The Top Things to Do and See in Hangzhou, China

West Lake's pagodas are some of the most impressive sights in Hangzhou
West Lake's pagodas are some of the most impressive sights in Hangzhou | © Ramon Chau / Alamy Stock Photo

One of the China’s seven ancient capitals, Hangzhou’s exquisite heritage sites – from the pagodas of West Lake to Lingyin Temple – have been immaculately preserved. It’s not all pure serenity though: this prosperous city also offers lively shopping streets, renowned restaurants and even a Song Dynasty theme park. Check out our guide for the best things to see on your trip.

Walk around the West Lake (Xihu)

Natural Feature
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West Lake Pavilion, Hangzhou, China
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The 6.4sqkm West Lake is a Unesco World Heritage Site, thanks to its influential design of pagodas, temples, causeways and artificial islands. It’s best known for the Xihu Shi Jing, or Ten Scenic Spots in the West Lake – a series of beautiful views that are each marked with a four-character epithet, written in Chinese calligraphy. These include “Two Peaks Piercing the Clouds” and “Fish Viewing at the Flower Pond”.

Take in the tranquillity of Lingyin Temple

Historical Landmark
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Inside Lingyin Temple, Hangzhou, Shandong Province, China
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Lingyin Temple is one of China’s oldest and largest Buddhist temples – and one of the top attractions in the region. It opened in 326 CE, during the Eastern Jin Dynasty, having been founded by the Western Indian monk Hui Li. Its grounds and series of sacred halls, such as the Heavenly Kings Hall, the Mahavira Hall and the Yaowang Hall, cover an area of around 90,000sqm.

Meet the Buddhas of Fei Lai Feng

Historical Landmark
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Beside the grand Lingyin Temple looms Fei Lai Feng, a limestone mountain 168m high. And while the sight of it is impressive enough, its real attractions are the 345 handcrafted stone Buddha figures carved from rock. They date back all the way to to the Song, the Yuan and the Five Dynasties – some from the later Liang, Tang, Jin, Han and Zhou dynasties – setting a sacred atmosphere as you walk up the trail.

Learn the legend of Leifeng Pagoda

Historical Landmark
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Leifeng Pagoda
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This five-storey, eight-sided tower on the south of the West Lake dates back to 975 CE – the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. The pagoda is famous nationwide thanks to Chinese folklore, the Legend of the White Snake. The tale is about a lake-dwelling snake spirit who falls in love with a human named Xu Xuan – at the end, the snake is eternally imprisoned by a Buddhist monk in Leifeng Pagoda.

Go bird-watching at Xixi Wetland Park

Park
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Xixi Wetland Park is one of China’s national 5A-level tourist attractions – a system for rating the quality of tourist attractions in China. Covering 11.5sqkm, six rivers flow through the park, among branching streams, fish pools and lakes. The most scenic spots include the hazy fisher village, the autumn snow temple, the anchorage thatching and the Xixi water attic. Look out for the 126 species of birds along the way, such as sparrow hawks and herons.

Eat Hang dim sum in Zhi Wei Guan

Restaurant, Chinese, $$$
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Steamers and plates of dim sum with tea, China, Asia
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Chinese snack food is taken up a notch at Zhi Wei Guan, which has been running since 1913. Graze your way around the menu of crab steamed buns, wonton soup, dim sum and moon cakes – plus traditional Hang dishes like Xihu fish in vinegar gravy and steamed lotus root stuffed with sticky rice. Ask for a table on the terrace, so you can look out at over West Lake while you eat.

See a show at Songcheng

Park
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Billed as a theme park but more of a themed park, it’s the biggest of its kind in China – with six million visitors per year. Songcheng is an entire town modelled on the Song Dynasty: wandering around, you’ll see characters in costumes, traditional workshops and over-the-top architecture. The main attraction here is the West End-style performance of Romantic Show of Songcheng, popular for its sensational costumes and lighting during an hour of music, dancing and acrobatics.

Go shopping on Hefang Street

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Shoppers in household soft furnishing boutique shop store on Hefang Old Street
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Hefang Street is a microcosm of traditional Hangzhou, with specialist craftspeople selling everything from feather pillows to sugar candy sculptures. Stop off at Hu Qing Yu Tang and Fang Hui Chun Tang Chinese medicine shops, the scissor store Zhang Xiao Quan or the Wan Long ham store – which are all rich in historic value. Or simply stroll around the vendors and teahouses to soak up the ancient ways of Hangzhou.

Visit the Former Residence of Hu Xueyan

Historical Landmark
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The former home of Hu Xueyan
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This Qing Dynasty mansion, built between 1872 and 1875, was created by a second-grade officer in the Qing government, merchant Hu Xueyan. His lavish lifestyle is still evident – on display are lashings of valuable antiques, rare paintings, expensive wooden furniture and fashionable Western ornaments, revealing the Sino-Western cultural mix of the era. The garden is also fabulously ostentatious, featuring the biggest artificial cave in China and a lake.

Eat a traditional meal at 28 HuBin Road

Restaurant, Chinese
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If you’re looking for fine dining in Hangzhou, 28 HuBin Road is a safe bet – it regularly ranks in Asia’s 50 best restaurants. It’s the Hyatt Hotel’s signature Chinese restaurant, with a menu of traditional cuisine from Hangzhou, Suzhou to the north and Huaiyang to the west. Try the Dongpo pork pyramid, an exquisite dish which requires fresh ingredients and expert knife skills. Elegant, Song Dynasty-inspired decor makes the food taste all the better.
These recommendations were updated on July 22, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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