Hangzhou may be a city of over 9 million people, but going there really feels like a true getaway. If you only have one day to explore, you must see the West Lake, one of the most famous natural attractions in all of China. It’s not surprising that the lake has long been the subject of poems and songs. It’s absolutely breathtaking. Rent a boat and watch the sunset over the surrounding hills or grab a bicycle and follow the perimeter of the lake, crossing traditional bridges and pavilions along the way. If Hangzhou enraptures you as it does so many and you decide to stay longer, Culture Trip recommends taking a bus or car to the outskirts of the city to see the unique tea terraces and miles and miles of untouched landscapes.
Getting There: 45 minutes by high speed rail from Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station
“Above there is heaven; below there are Suzhou and Hangzhou.” This famous Chinese saying should begin to clue you in to the appeal of Suzhou. Located just a 23 minute train ride from Shanghai, Suzhou makes for the perfect day trip. The city is built around a series of canals, earning it the moniker the “Venice of the East.” Spend a few hours walking along the canals and across the traditional bridges that connect their banks, then go see the other iconic Suzhou attraction: traditional Chinese gardens. You can do this at the Humble Administrator’s Garden and Tiger Hill.
Getting There: 23 minutes by high speed rail from Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station
Located 60 kilometers from Hangzhou in Shanghai’s neighboring Zhejiang Province, Moganshan (Mount Mogan) is where the Shanghai elite go to play. It first attracted foreigners in the 1880s, and by 1910, approximately 300 foreigners had set up summer homes on the lush hills. Many of those colonial style villas are there to this day and serve as inns and resorts for those who can afford to stay in them. The primary activity in Moganshan, other than relaxing, is hiking, either through the ubiquitous bamboo forests or through the tea fields.
Getting There: 2 1/2 hours by car
Zhujiajiao is one of eight water towns surrounding Shanghai, small villages situated on the vast canal system originating from Lake Tai just west of Suzhou. If you only have one day to experience the water towns, Culture Trip recommends a trip to Zhujiajiao, which is easily accessible from Shanghai and representative of the water town lifestyle, albeit heavily commercialized. Highlights include the 36 ancient bridges, traditional architecture, and Dianshan Lake.
Getting There: Take bus No. 4 from Shanghai Stadium or the Hu Zhu Line at the corner of Dagu Rd. and Chongqing Rd.
Don’t have time to see the Great Wall of China? Head to little Linhai in Zhejiang province to get a taste of the real thing. Sure, Linhai’s wall, built during the Eastern Jin dynasty (AD 265-420), isn’t as famous, but in certain spots it bears an uncanny resemblance to the one up north. The city also features an ancient street running from its center to Longxing Temple. If you have more than one day to explore, take a taxi to the bus station and go to Xianju, where you’ll find the charming and somewhat secluded mountain Gongyu Bei.
Getting There: 3 hours by high speed rail from Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station
If you like history, go to Nanjing. This modern metropolis served as the capital city of many dynasties throughout China’s existence and is home to the “Father of Modern China” Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s mausoleum, several notable temples, the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, the former Presidential Palace, and other historically significant sites. There are also several beautiful parks and gardens, an island, and hot springs. Of course, as a major Chinese city, Nanjing is not lacking in things to do.
Getting There: 1 hour 15 minutes by high speed rail from Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station
Changshu has many of the best features of Hangzhou and Suzhou combined: canals, ancient houses, a lake, and mountains, but while Hangzhou and Suzhou are tourist hotspots, Changshu flies under the radar. Go to the Shanghu Scenic Area and take a gondola ride through bamboo-lined waterways or take a bus to the top of Yushan (Mount Yu) to see Xingfu Temple and the neighboring forest, which is full of traditional tea plantations.
Getting There: 1 hour 30 minutes by bus from Shanghai South Long Distance Bus Station
Ningbo is one of the old cities in China and home to one of the world’s busiest ports. The city has many strong Buddhist connections, incidentally making its temples the city’s must-see attractions. Among them are the 1700 year-old Asoka Temple, which houses the rare Buddhist relics of Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism; 1600 year old Tiantong Temple, known for its scenery and subtle architectural style; and Baoguo Temple, which boasts one of the best-preserved wooden structures of its type in China.
Getting There: 2 hours by high speed rail from Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station
Zhenjiang, a mid-tier city in Shanghai’s other neighboring province of Jiangsu, is known for little more than being the childhood home of Nobel prize winning author Pearl S. Buck. However, what makes it a great day trip from Shanghai is the charming Jiaoshan Park. Located in part on an island in the middle of the Yangtze River, Jiaoshan Park is home to the Ten Thousand Buddha Pagoda as well as a fort used to fight the British during the First Opium War. Zhenjiang is also notable for being the birthplace of a sweet, balsamic-like vinegar, which you can find on any noodles throughout the city.
Getting There: 1 hour by high speed rail from Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station
Dongqian Lake is located outside of Ningbo city and is the largest freshwater lake in Zhejiang Province. Given its proximity to both Ningbo and Shanghai, the lake is surprisingly free of the crowds that plague Hangzhou’s West Lake, making it a relaxing getaway. It actually consists of three lakes, with North Lake being the one to see. Between the lake’s shores and the surrounding mountains you’ll find small villages, temples, and even a Song dynasty (960-1279 AD) sculpture park.
Getting There: 2 hours by train from Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station
Due to its long history and preservation of ancient culture, Shaoxing is fondly known as the “Museum without Walls.” It’s also known as the “Land of Celebrities” for being the birthplace of renowned author Lu Xun and former premier of the People’s Republic of China Zhou Enlai, both of whose residences are open for tours. Other attractions include Anchang Ancient Town, East Lake, Kuaiji Mountain, Baicao Garden, and Orchid Pavilion. Don’t leave town without trying the famous Shaoxing wine, a Chinese rice wine used for drinking, medicine, and seasoning.
Getting There: 1 hour 22 minutes by high speed train from Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station
Like Changshu, Yangzhou is another city that combines elements of Suzhou and Hangzhou. Here you’ll find many traditional Chinese gardens, such as the bamboo dotted Ge Yuan, and the Slender West Lake, which is like a miniature version of the real thing. What might be the most interesting attraction, though, is The Tomb of Puhaddin. Puhaddin is supposedly a descendant of the Prophet Muhammad, and the tomb’s surrounding gardens and mosque are an interesting juxtaposition of Chinese and Islamic architecture.
Getting There: 1 hour high speed rail from Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station to Zhenjiang South Station + 40 minute bus from the long distance bus station next to Zhenjiang South Station