The 8 Best Museums in Hangzhou

Zhejiang Art Museum
© T K Kurikawa/Shutterstock
Zhejiang Art Museum © T K Kurikawa/Shutterstock

Hangzhou has by far the most interesting specialized museums covering just about any subject related to culture and civilization. You can literally travel through time in these museums and learn about China‘s rich and long history. The buildings are stunning works of art commissioned from the world’s best architects in China and abroad. Here are a few must-see gems worth visiting.

Zhejiang Art Museum

Auspiciously located facing the West Lake and flanked by the Wangsonglin Mountain, ZJAM spans over 35,000 square meters and houses 14 exhibition halls. There is also a skylit promenade, several multi-function halls, a library, Children’s Place, shops for artworks and art supplies, a coffee bar, and even a VIP room for visiting dignitaries. Opened in 2009, ZJAM was built to curate and exhibit artworks, cultural relics, and documents to reflect the development of the arts in Zhejiang province, with a direct focus on modern contemporary works by Zhejiang natives. Each year ZJAM hosts 50 planned exhibitions and over 300 public education workshops and activities. Conceived by Chen Taining, a native of neighboring province Jiangsu, the building itself is a stunning work of art. The ultra modern glass-paned roof utilizes geometric shapes to mimic a cascade of mountains, which fits very well with the natural surroundings. The understated black-and-white colors ensure the green natural surroundings remain dominant while the building itself fades into nature.

Museum of Natural History

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Founded in 1929, it is one of the oldest museums in China and the only one in the province to collect, exhibit, and study specimens of animals, plants, and minerals. It sits on 8,000 square meters displaying over 80,000 specimens displayed in six main exhibition rooms. Here, you will find actual specimens as well as replicas (with no real distinction) of dinosaurs, marine life, terrestrial animals, and plant specimens. The museum is actively engaged in cultural and educational exchange programs worldwide, sending over 80 fellows for research, study, and academic exchanges.

China Silk Museum

Hailed as the largest silk museum in the world, it covers an area of 50,000 square meters with the building itself sitting on 8,000 square meters. There are eight exhibition halls that take you through the history of silk from its origins to how it’s processed and its uses, as well as samples and silk-related relics dating as far back as 5,000 years. One of the highlights is a live demonstration of silk weaving that invites the public to participate; the Modern Achievements Hall continues the story by exploring silk production, trade, and continuing research in today’s modern world. It opened in 1992 and has been operating free of charge since 2004.

No.73-1, Yuhuangshan Road, Hangzhou, China, +86 571 87035150

Silk Museum © Hung Chung/ Shutterstock

Kuahuqiao Relics Museum

The archeological site of the remnants of Kuahuqiao dates back to the Neolithic age. The site’s excavation was quite by accident back in 1970 when the site was being prepared for the construction of a brick factory. Professional excavation only began 20 years ago, but not before much of the important findings had been destroyed. Archeological findings revealed a community who lived in wooden dwellings built on stilts over the marshlands. The findings revealed works of excellent craftsmen whose specialty was pottery, and the use of wild rice as a bonding agent for pottery and other artifacts. The culture of the Kuhuaqiao (which means: cross the lake bridge) is so unique and set apart from the surrounding cultures of ancient times that archeologists have experienced difficulty identifying its chronology. Besides pottery and other relics made of stone and jade, archeologists were able to uncover well-preserved organic remains that indicate that dogs and pigs had been domesticated as far back as 7,700 years ago along with cultivation of rice paddy fields. Further excavation uncovered what is believed to be the first ever dug-out canoe in the history of mankind, and signs of the first peach. The canoe remnants are prominently displayed in the exhibition hall. The museum was opened to the public in 2009, and its exhibition hall showcases an impressive array of pottery that was excavated on site, and a preservation area covering, under glass, signs of domestic village life frozen in time. It is interesting to note that the shape of the main building has been made to look like a canoe – perhaps as an homage to the discovery of the world’s first dug-out canoe found there.

No.978 Xianghu Road, Xiangshan District, Hangzhou, China, +86 571 83869286

Zhejiang (Provincial) Museum

On the foot of Solitary Hill near the northern bank of Westlake is a sprawling complex spanning over two hectares with numerous exhibition halls that display artifacts and treasures from several kingdoms in the Zhejiang province. Established in 1929, the museum sits on the former site of the Qing dynasty vacation palace. There are separate halls for paintings, cultural relics, coins, celadon pottery, lacquerware as well as Qing and Ming dynasty-era furniture. The true highlight of this exhibition is the Imperial Library with books and paintings dating back to the Qing dynasty. The buildings, especially the sloped tiled roofs, are modeled after the typical Jiangnan style, replicated and preserved in the surrounding water towns.

No.25, Gushan Road, Hangzhou, China, +86 571 87882333

Provincial Museum © T K Kurikawa/Shutterstock

Huqingyu Tang Chinese Medicine Museum

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Huqingyutang | © Iris Van den Broek/ Shutterstock
In one of the oldest buildings in Hangzhou, among a complex of original and refurbished old commercial buildings that give off a “Chinatown” feel, is the Huqingyu Tang Museum of Chinese Herbal Medicine. The museum is actually an old pharmacy built by renowned businessman Hu Xueyuan in the late Qing dynasty and still in operation today. The museum section is a walk-through exhibition featuring mummified exotic animals and samples of organic medicinal plants. A guide will point out one or two curios such as tiger bone or deer horn gelatin, explaining their uses, but you will have to ask questions if something is of particular interest. In the exhibition hall, you are introduced to a myriad of Chinese herbs and concoctions in several stages of preparation. On any given day, you can see actual patients waiting to pick up their prescriptions, which are scooped, weighed, and packaged into red parcels. You can sample medicinal tea, get your qi read, and purchase ointments and medicine from the adjoining pharmacy.

National Tea Museum

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Tea Museum
Tea Museum | © Wang Song/ Shutterstock
This museum sits on expansive acres of green tea fields and takes you through the journey of tea production beginning with its origins and how it developed in China. You can learn about the different processing methods of black, green, and white tea, as well as other lesser known varieties. The museum tour can be done independently as all captions are in English. There is also a tea-tasting ceremony, and several restaurants and tea houses nearby that make for a great lunch stop following your informative tour.

Hangzhou Cuisine Museum

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This interactive museum is located near Qianwang Mountain. There are four sections to the expansive museum consisting of a showroom, a Qiantang kitchen, and a taste of Hangzhou and Dongpo pavilion. Here you can participate in a cooking class and sample regional cuisine in any of the three showrooms that also serve as restaurants.

China Fan Museum

Throughout history, fans have been a cultural emblem in China and not just because of their obvious practical use, but also for being synonymous with affluence and status. They had many uses, from accessories for opera and dance performances, adornment pieces, parchments for calligraphy, poetry, and painting and even weapons of war and seduction. The China Fan Museum exhibits an extensive array of fans in various sizes and material with the main shapes “rigid and folding” promptly displayed throughout the museum. The largest collection displayed are Wangxingji fans, which are a time-honored brand in China originating from Hangzhou. You can purchase your own Wangxingji fan from the souvenir store. The museum itself is located in a former cotton mill (the first ever in Hangzhou), which also houses several museums of cultural significance such as the Umbrella Museum and the Knives, Scissors, and Swords Museum.

No.450, Xiaohe Road, Hangzhou, China, +86 571 88197518

Fan | © Corrado baratta/ Shutterstock

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