Hangzhou is one of China’s most picturesque cities. Its West Lake for centuries has inspired emperors’ pride and poets’ verse. Its green hills and picturesque pagodas appear to be drawn out of classical paintings. At least once in a lifetime it’s worth walking or riding a bike along the full 11 kilometers along its shoreline.
In the hills west of the lake you can discover temples, pagodas and the handsome terraces of the National Tea Museum. When you get tired of walking, have a meal at the city’s ancient Qinghe Lane or a drink at one of the many restaurants east of the lake. Here’s how you can make the most out of 43 hours in Hangzhou.
Day 1: West Lake
Two thousand years ago, Hangzhou’s iconic lake was a lagoon adjoining the Qiantang River. Hangzhou governor Bai Juyi in the 8th century ordered the dredging of the lake to provide water for nearby farmland. The area soon became more prosperous.
During the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period (907-960), Hangzhou became the capital of Wuyue Kingdom thanks to its proximity to the coast and trade routes to Japan and Korea. Rulers of the time built or expanded many of the temples, pagodas and shrines surrounding the lake, including the Lingyin Temple, Jingci Temple, Zhaoqing Temple and the Baochu, Liuhe and Leifeng pagodas.
The lake’s three causeways were initially built in the 8th, 11th and 15th centuries.
The lake and its surrounding pagodas and gardens are worth a full day of your Hangzhou trip. Start from wherever you are and walk or ride a bike along the shoreline. The lake sees thousands of visitors – especially during summer days and national holidays – but that doesn’t take away from the experience. The scene changes as you progress along the coast, and as the sun moves across the sky.
The lake’s largest island is Gushan Island, close to its northern shores. In the 18th century, the buildings and gardens on the island composed Emperor Qianlong’s holiday palace and gardens. On the northwest side you can visit the lovely Quyuan Garden, which is home to 200 species of lotus flowers in five ponds linked by small bridges.
Xiaoying Island is the best spot from which to can admire the Three Pools Mirroring the Moon, three pagodas rising from the water, with circular holes that sometimes let out light from lamps or candles.
Also not to be missed are the Leifeng Pagoda and Jingci Temple on the south shore. At the end of the day, stop for dinner and drinks at one of the many restaurants and bars overlooking the lake from its east shore.
Day 2: Morning: National Tea Museum
Start your day with a visit to China’s only tea-themed museum. Spread across 3.7 hectares in the hills west of West Lake, the museum includes beautiful undulating fields of tea bushes. The museum complex has four groups of buildings, which display various aspects of tea history and culture.
The area also hosts a research center and has several quiet teahouses where visitors can sip tea and witness its art.
Day 2: Afternoon: Lingyin Temple
Within walking distance from the tea museum is Hangzhou’s most famous Buddhist temple, Lingyin Temple. The temple was originally built in 326 but has been destroyed and rebuilt several times since then.
Visitors are greeted at the entrance by the four majestic kings in the Hall of Heavenly Kings. The Great Hall contains a 20-meter-tall statue of Siddhartha Gautama made of camphor wood. At the back of the hall, a haunting rendition of Guanyin stands in front of a wall with hundreds of small figures in different postures.
In front of the temple is the “Flying Peak,” which has grottoes with numerous carved Buddha statues. The peak differs in color from the surrounding mountains. According to legend, it flew overnight from India to Hangzhou as a manifestation of Buddhist law.
Day 2: Evening: Qinghe Lane
End your day at Qinghe Ancient Lane, an area comprised of several blocks south of Huimin Road. The area has some of the best-preserved ancient buildings in Hangzhou, and it includes many shops, restaurants and tea houses. One of the most appreciated restaurants is Zhuanyuanguan, whose history dates back to 1870. After a serving of mutton noodles, you can take a short walk back to West Lake, whose view never gets tiring.