I have to admit, when it came to cities I wanted to visit in China, Hangzhou wasn’t at the top of that list. That being said, there’s a heap of the best things to do in Hangzhou that are well worth a visit!
It was only thanks to KLM that I actually considered visiting Hangzhou and how pleased I am to have visited. It’s an incredible and totally historic city in China.
Truth be told, I’ve always been a sucker for KLM. Like I said in previous posts, the first trip I ever took with Lloyd (and I guess what heralded the start of Hand Luggage Only – though we didn’t know it back then) was with KLM to Amsterdam.
On this trip to Hangzhou, we flew out on the Dreamliner though, I had no idea at the time.
Lloyd was the one who was obsessed with this fact; I was more taken by the fact that I could charge my laptop… and also by the fact that so many of the movies I’d wanted to watch were on the flight!
Travelling as much as we do – the downtime to catch up on movies and TV shows is something I don’t take lightly! 😆
So why Hangzhou then? Our trip to Hangzhou even started as a planned trip to Shanghai (we would fly into Hangzhou and then catch the 1 fast hour train over to Shanghai).
That being said, once we booked our flights and I started looking at Hangzhou properly, I realised that we would be seriously mistaken to skip on Hangzhou.
By the time, we’d put together an itinerary, I knew we would struggle to fit in Hangzhou and Shanghai together in just 6 days in China. In the end, it was actually my Chinese friend who finally convinced me to stick to just Hangzhou.
He said “Shanghai is nice, definitely worth visiting but in a lot of ways, it’s just like a lot of European cities. In fact, there’s a part of it that feels just like Europe. Hangzhou, however, is a more authentic Chinese city to visit – so much so that it’s where the Chinese go on holiday!”.
He was right, by the way!
Hangzhou is an ancient city in China and actually used to be the capital of China during the Southern Song dynasty.
Being the previous capital, and being thousands of years old, the sheer amount of sights to see here is incredible! It’s a city older than London and is such a beautiful blend of old and new.
Oh and don’t get me started on the food! My friend Georgia, who had been to Hangzhou a couple of times for business told me “You’ve got to eat as much food as possible here! The food is incredible!”.
She was also right; every meal was amazing!
Like seriously, some of the best food I’ve ever had on my travels! It was literally one delight after the other!
Anyway, enough about why we wanted to visit Hangzhou.
Long story short, we hopped aboard that KLM flight to Hangzhou and pretty much spent all of that time fascinated by one thing after the other in this ancient Chinese city.
1.) Sail across the West Lake
The West Lake is arguably the most famous sights in the city and is absolutely beautiful to see – so much so that Lake is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The best way to experience it is definitely by one of the hand-paddled boats! It’s easily one of the best things to do in Hangzhou if you’re looking for a more relaxed view of the city.
2.) Visit Hu Xueyan’s former home
Visiting this home is like taking a step back in time in China – right down to the absolutely stunning gardens.
Hu Xue Yan was a wealthy Chinese pharmacist but the reason why he’s revered here isn’t down to his wealth (albeit that’s why his home is so amazing), it’s because of how kind and generous he was, something which has led to him being one of the city’s most famous sons.
3.) See the 8 Diagram Field
This field, split into 8 parts is actually the site of the former Palaces of the emperor during the Southern Song Dynasty, back when Hangzhou was the capital of China.
If you think China is big now, you should have seen it back then – it spread over so much more space!
4.) Explore Lingyin Temple
This Buddhist temple is one of the largest and most impressive temples I’ve ever seen.
The walk up to it is paved with carvings in caves, rivers than run with turtles and a path that generally leaves you forgetting you’re even in a busy city!
5.) Take a step back in time on Hefang Street
This is where you need to visit for all your souvenirs and to generally have a fun afternoon! This busy street is also home to some historical buildings which kinda leaves you feeling like you’ve taken a step back in time in China. 😄
6.) Marvel at the Enduring Memories Of Hangzhou show
I’m almost always sceptical of shows, except maybe for stuff like Westend shows but knowing that the same person who orchestrated the opening ceremony for the Olympics in Beijing.
He was the one who did the Enduring Memories Of Hangzhou show kinda set my expectations high so I had a weird mix of high/low expectation.
As soon as it started, any scepticism disappeared – this show is INCREDIBLE!!!
The use of lights, music (the singers are amazing), dancers on the lake and the Lake as a whole left me cheering till my hands hurt from clapping and my cheeks from smiling.
7.) Sail through the Xixi Wetlands
The wetlands are another brilliant way of getting an insight into Chinese history.
For us, it was one of the best things to do in Hangzhou that didn’t really feel like you were even in a city.
The wetlands used to be home to fishermen but as the city grew, the fishermen moved outwards (the best fish to eat is usually never the one you catch near where people live) and some of the fishermen stayed behind to show off this amazing place (the largest wetlands in all of China) to visitors and locals.
For the best experience here, go on the slower fishing boats where you can hopefully catch your lunch in the wetlands.
8.) Check out the view from (and of) Chenghuang Pavilion
This is not just a stunning piece of Chinese architecture but also one of the best views of the city and of West Lake!
Leave some time here to pop into the tea rooms at the top of the pavilion.
9.) Explore the shiny Business District
A Business District doesn’t sound like the most exciting place to visit but that because other Business Districts aren’t built like this one!
This part of the city is home to some of the most impressively tall building in the city, though, the real jewel in the crown here is the Golden Sun building – which looks exactly like the sun!
In fact, from a bird’s eye view, the building next to it looks like the moon hence the nickname “the sun and the moon” when you’re here.
If you want to go shopping this area is also the place to be and from here you can see the river (which on certain days of the year, has a huge tidal flow and attracts visitors from all over China).
10.) Walk across Gongchen Qiao Bridge
With rivers running through the city, the old bridges in the city are particularly popular but the most popular bridge in the city is Gongchen Qiao Bridge as this is the tallest pedestrian bridge in the city.
It doesn’t look that way when you see it from afar but once you attempt to walk or cycle over it, that’s when used really appreciate that steep incline. 😆
11.) Visit Straight Street
Right next to Gongchen Qiao Bridge is Straight Street and this is easily one of the most traditional looking areas in the city. If you want a feel of old school China, head here. It’s also not a bad spot to grab a drink or a bite to eat!
12.) Explore a Tea Plantation
Tea is an important part of China and even more so in Hangzhou so (like you would with wine and vineyards in Bordeaux), you need to visit a tea plantation here to get that good stuff straight from the source.
If you choose right, you can also stop for food here to make a whole afternoon of it and get a delicious bite to eat while you’re at it, making it one of the best things to do in Hangzhou for foodies! 😋 😁
Also, to that end, I wanted to share our video from Hangzhou, too! Hopefully, this will show you what Hangzhou is really like.
It’s only around 1-minute long but hopefully, you’ll get a sense of why you need to visit Hangzhou once you’ve seen it.