At the end of the 13th century, the explorer Marco Polo proclaimed Hangzhou to be the “City of Heaven…It is without a doubt the finest and most splendid city in the world.”

Centuries later, Hangzhou is still recognized as one of the world’s best travel destinations. The city was listed as number 16 on the New York Times, “Top 52 Places to go to in 2016.” Most recently, it was the first Chinese city to host the G20 Summit.

 

Getting into Hangzhou

Hangzhou is accessible by planes, trains, and automobiles. The local airport flies in planes domestically throughout China and internationally from ports throughout Asia as well as Amsterdam.

If you are coming from Shanghai, the most efficient mode of transportation is via bullet train. Starting at the Shanghai train station, which is impressively massive and well-maintained (and far nicer than some airports in the world), the high-speed train ride gets you from point to point in less than one hour. For added comfort, spend a little more on a first class train car for spacious, reserved seating.

 

If you can only do one thing in Hangzhou… Hangzhou’s West Lake

You must see the West Lake, the symbol of the city.

The highlight of Hangzhou is its natural scenery. Get in and drive away from the city buildings and into the lush greenery around the lake.

The best way to experience the West Lake is from a retreat-like boat ride. Boatmen are stationed along the walkways of the lake ready to accept patrons on their boats. The boats move at a steady pace to savor the serenity of the water – a tranquility which may get briefly interrupted by your boatman’s engine-revving spits.

For optimal views and photo opportunities, go during the mid-to-late afternoon to experience sunset on the lake and you will witness color-changing skies, darkening silhouettes, and the sun shimmering off the water.

 

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Shanghai’s train station. The train station is impressively massive and modern, and even nicer than some of the world’s international airports
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Spacious and clean, the train station provides comfort to travelers transiting between cities to and from Shanghai. With facilities as impressive as this, train travel in mainland China can be a better option than domestic air travel
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First class seats. Commuters can purchase first class seats with reserved seating and extra sitting space. Alternatively, you can also choose the lower train cars in the rear for a lower cost which do not have priority reserved seats
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Bullet trains. Much like in Japan, domestic travel by bullet train is a convenient and efficient mode of transportation which sometimes gets you into your destination faster than by airplane
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Welcome to the West Lake. After arriving in the bustling city of Hangzhou, greenery and the landscapes by the West Lake welcome you into serenity
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If you only have time for one activity while in Hangzhou, get on a boat and enjoy the beauty of the West Lake from every angle. You can arrange a boat ride through your hotel’s concierge or directly from the boat drivers along the walkways
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The moment the boat pushes off the walkway, you already can enjoy the lush surroundings of the West Lake and wave goodbye for a moment to the crowds of tourists and the big city
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The bustling city of Hangzhou from the middle of the lake – a real escape into nature. Mainland China is known for the hoards of tourists; this boat ride truly gets you away from the chaos for an afternoon retreat
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The boat ride takes you all around the lake, past islands within the lake, and under bridges. The covered boat allows year-round boat rides even with the hot summer sun or winter rains
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Along the ride, you will find notable landmarks, such as this floating object in the water which is on the one Yuan currency bill
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The rich history of Hangzhou can be found in its temples and pagodas. Along the lake, you can spot a few of the notable pagodas which are gorgeously lit as the afternoon begins to settle into the sunset
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The best time for boat rides is in the mid-to-late afternoons so you can enjoy the changing colors of the sky as the sun begins to set over the lake
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Every moment on the water is perfectly picturesque and serene. Be sure to fully charge your cameras and phones to take as many photos as you can
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Magic hour is truly magical along the West Lake – from the beautiful sun, the color-changing skies, the silhouette of the forests, to the sun’s reflection on the shimmering waters
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During your boat ride, you can stop at the islands within the lake. Some islands have wonderful bridges, walkways, and pagodas to explore
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The bridges complement the lush greenery winding around and through the islands. They are low along the still waters which feel as though you are almost walking on the lake
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The architecture on the islands stay true to traditional Chinese rooftops and exteriors and the colors of dark wood, stone, and even the red pillars and columns accent the look
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The structures welcome guest while taking away evil spirits for a most peaceful retreat and walk around the island
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The walkways, bridges, and structures respect nature and even add to the beauty of the scenery and landscapes
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Experiencing sunset over the West Lake is a priority when visiting Hangzhou, as witnessing the sun’s reflecting and the silhouette of the trees is gorgeously unforgettable
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As the sun lowers and the skies dramatically darken, as do the silhouettes. The scene at every minute is perfectly picturesque
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The changing colors of the skies and the darkening silhouettes reflect on the lake enhancing the moments of sunset
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Every movement along the lake and turn of your head are gifted moments of absolute serenity and beauty
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It is nearly impossible to stop taking photos to capture the perfect moment. The one perfect moment on the West Lake is really not a single capture. On the West Lake, your photography will capture multiple moments of perfection
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When your boat ride concludes and you are taken back to the starting point, you will notice lights in the distance. For one of your nights in Hangzhou, be sure to watch the Impressions of West Lake Light Show (more on that in the next post)

 

Stay at the Four Seasons Hangzhou
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