Hangzhou     杭州

An old proverb proclaims, “In heaven there is paradise, on earth Hangzhou and Suzhou”. Well, Hangzhou is definitely not paradise, to the point where that proverb appears downright blasphemous. But no doubt at the time that saying was coined Hangzhou’s natural beauty was far more pronounced. The city’s centerpiece West Lake certainly managed to inspire a number of Chinese poets. Naturally, the poets of centuries past didn’t have their vistas spoiled by a sky of smog.

Hangzhou remains one of the most popular destinations for Chinese tourists and a sort of Disney version of how Hanzghou looked in the olden days has been created for their benefit (newly-built pagodas with elevators inside, etc). Such places are extremely popular with Chinese tourists, but will likely bemuse or irritate foreigners who are generally in search of the old. As one of the six ancient capitals of China under the Southern Song Dynasty (12th Century), Hangzhou should be imbued with history and ancient buildings. However, very little from that era remains.

Gripes aside, Hangzhou has its charm. West Lake, right in the city center, is indeed beautiful and is surrounded by hills on three sides (the city center on the fourth). It’s very rare to have such expansive nature so close to a Chinese city and this is what attracts most people to the place. Only needing to travel a kilometer or two to escape to nature and then being able to quickly return to the convenience of the city is an alluring feature of Hangzhou.

Moreover, Hangzhou is a relaxed city – a very nice place to explore leisurely. There are boating opportunities on the lake, some wonderful walks up the hills and a famous temple that really is worth seeing. It is also a center of Chinese tea culture and silk, which might attract tourists with a specific interest. There’s a vibrant dining and nightlife scene and a reasonably-sized expat population which makes it quite foreigner-friendly. While unlikely to be a highlight of any tourist’s trip to China, Hangzhou does have its merits.

Who should travel to Hangzhou?

Hangzhou is a second-tier destination. It’s unlikely to be on the itinerary for a first trip to China. But for those traveling extensively through the country it’s a nice place to relax for a while and repeat visitors to China should visit at some point. More than anything, though, Hangzhou provides a relaxing getaway for foreigners living in Shanghai or elsewhere in China.

How long is needed to see Hangzhou?

The major reason to visit Hangzhou is to relax for a while, climb hills and so on. So really you should allow three days as a minimum. If you merely want to visit the major attractions then two days will be enough.