Once the capital of the Southern Song Dynasty and now the capital of the most thriving economic region of China, Hangzhou definitely merits a visit. Located only 100km from Shanghai, Hangzhou is easily accessible by the high-speed train and now has its own international airport and a growing network of metro lines. Whether you enjoy shopping in the bustling city centre, savouring the taste of delicious local food and West lake green tea at the tea fields or quiet walks in the hidden lagoons behind the famous West Lake, this city has something for everyone. I lived in this city for two years as an international student at a prestigious local university, Zhejiang University. There are so many things to do and see in the city and I loved living there; but if you only have one day, this is what I would recommend you do:
Start with a typical Chinese breakfast
In China things start pretty early since they believe it is healthier to sleep early and wake up early. As do many cultures, as the saying goes; the early bird catches the worm. Grab some ‘baozi’ 包子or steamed and stuffed buns with some soya milk豆浆 (which is sold almost anywhere in the mornings from the local family mart (like Seven eleven) to street stalls to actual sit-down restaurants. Most people just take it to go and devour this delicious combo while commuting. I suggest you take it and have it while sitting on one of the many benches around the famous West Lake. Here you will even be provided morning entertainment in the form of mature dancers moving in sync to eclectic beats or senior citizens keeping fit by practicing tai chi.
Westlake and its surrounds
Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2011, not only is the Westlake famous in China for its beauty but also because it has influenced a great deal of poetry and art and has even been a major source of inspiration for landscape designers throughout Asia. A perfect combination of nature and man-made design, the Westlake is the most famous landmark in Hangzhou and possibly in all of Eastern China. After having your typical Chinese breakfast and snapping a few selfies with the lake in the background it’s time to explore the lake and its surroundings the best way possible- on a bicycle. You can rent a bicycle at several points around the lake and it is relatively inexpensive. I would recommend checking a map before-hand to find the more hidden parts of the lake that are less crowded and incredibly beautiful and fun to explore.
Stop for lunch at Hangzhou’s popular Green Tea 绿茶 restaurant
There are two restaurants particularly popular in Hangzhou because of their unique traditional atmosphere and the typical Hangzhou traditional food served on its menu, not to mention how affordable the food is for restaurants of this quality. My personal favourite is Green tea- there are several throughout the city but the one with the best views is located behind the famous West Lake on Longjing Road. I would recommend trying out the local delicacies of Hangzhou style sweet and sour fish, tofu, local vegetables and Dongpo meat. For dessert or sometimes an appetizer they serve you a free block of toasted bread with ice cream on top (It sounds weird, but is absolutely delectable.)
Get your afternoon Caffeine kick with a shot of culture
One of the most famous products of Hangzhou is, of course, its tea. Longjing Tea is world famous for its quality and unique taste. It is a variety of green tea only found in this part of the world which makes a visit to the Longjing tea fields and the China National Tea Museum especially worthwhile. Not only is the museum surrounded by beautiful landscapes but here you can also watch tea ceremonies and sip on various Chinese teas, browse artful exhibits and learn more about the culture dedicated to one of China’s national treasures. Similar to Britain, tea in China is more of a way of life as opposed to just a beverage. Budget about 2 hours to take in all this museum has to offer.
Now it’s time for some climbing…I promise it’s worth it
One of my favourite places to unwind at the end of a busy day is Baochu Pagoda. It is especially beautiful to watch the sunset from the top of the hill. Keep in mind that depending on your fitness level you might need 30-45mins to get to the top and you need to wear non-slippery shoes. Once you get to the pagoda you will have a beautiful panoramic view of the city and the contrast between the quiet lake and the splendor of the city skyscrapers. It is the perfect place to snap a few photos to remember your magical time in Hangzhou..and to soak in quiet contemplation before moving to the next and final stop.
You can’t come to China and not experience the shopping culture. Especially at the night markets. Hangzhou’s Hefang Street hosts one of the most famous markets in China because of its traditional architecture and products and overall exciting atmosphere. Not only can you try out Chinese street snacks (at your own risk) but it’s also a fantastic place to buy souvenirs since they sell traditional Chinese arts and crafts among other things. You can even watch the extremely talented artisans create on the spot.
Before heading home I would suggest a fun activity to end off a perfect day in Hangzhou..but I will leave you to find out where and what it is by talking to some of the friendly locals and asking them where you can find the nearest KTV…all that’s left to say is Enjoy!