Hangzhou wasn’t initially on our China travel itinerary. It was only after talking with friends who told of its beauty which prompted us to plan a stay for three days Hangzhou.
Hangzhou makes a great day trip from Shanghai as it is only an hour by fast train from Shanghai.
And what we found, meant Hangzhou has become one of our best travel destinations. Having fallen in love with this wonderful city, we want to showcase the best of Hangzhou with you.
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Getting from Shanghai to Hangzhou
The quickest and best option to get from Shanghai to Hangzhou was the fast train.
With speeds reaching 250 km/h covering a distance of 166km, the one hour journey from Shanghai to Hangzhou East train station was the best option.
Shanghai Metro is easy to use
Getting to Shanghai’s Hongqiao Train Station we found using the Metro, the easiest option.
Unable to read Chinese we found the person at the Metro help desk spoke English. We were given an English translation of the metro, tickets to get us to the train station and the platform we needed.
Next, you have to pass through a security check of your bags, then a security scan. When we arrived at Hongqiao Train Station this security was repeated.
Hongqiao Train Station is massive
Coming from New Zealand where the entire country’s population is 4.5 million. Arriving at Hongqiao Train Station, we felt like we were looking at a small city. So many people.
With so many boards giving directions, we tried to negotiate the length and levels of the building. Just to find the ticket office for trains to Hangzhou.
Spot the European, our heads spinning, trying to take it all in!
Luckily for us, the departure boards and train maps are printed with English underneath the Chinese characters.
We soon realised buying a ticket here at the train station was slow.
Would we miss our train?
Luckily the fast trains are frequent, but we were wanting the express train taking only 60 minutes.
Queueing, Queueing, Queueing at the ticket counter.
At last with passport in hand, we had our tickets.
Now to wait near the platform gate for the train to arrive.
Once the gates are open the train arrives about 5 minutes later, leaving you only a minute or two to board the train and find your seat.
The train was very clean, the seats comfortable and the ride was so smooth. Even the platforms are clean.
Book Online Fast Train Shanghai to Hangzhou
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Where to Stay in Hangzhou
We negotiated Hangzhou East Train Station and found our way to catch a local taxi to our Hangzhou Haihua Hotel.
Unfortunately, our travel budget came in over our nightly budget to secure this hotel. With a lack of options from Hangzhou Hotel Reviews, our choice of Haihua Hotel Hangzhou made our stay enjoyable.
Haihua Hotel is 500 metres from West Lake, the staff friendly and the concierge spoke English. Our room came with breakfast offering a selection of western and eastern.
Also available from the Haihua Hotel are bicycles to rent. Just ask the concierge for a copy of the Hangzhou Tourism guidebook containing plenty of places to see in and visit around West Lake.
And as the hotel is also close to the Shangcheng District you can find plenty of places to eat either by the lake or amongst the locals. With upmarket shops and young people out and about, plus Police on every corner, we felt very safe.
Why Choose Hangzhou?
Marco Polo said, ” the finest, most splendid city in the world where one fancies himself to be in Paradise.” And we totally agree with him.
Hangzhou is the capital of Zhejiang Province with a population for the region close to 22 million. It was the Grand Canal terminating in Hangzhou which saw the city prosper.
Hangzhou is easily explored by yourself on a self-guided walking or cycling tour. It allows you to experience the beauty of West Lake.
Picturesque with so many beautiful gardens, ponds, temples and pagodas, West Lake is one of the best places to visit in Hangzhou.
Places to explore in Hangzhou UNESCO West Lake are:
- Bai Causeway
- Yang Causeway
- Su Causeway
- Leifeng Pagoda
- Beishan Road and Broken Bridge
- Crane Pavilion and Tea Houses
- Cycle and Walk West Lake Promenade
- Enjoy a Boat Ride on West Lake
- Watch Tai Chi, Chess and Dancing
The Beauty of West Lake, Hangzhou
We ventured out this afternoon to the West Lake to find it buzzing with people walking its shores. For those knowing already how large the West Lake is, chose to view the scenery from electric golf carts or while cruising the lake in a variety of boats.
The lake has a beautiful and wide pathway along its edges, almost 15 kilometres in total. Most of it is pedestrian only, but parts are also shared by bikes and electric carts.
Finding a cafe and a coffee, it’s time to sit and watch before getting amongst it.
Towering above those we meet, and from the stares and smiles from those around us, we appear to be the only European’s this afternoon.
Walk the Bai Causeway
By walking the Beishan Road to Broken Bridge, the road will take you along the tree-lined Bai Causeway. The Bai Causeway dates to the Tang Dynasty and is a popular place to see people chatting and admiring the views of the lake each side of the causeway.
It was named after the Bai Juyi, the Governor of Hangzhou in the Tang Dynasty who by building a dam, increased the flow into West Lake for farming irrigation.
The Bird Lady of Hangzhou
An unexpected highlight when on the Beishan Road was the “bird lady,” (just our nickname.)
The Bird Lady was biking along with a Starling bird sitting atop her head. At various times the bird would fly up and around her head and then settle back on her head. Really bizarre, but fascinating. Especially as people gather around to listen to her as she caged the bird at the end of her bike ride.
Crane Pavillion and Tea Houses on West Lake
Reaching the other side of the Broken bridge we found examples of Chinese architectural villas now Tea Houses. The buildings are beautiful and provide a relaxing place to sit and view the lake.
You will find many tea houses as the area is known for brewing tea from the Longjing Tea plantations which are about 7kms from the lake.
Our interest was the Crane Pavillion. Every morning the cranes are released to fly over the lake. It is quite a spectacular sight.
Cycling West Lake in Hangzhou
Around the West Lake and streets of Hangzhou is Red Bicycle stands. The locals can buy a card and use the card to pick up or drop off bikes around the city.
This morning we organised a couple of bikes from the Haihua Hotel to venture out around the lake. We decided to take the alternative route from last nights walk
And as we tried to enter the lake promenade we were told by the police in Chinese to get out? No bikes? Not allowed?
Anyway, we got the message so found the dedicated cycle lane and continued our exploration.
Read on for TravelKiwis West Lake Bike Tour and Hefang St (also known as Qinghe St.)
Watch and Enjoy West Lake Promenade Activities
One of the best things to see around West Lake is the many activities of the local people.
The lake promenade was alive with tai chi, walkers, runners, ballroom dancers, discussion groups and people just strolling along. And you may come across the odd person wanting to dress in traditional costumes for a photo memory.
The activities take place amongst beautiful gardens showcasing many bronze sculptures, with pathways to explore.
Views from Leifeng Pagoda
Our first tourist spot of the day was Leifeng Pagoda or as the locals say “Sunset Glow over Leifeng Pagoda.”
Locking the bikes and paying the entrance fee, we are ready to climb the stairs up to the Pagoda. But wait, there is also an escalator to reach the pagoda.
How cool. So we rode part of the way for the fun of it before returning to the steps.
Leifeng Pagoda dates from the Southern Song Dynasty and was rebuilt atop of old foundations. Once inside the Pagoda, you can view the original foundations. You can also read and learn about the historical period of the Southern Song Dynasty.
The view from the top out over the lake was fantastic despite the cloudy day.
Needing a toilet stop (oh no, potty squatters for Maura – come on China) before it’s back on the bikes and off we go.
Cycling the Yang Causeway
Yang Causeway and another “wow” experience.
Visiting the villas and gardens from the Ming Dynasty is just another reason why Hangzhou should be on your China itinerary.
We walked along the path to “Viewing Fish and Lotus Flowery Harbour” along pathways of trees, flowers and bridges. One of the highlights was finding the pool of red carp fish looking for a feed.
Next stop “Breeze-ruffled Lotus at Winding Courtyard.”
Hangzhou is known for its Poets so hence these name places. It is another great spot to view lotus flowers on the lake before we cross the road to a large rose garden with a bamboo walkway.
Before we know it, we have passed by Yue Fei’s tomb, ridden across the Bai Causeway and are back to the hotel. It’s now 12.30pm after our 4-hour bike tour.
Climb Wu Shan Hill
Always up for more places to see in Hangzhou, we had read about Qinghefang Street, situated at the foot of Wu Shan Hill.
As it is only a few kilometres from the hotel we walk along the West Lake to find the street when we happen to look up and see “Sky Wind over Wu Hill” or City God Pavillion.
Entranced by elegance, we walked until we located the road up to the pavilion. Winding up through narrow streets and overhanging trees, we reached the top of the hill to find the Pagoda.
We paid the entrance fee allowing us to climb up 5 floors of the Pagoda. The spectacular views gave us a different perspective of West Lake.
QingHefang Street in Hangzhou Old Town
Qinghefang Street, situated at the foot of Wu Shan Hill, was Hangzhou’s trade centre 800 years ago. Today, Qinghefang Street is a bustling market street and a great place to sample local foods.
Many of the old shops have been here since the Southern Song Dynasty. If you want to read more about this amazing street, click on this link Qinghefang Street.
And now all we need is a beer to quench the thirst.
Turning into Imperial Street we are greeted with buildings of 1930s architecture. Finding a small bar we climb to the third floor to look out over the streets below. The bar is built in the Chinese style so it’s tall and narrow. Watch your head, Terry.
Feeling refreshed we continued our walk to find another great example in this cultural city. A bronze group of statues depicting the local people, so we just had to join in.
Views from Precious Stone Hill
Yesterday we had biked the 15 kilometres circumference of West Lake, so today we decided to walk the 15 kilometres.
Our first stop was “Precious Stone Hill Floating in the Rosy Cloud” above Beishan Road.
Typical of us, we decided to take the back way up the hill and found ourselves climbing over rocks and through open rock caves when the siren sounded.
“Is that an air raid siren? Have we walked on the grass?”
Nothing happened so we continued walking until the siren went again.
Puzzled looks at each other. Perhaps it’s the local volunteer Fire Brigade in this city of millions?
We keep walking and the siren goes again but this time we have the answer.
A group of young locals tell us it is the pollution siren indicating high levels. From where we are on the hill, we can see a haze across over the modern area of the city.
Unperturbed, we continue our hike up to the Pagoda for some photos of the lake.
Walking the Su Causeway
Down the hill, we find ourselves back on Beishan Road with its 1930s buildings and museums. Stopping at a local tea house to refresh ourselves as the temperature is now 30 degrees.
The beautiful tree-lined streets help take the heat as we continue along the Su Causeway from the Song era, traversing the lake south to north.
Reaching the end of Su Causeway, do we get a local boat across the lake or continue our walk?
While Su Causeway is not as interesting at the Yang Causeway, we decide to walk and are not disappointed. Finding:
- the squirrels climbing trees
- listen to “sweet” Chinese music from camouflaged loudspeakers in trees
- watch the elders catching fish
- games of mahjong
- find golden statues in ponds
- happy wedding couples
Cruising Jing-Hang Canal
Tonight we head out in the opposite direction of West Lake to view the Jing-Hang Canal. Known as The Grand Canal of China it stretches from Beijing to Hangzhou, a distance of 1,794 kilometres. No wonder it is listed in the World Cultural Heritage Hall of Fame.
The area around the Jing-Hang Canal has modern architecture with walking promenades on either side of the canal. Here you can explore the various areas of interest, some dating back to the 5th century:
- Xiaohezhi Historical Street
- Qiaoxi Historical Block
- Dadoulu Historical Block
We decided on a night cruise which gave an opportunity to view the sculptures underneath the many bridges. Ideally, a daytime cruise would be better for photos.
As the only Europeans on board, it was a bit noisy but enjoyable.
If you have planned to travel to China, make sure to add Hangzhou to your China itinerary.
If you need more information or want to find new travel ideas, then we would love you to join us on a travel journey.