Located on the north bank of the Qiantang River, the city is known for its scenic mountain ranges, rolling green hills, and the famous Xi (West) Lake.
Locals consider Hangzhou one of the best destinations in China for outdoor fun. Hidden in the sprawling wetlands is a wide selection of temples and historic sites.
The city is just as pristine as the surrounding natural vistas, with scores of street sweepers and garbage collectors scouring the streets to ensure the city remains spotlessly clean. Wide pedestrian walkways welcome those ready to explore, while pagodas and temples invite quiet contemplation.
Needless to say, there are lots of things to do in Hangzhou.
Enjoy all the luxuries of modern life in the city centre. Shop at malls, dine at fancy restaurants, and take boat rides along the river.
Don’t know where to start? Begin plotting your journey with this guide to the best Hangzhou attractions…
What to do in Hangzhou
Take a tour of the cultural sites around West Lake
Out of the top tourist attractions in Hangzhou, West Lake probably receives the most visitors. It’s a large freshwater lake surrounded on three sides by hills and the downtown area to the northeast.
If you have only got 24 hours in Hangzhou, you should start near the lake. Many of the top points of interest in Hangzhou are within a short walk, including a few of the historic temples and pagodas. In fact, some of the temples are within the lake.
You can take small boat rides out to these attractions but exploring the entire place could take all day. If you’re short on time, take a walk around the lake and appreciate the landscape.
Breath deep at Xixi National Wetland Park
The Xixi National Wetland Park covers about 10 square kilometres west of West Lake. It’s among the best places to visit in Hangzhou to enjoy the fresher air and scenic nature views.
As with the lake, the wetlands provide access to a few cultural sites. Within the park, you’ll come across several temples and historic rural houses.
The best way to explore the wetlands is with a paid tour. Several routes take you to the main attractions such as a thatched hut, a fishing village, and a plum and bamboo cottage. The entire trip takes just under four hours.
You could travel the wetlands on your own but the causeways and paths remain unposted so it’s easy to get lost.
Shop til you drop at West Lake Cultural Square
You shouldn’t struggle to decide what to do in Hangzhou. It’s got a little bit of everything, including modern shopping and dining around West Lake Cultural Square.
The square itself covers over 36,000 metres. It’s mostly used for performing arts exhibitions and various entertainment events. It’s the area around the square that you need to explore.
Along with shopping and dining, you can visit a few museums. The square contains the Zhejiang Provincial Museum, Zhejiang Museum of Science and Technology, and Zhejiang Museum of Natural History.
While at the square, visit the West Lake Cultural Square building. It’s the ninth-tallest building in the city and offers views of the surrounding area.
Take a trip through the ornate Lingyin Temple
If you want to know where to go in Hangzhou to see the city’s largest gold-covered Buddha statues, visit Lingyin Temple. The name means “Temple of the Soul’s Retreat.” It’s one of the wealthiest Buddhist temples in the country with several pagodas, grottoes, and halls.
If you’ve never visited a Buddhist temple before, you’re in for a treat. This is an incredibly lavish and sprawling complex with lots of buildings and sites to look at.
A large courtyard separates a couple of the main halls. Inside the Mahavira Hall, you’ll find statues of various Hindu gods and Buddhist symbols, including over 150 carvings of Buddhist personalities.
Find peace at Yue Fei Temple
Stop by Yue Fei Temple to add another temple to your Hangzhou sightseeing tour. It’s not as large or lavish as Lingyin Temple, but it has a few interesting features.
You can visit the tombs of Yue Fei and Yue Yun. It’s a large stone courtyard with a small monument and statues flanking both sides.
Unfortunately, the temple doesn’t have a lot of information about Yue Fei. It’s mostly a tranquil spot with nice scenery and a few interesting statues.
History lovers should enjoy a trip to this temple but others may prefer to skip it and spend the time exploring some of the other sites around West Lake.
Watch animals in semi-natural habitats at Hangzhou Zoo
If you get tired of visiting temples and cultural sites, there are other things to see in Hangzhou, such as the local zoo. The Hangzhou Zoo covers over 50 acres and includes more than 20 venues with 2000 rare animals.
You can visit golden monkeys, tigers, chimpanzees, and Asian elephants. Of course, you’ll also see giant pandas.
The panda house is the most popular spot in the zoo. It currently holds two giant pandas. The pandas come from Chengdu, home to conservation efforts and a panda breeding facility.
Compared to other major zoos, it isn’t especially well kept. Some of the enclosures require repairs but visiting the zoo helps support these tasks.
Find souvenirs along Hefang Street
Almost any trip itinerary to China will include a stop at a historical local shopping street. In Hangzhou, Hefang Street is the preferred tourist destination for finding souvenirs, trinkets, and handmade goods.
While many pedestrian shopping streets have become havens for brand-name stores, Hefang Street still has small stalls with local vendors selling authentic Chinese crafts.
You can find blown sugar candy, handmade dough figurines, and bonsai trees. The area also includes various teahouses, small eateries, and even caricaturists. Most of the stalls are on the main street but the side alleys contain more stalls and shops to explore.
Stroll through Hangzhou Botanical Garden
To explore more of the natural surroundings in Hangzhou, travel to the local botanical garden. The large garden includes a variety of landscaped zones and research areas.
The Hangzhou Botanical Garden isn’t one of the most popular Hangzhou points of interest but it’s a pleasant place to go for a stroll. As you work your way around a large artificial lake, you’ll pass decorative architecture such as pavilions and various kiosks.
The gardens remain perfectly maintained with carefully manicured lawns and foliage. You can see an incredible array of local plant life or take a boat tour around the waterways.
Where to stay in Hangzhou for sightseeing
As in any sprawling Chinese city, figuring out where to stay in Hangzhou can sometimes seem like quite the chore. Most travellers would be well-served sticking to the city centre areas including Shangcheng and Xihu including the beautiful West Lake area. Here are a few options…
- The East Hotel Hangzhou: Located near Wulin Square and a whole host of great restaurants and shopping centre, this modern hotel is a great pick for budget-conscious travellers looking for comfort during their Hangzhou sightseeing experience.
- JW Marriott Hotel Hangzhou: One of the top mid-range luxury picks in the city, this lovely hotel features elegant rooms decked out with amazing views over West Lake. Don’t miss a chance to take a relaxing dip in the swoon-worthy indoor pool.
- Park Hyatt Hangzhou: Like most offerings in its brand portfolio, this luxury hotel charms guests with spacious rooms decorated with sophisticated furnishings and fixtures. The views over the city are simply incredible.
- Four Seasons Hotel Hangzhou at West Lake: The top 5-star pick in Hangzhou, this property is truly next level thanks to its spectacular location on the shores of West Lake. The hotel’s traditional Chinese architecture & design puts it in a league of its own among Hangzhou hotels.