couple of statues posing as soldiers guarding the tower.
The area around the drum tower really comes to life in the evening, when the streets turn into a night market. You’ll find stalls selling all kinds of things here, and it’s a great place to try some authentic Chinese street food.
– Wendy from The Nomadic Vegan
Originally built in 326 A.D., this temple is one of the largest and wealthiest Buddhist temples in China. The temple’s name is translated as Temple of the Soul’s Retreat. The temple experienced its peak during the years 907-978, and many of the carvings in the grottoes date back to that time.
Currently on its sixteenth reiteration, today’s version dates mostly to the period prior to 1911. Entry to the temple is through the Hall of the Four Heavenly Kings due to the statues of the Four Heavenly Kings.
One of the most interesting features to see is the Feilai Feng grottoes. Made of limestone, the main peak appears out of place since it does not appear like the surrounding mountains. The caves and grottoes are dotted with Buddhist carvings. Don’t miss the main cave where a crack in the ceiling stretches up to the surface so that a visitor can see a sliver of sunlight if standing directly underneath it. Make sure you experience this, also called the “one thread of heaven.”
Drink a Beer at Midtown Brewery
Tucked away in the Midtown Shangri-La Hotel, this gastropub offers craft beers, live music, and delicious cuisine. With a variety of seating locations, choose a table near the tanks for a quieter atmosphere, at the bar (our choice) to get a full feel for the place, at the inside tables or even outdoor seating to be nearer the live music or DJ.
Head brewer Eric White incorporates local flavors and inspiration into the local craft beer movement. Order a tasting paddle featuring eight samplers featuring a variety of their staple beers. You’ll taste a variety of beers and it is a great deal to get a feeling for which beer you’ll want to order in a full pint size.
Feeling peckish? The menu offers a variety of flavors from Western to Asian. Depending on your hunger level, order from a steak to a French fries appetizer.
Don’t miss a great evening out in Hangzhou by visiting this craft brewery.
Learn All About Green Tea
Hangzhou is famous for its green tea, Longjing (dragon well), that grows in the nearby mountains. Tea terraces line the valley where you’ll see workers picking tea leaves from the bushes. The newest leaves are the most flavorful, so pickers are adept at only selecting the best. Leaves are then dried and packed into containers for sale.
Visiting a tea plantation will show you the entire process as well as the benefits of green tea. You’ll be poured a cup or two and learn the right temperature and how to drink it all day long.
After seeing the tea plantation, visit one of the local tea houses while admiring the beauty of the region.
Buy Some Silk
Brides from all over China travel to Hangzhou to purchase their dresses. Silkworms love the mulberry trees that line the roads here. Not a bride? Consider special ordering a dress or other outfit.
Most of the tours will take you to a silk factory. Bedding is the specialty of these factories. Before your trip consider whether such a purchase is a possibility since you’ll need room in your suitcase. If you buy an entire set, the factory provides a carry-on suitcase.
Enjoy learning about the entire silk-making process. From the silkworm to the pupae to how the silk is woven and colored, you’ll leave with newfound knowledge. If you want to learn even more about history, visit the National Silk Museum.
Eat at Grandma’s
This popular chain restaurant started in Hangzhou and features local dishes. With a location near the West Lake, this is a great way to try regional flavors.
Due to its popularity, expect a long wait for a table unless you go early (before 4:30 pm). Generous portion sizes, reasonably priced created a cult-like hype for this restaurant.
For a truly special treat, order the beggar’s chicken. This traditional dish features a stuffed chicken covered in non-toxic clay and baked for six hours.
There are so many places to see and things to do in Hangzhou due to its great location and size. Most tours only include a night or two in Hangzhou but use your free time wisely to enjoy something a little different than the pre-packaged tour.
And if you’re traveling abroad, don’t miss my tips for surviving a long flight or the one thing I would not travel without. If you’re visiting China, learn more about what to see and do in Beijing, Shanghai, including a guide to riding the Shanghai metro and packing for nine days.
Annick, The Common Traveler