Often visited as a day trip from nearby Shanghai, Hangzhou has much more to see and do than is possible to fit into one day. So enchanting are the waters of West Lake (Xi Hu) and the peaks of the surrounding foothills that the early explorer, Marco Polo, reputedly referred to Hangzhou as “the most beautiful and magnificent city in the world.” Though much time has passed since the days of Marco Polo, here is a three-day itinerary to help you discover the multiple wonders of Hangzhou.
Day 1: West Lake (Xi Hu), Gu Hill, Lingyin Temple, Lei Feng Pagoda
The undeniable soul of Hangzhou is the area known as West Lake (Xi Hu), which can easily occupy the better part of an entire day. Famous for the naturally occurring “Ten Scenes of the West Lake,” many visitors opt to begin their day by experiencing the dawn break from the calm waters of Su Causeway. After having watched the morning sun dance upon the waters, head out on an old style cruise boat for a quick trip over to Gu Hill—the lake’s lone naturally occurring island—for a view of the surrounding lake region. Once back on shore it’s only a short walk, bike or taxi ride to Lingyin Temple, also known as “The Temple of Soul’s Retreat.” Considered to be one of the most famous Buddhist temples in all of China, Lingyin is best known for the hundreds of stone Buddhas which inhabit caves in the temple’s naturally occurring forest grottos. If the potent smell of incense from the temple is starting to get to your head, however, circle back to the south shore of West Lake to close the day by experiencing another of the famous ten scenes, an evening spent enjoying the sunset from Lei Feng Pagoda.
Day 2: Traditional Chinese Medicine Museum, Six Harmonies Pagoda, and Grand Canal
For anyone interested in herbal remedies, acupuncture or the body’s relationship with the overall Universe, then a visit to the Traditional Chinese Medicine Museum is a must. Located in downtown Hangzhou this former pharmacy educates visitors on the history and culture of traditional Chinese medicine. There’s even a health clinic where you can be diagnosed and a section devoted to making your own pills. Not far away from the museum is the ancient Six Harmonies Pagoda which dates back over 1,000 years. Visit the nearby park to view replicas of some of the world’s most famous pagodas or watch the daily tidal bore wash down the Qiantang River from the top story of the seven-story pagoda. Finish the day by heading out for a sunset cruise on the Grand Canal for a look at traditional waterfront villages and the opportunity to cruise what was once the largest man-made river in the entire world.
Day 3: Meijiawu Tea Village and Impression West Lake show
Set out in the rural hinterlands southwest of West Lake (Xi Hu), the Meijiawu tea village is an entire community dedicated to the cultivation and culture behind Xihu longjing tea. Regarded as one of the finest green tea varieties found anywhere on the planet, longjing tea can be experienced by visitors at a traditional tea tasting ceremony to learn about the intricacies involved with everything from the planting of the tea bushes to the pouring of the final cup. With a new bag of longjing tea leaves in hand, head back into town to catch the evening showing of Impression West Lake, a dazzling rendition of a local Hangzhou legend set to state of the art lighting and sound. A mystifying performance where characters actually appear to walk on water, the show is masterfully directed by Zhang Yimou, the filmmaker and stage producer responsible for the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics.