Marco Polo visited Hangzhou in 1290 and was so overwhelmed by the beauty of the Xi Hu, or West Lake, that he transcribed, and thus popularized, a famous Chinese saying Shang you tiantang, xia you Suhang, which means in heaven there is paradise, on earth there is Su[zhou] and Hang[zhou]. Chinese now like to call Hangzhou "Paradise on Earth". It's a lofty nickname, but a visit to Hangzhou does provide a lovely, if not peaceful, alternative to the hustle and bustle of Shanghai and other big belching Chinese cities.
Hangzhou is the capital of Zhejiang province. With a population of just 6.6 million, it is one of China's smaller cities and feels more like a big town despite a population twice that of Chicago. Sitting 125 miles (200km), or about two hours by car, to the southwest of Shanghai, Hangzhou is an easy visit to combine with a trip there.
Read a complete visitor's guide to Hangzhou. Below is a short list of attractions.
- Xi Hu or West Lake: Hangzhou's tourist destinations are dominated by the West Lake. It is, by far, Hangzhou's most prominent feature. The large lake sits in the middle of the city and is surrounded by ancient temples and gardens. Within the lake itself, there are multiple islands to visit, a causeway that is lovely for walks or cycling tours and many grand views.
- Long Jing Tea Fields: China is famous for tea and the most famous tea in China comes from the hills around Hangzhou. Long Jing or Dragon Well tea is China's most celebrated green tea. It is worth a short drive out into the countryside to visit the villages that grow tea and sip some in one of the many open-air tea houses that line the roadway.
- Temples & Pagodas: Taoism and Buddhism prospered in Hangzhou and serene Ling Yin Temple was saved from Cultural Revolution destruction at Zhou Enlai's behest. Walking through the serene gardens and temples of Hangzhou's religious sites is a walk through time.
- Air: Hangzhou's Xiaoshan International Airport is 17 miles (27km) outside of the city center. However, most international visitors come by rail, car or bus from Shanghai.
- Car: It is possible to negotiate a Shanghai taxi to take you to Hangzhou and vice versa. The fare may run around 800rmb (US$ 100) one-way. The trip will take approximately 2 hours if there is little traffic on the roadway.
- Bus: Tourist buses run back and forth between Shanghai and Hangzhou. There is a shuttle bus from Shanghai's Pudong International Airport to Hangzhou's Yellow Dragon tour bus center that has six departure times throughout the day. The ticket is 100rmb (US$12) and the trip takes about 3.5 hours. There are also many tourist buses departing from other bus terminals in both cities. Check with your hotel to book tickets.
- Rail: Railway is by far the most efficient means of getting between Shanghai and Hangzhou. Both cities have two stations with multiple trains departing throughout the day. The trip takes under an hour by high-speed train or between 1.5 to 2 hours on the regular line and is inexpensive. Hangzhou is connected to other major destinations such as Beijing, Guangzhou, Xi'An and Guilin as well.
- Weather: Hangzhou's climate is comparative to Shanghai's. The average annual temperature is 16.2C and the annual average number of rainy days is 155. Rainy season falls in mid-June. Spring is March-May and autumn is September-November.
- Recommended time for visit: 2 days/2 nights.
- Best time of year to visit: Spring and autumn. Summer is very hot and humid and can make site-seeing uncomfortable. Winter might be too cold to enjoy the many outdoor scenic spots.
- Bring rain gear, you will probably see at least one day of rain.
- Rent a bike, it's one of the best ways to get around Hangzhou and stop at your leisure to look at the view of pagodas towering on the hillsides.
Where to Stay:
- Find budget accommodation in Hangzhou.
- Travel Guide Hangzhou: The Hangzhou Tourism Commission publishes a comprehensive brochure pocket travel guide. The guide includes fold-out maps, information on transportation, major sites, hotels, dining and shopping. It's available in most hotels and restaurants.
- Hangzhou: This book is a rather larger travel guide by Monique Van Dijk and Alexandra Moss, two expats based in China who have spent a lot of time in Hangzhou. It gives a good overview of all there is to see in Hangzhou and probably gives more info on tourist spots than you need. It also includes less-helpful location maps and information on a few hotels and restaurants. ISBN 7-5022-3648-1