Marco Polo—writing at the end of 13th century—described the city of Hangzhou as “the most beautiful and magnificent in the world.” Although he’d probably retract that statement if he came back today to see modern Hangzhou, which predictably offers more of the same bland construction that passes as Chinese architecture.
But still, Hangzhou has retained plenty of charm, along with its reputation as most romantic city in China (earning it the title as China’s Honeymoon Capital). Hangzhou and it’s northern cousin Suzhou are often linked as two “paradises below heaven.” Hyperbole notwithstanding, I would have to agree that Hangzhou is one of China’s most picturesque cities and definitely worth visiting for a couple of days.
The city itself is nothing to write home about—the undisputed star in this show is the spectacular West Lake (Xi Hu), around which Hangzhou curls. The West Lake offers picture postcard-esque Chinese vistas (think: tea-growing hills, trees, flowers, pagodas, pavilions, old fishing boats). Another bonus for tourists: Hangzhou is easy to get around on foot or bicycle—you could easily spend a few days wandering around the trails.
Combined with a good supply of sophisticated restaurants, a funky arts scene, and lively nightlife, it’s easy to see why Hangzhou is one of China’s most popular getaways.
TIP: Avoid the weekends when tourists and honeymooners descend on the city from Shanghai (about 110 miles/180 km to the northeast) and other neighboring cities.
MORE INFO & HISTORY:
Like the ancient city of Suzhou which also benefited from its strategic position at southern end of Grand Canal, Hangzhou flourished at start of 12th century after the Chinese court was defeated by “northern barbarians” and fled south. In 1138, the newly formed empire of Southern Song dynasty (1126-1279) took Hangzhou as their temporary residence. Soon the city swelled to over 1 million, making it one of the largest cities in the world at the time.
Like its neighbors, the new capital of the Song dynasty, attracted poets, artists, merchants, artisans and grew rich from the silk trade. Even after the city lost some splendor after the Song dynasty vanished, Hangzhou remained a strategic trading post. Today, silk and tea are still the cornerstones of tourism and economy of Hangzhou.
MORE Hangzhou Magazine Local entertainment guide (with info on shopping, restaurants, bars, hotels & more)
Hangzhouexpat.com Expat forum with good insider info on eating & drinking, traveling, and more.
Official site of Hangzhou Municipal Government Includes Tourism section