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When Marco Polo arrived in Hangzhou during in the 13th century, he was blown away by what he called “the finest and most splendid city in the world.” Fast-forward over 700 years and Hangzhou is still enticing and enchanting visitors from far-off lands. Even after so many years, seeing a natural beauty that first mesmerized Marco Polo is still one of the things you must do in Hangzhou.
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Shanghai to Hangzhou
These days, the fastest and easiest way to reach Hangzhou is via the Chinese bullet train from Shanghai. Once you arrive, you’ll find a city that’s bursting with gorgeous nature, romantic canals, marvelous sights, and phenomenal, unique food. These are the 5 things you must do in Hangzhou, China.
Visit City God Pavilion
East of the famous West Lake rises Wushan Hill. Atop it is the beautiful Chenghuang Pavilion, also known as City God Pavilion. In order to reach it, you’ll have to follow a trail that spirals around the hill to the very top. The scenic, tree-lined route winds its way between marvelous attractions like Dongyue Temple and the Medicine God Pavilion, some of which date back 1,000 years! City God Pavilion, which has ties to Chinese folk religion, is a peaceful place to relax and enjoy stunning views of the entire city, including West Lake. Enjoying this view is among the things you must do in Hangzhou. The lush greenery and sparkling lake brought me back to my time in Bosnia and Slovenia.
Eat Traditional Hangzhou Food
Hangzhou is a city for foodies like many others in Asia. After my second visit to China in 2019, the cuisine there became one of my favorites of all time, and the food in Hangzhou is a big reason why. I highly recommend heading over to Green Tea restaurant to try their unbelievable pork belly, which is in a class of its own. Don’t forget to try their shrimp with honey sauce, fatty pork, sour fish soup, and of course, their light and pure dragon well green tea. Just inside the original city gate is a spot where you can get some incredible green onion pancakes, buttery tofu soup, and a unique, baked xiaolongbao (soup dumpling). Head over to Grandma’s Home Restaurant for some shrimp, fish, and excellent sweet-and-sour pork. If you want something more exotic, order their bullfrog soup, which is very bony but is easily one of the things you must do in Hangzhou for the experience alone.
Explore West Lake
Tourism in Hangzhou revolves largely around West Lake, and all it takes is one glance to see why it is a must do in Hangzhou China. This large, scenic lake is surrounded by vibrant, green trees and is divided into five sections by three different causeways. The lake, which is also home to several gardens, pagodas, and temples, has had such a profound impact on garden design and artists that it was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011. It’s not enough to just admire West Lake from its shores, though. One of the five things you must do in Hangzhou is pay 35 Yuan (about $5 U.S.) to take a ferry ride over to Fairy Islet. Follow the path around the island to marvel at its gardens, bridges, pagodas, and the distant mountains. It’s a breathtaking sight you can’t get anywhere else!
Visit Lingyin Temple & Carved Buddhas
In 328 AD, a monk from India known as Huili founded Lingyin Temple, whose name translates to Temple of the Soul’s Retreat. In the centuries that followed, the temple became one of the wealthiest, largest, and most important Buddhist temples in China. Inside the beautiful main hall, you’ll find monks humming and praying below a massive Buddha statue. But it is the grounds that make Lingyin Temple one of the five things you must do in Hangzhou. Huili’s ashes are housed in Elder Li’s Pagoda, the complex’s largest stone pagoda, and a monk’s stone bed can be found in a nearby cave. But the main attractions are the 470 Buddha carvings in the Feilai Feng grottoes. The carvings of the Buddha date back as far as 951 AD and include the Goddess of Mercy and the largest Laughing Buddha statue in the country. If you’re a history buff like me, you have to see these amazing carvings up close its a must do in Hangzhou China!
Eat Street Food on Hefang Street
One of my favorite things to do when I travel is to find and try as much local street food as I can. I can’t get enough of learning about what the destinations I’ve visited were like hundreds of years ago. Luckily for me, I could do both by exploring Hefang Street, a pedestrian-only street that has been around for 800 years! Walk along the street and browse the shops to find one that sells countless varieties of baijiu, a Chinese spirit that has an alcohol content of over 20%. If you can, sample the peach and rose flavors. They’re both potent but very tasty! Further along Hefang Street are stalls selling a variety of foods on a stick, including wontons, chicken with wild mushrooms, and fish balls. You can get six skewers for just 9 Yuan (roughly $1.31 U.S.). One of my street food highlights is beef and pork jerky samples that the friendly vendors fed me. Beware, they are spicy, but if you can handle the heat, they’re so worth it! You also must try the tofu steak I found as I continued wandering the street. they were served in a bowl with radishes, chives, and chilies. It was a flavor explosion in my mouth and made me crave it more and more with each bite. Having this tofu steak is easily one of the top things you must do in Hangzhou!
Must do in Hangzhou China
When it comes to Hangzhou, you often hear that there isn’t much to do beyond West Lake. I’m here to tell you that nothing could be further from the truth. It’s still every bit the grand, magnificent city Marco Polo described centuries ago and is one of China’s true gems. David Hoffmann is an entrepreneur, husband, father, and foodie who is addicted to traveling the world, exploring off the beaten path, and having authentic, one-of-a-kind local experiences. In the last 11 years, he has immersed himself in the cultures of over 1,000 cities in 73 countries. He documents his travels on his website, David’s Been Here, to inspire others to explore beyond their backyards and leave their mark on the world.
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