"The finest and most splendid city in the world" - Marco Polo
Hangzhou in eastern China, is a tourist’s dream. A city full of beauty, attractions and history, people would be forgiven for thinking that it would be overrun with tourists but, thankfully, this is not the case. In comparison to the other tourist ‘hubs’ in the country (Beijing, Shanghai – two cities that will make even the hardiest Londoner feeling overwhelmed) Hangzhou feels more relaxed, well, as relaxed as a city of over 9 million people can feel and while this lack of a sustained ‘Western’ presence does lead to some issues that you wouldn’t find elsewhere (literally nobody speaks English so be sure to brush up on your Chinese before you head out! - use our guide to help), it is these imperfections that makes this city just so fantastic.
Marco Polo's dream
Visiting Hangzhou was like stepping into a whole other world. Whenever I travel I try to brush up on at least the basics of the language while keeping a phrase book on my phone in reserve for when it doesn’t quite cover it, but I’ve always been fairly sure that, if I were to run out, i could easily find someone with an at lease rudimentary knowledge of English or Spanish. This was not the case in Hangzhou where right from the off it was Chinese or nothing and I absolutely loved it. Yes, the language is incredibly difficult to pick up, but with everyone willing to help out when I got stuck, it was incredibly fun to wander around and test my Chinese on strangers!
A nature-lover's paradise
It is quite rare that a city as big as Hangzhou can be seen as being in touch with nature, but with the huge expanse of water known as Xihu on the city’s doorstep, it’s hard not to. A quick walk around the lake will last around 15km (9 miles) and, to be honest, is absolutely stunning. With a shoreline consisting of temples, pagodas, bridges as well as a backing track of locals singing, dancing, and doing yoga, Xihu (translated to West Lake) feels like the heart and soul of the city. Named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2011, the lake has been in folklore for over 2,000 years, being the setting for legend of the Lady of the Lake and other prominent cultural works. It may be long but don’t hesitate, a walk around Xihu isn’t really optional in Hangzhou!
Get out of your foodie comfort zone!
You’ll soon realise that Chinese food in China is nothing like that takeaway you go to when you’re too tired to cook for yourself, you just have to get out of your comfort zone to take full advantage of it. While fancy restaurants do exist in Hangzhou (this is a great article for the top 10 restaurants in the city!), don’t forget about the street food. With a plethora of markets, fruit stores and ‘hole-in-the-wall’s’, you are never too far away from something unique. From meat and vegetable baozi’s (I may have to post a recipe for these beauties at some point!) to little scorpions and crab legs, Hangzhou has the potential to be a culinary delight if you go out and explore!
Now a guide wouldn’t exactly be complete without a lowdown of the places you should see during your visit, would it? As I mentioned earlier, the majority of the cities’ top attractions are somewhat tied into Xihu, with both the Leifeng Pagoda as well as the temple facing it sitting pretty along the banks of the lake – not to mention the Chenghuang Pagoda that sits atop a mountain nextdoor. Further afield, the Lingyin Temple area, with its countless stunning views and religious areas is a fantastic trip and, being founded in 328 AD, is one of the most historic and significant sites in China.
In terms of the city, you can’t leave without a wander through the Hefang district. As the ‘historic’ area, Hefang is where your mental visions of China become reality as each side street is dominated by market stalls, museums, and hidden gems. Though much of the area has been developed with tourism in mind, the traditional architecture and fun stores are a must-see. Be sure to grab a scorpion on a stick while you walk around!
Other must-sees include the Liuhe pagoda and the tea museum, the latter of which will often allow you to take part in a traditional Chinese tea ceremony.
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Have a great day and we’ll be back next week for something else!
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