Best Cities to Visit in China (V): Hangzhou

Best Cities to Visit in China (V): Hangzhou

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Best-Cities-to-Visit-in-China-V-Hangzhou Best Cities to Visit in China (V): Hangzhou

Best Cities to Visit in China: Hangzhou

 

"Green mountains surround on all sides the still waters of the lake. Pavilions and towers in hues of gold and azure rise here and there. One would say a landscape composed by a painter. Only towards the east, where there are no hills, does the land open out, and there sparkle, like fishes' scales, the bright coloured tiles of a thousand roofs." – From Daily Life in China on the Eve of the Mongol Invasion, 1250-1276

 

Hangzhou tends to elicit hyperbole. Chinese writers on up to the Qianlong emperor have been praising the city's scenic spots for centuries now and as a result Hangzhou is one of the most popular attractions in the country. That said, the star attraction here, West Lake, really is lovely; if you have a taste for classical Chinese landscapes, you'll almost certainly want to spend a day or two here. 

 

Best Cities to Visit in China: Hangzhou

 

Like nearby Suzhou, Hangzhou began to prosper enormously after it was linked to northern China via the Grand Canal in 609. In the Song dynasty, the Jurchen of Manchuria pushed the Chinese so far south that Hangzhou wound up as the country's capital in 1127 (at which point it was renamed Lin'an). 

 

Although China's military reach was at a low point, commerce, technology, and culture were thriving as never before and it's estimated that after Hangzhou became the capital it grew to become the world's largest city. This was a title it held for the next two centuries – even after Kublai Khan captured it in 1276.

 

Best Cities to Visit in China: Hangzhou

 

What's here? West Lake, for starters. It's perfect for strolling, biking, and even boating – none of its sights are absolute must-sees, but exploring the surroundings makes for a very pleasant way to spend a couple of hours, or even an entire day. There's a fantastic performance here in the evening.

 

A little over a mile west of the lake is the Zen Lingyin Temple, which was originally founded in the 4th century CE by the Indian monk Hui Li. It's most famous for the Buddhist carvings in the surrounding cliff sides, some of which are over 1000 years old. 

 

The rolling hills south of the lake (a great place to go for a bike ride) are carpeted with fields of tea. The China Tea Museum here is a must for tea aficionados – exhibits range from tea cultivation to tea ware, and you might get to observe a tea ceremony. The nearby Longjing village is the origin of China's famous Dragon Well (Longjing) green tea.

 

Best Cities to Visit in China: Hangzhou

 

If you're feeling more urban, head to Qinghefang Old Street, a good place to browse for souvenirs and snacks or visit a traditional medicine shop. 

 

Foodies will also want to spend some extra time in Hangzhou, as it has a distinctive regional cuisine: look for dishes such as Dongpo pork, Longjing shrimp, and beggar's chicken.