Lakeside in Hangzhou

travel to hangzhou west lake Hangzhou is big city with a permanent vacation vibe. This 6.3 million metropolis has a proper downtown but the heart of the city is at its lake, Xi Hu. As an ancient city at the end of China’s Grand Canal, it’s been a prosperous town and cultural center for over 1,000 years. Pagodas, pavilions, monuments, amphitheaters, and open-air art galleries all circle around and float above Xi Hu (West Lake) with droves of people coming daily to adore it. The weather was a bit stormy when we visited this new UNESCO heritage site, but with a place this pretty, it seemed no one even felt the rain.


hangzhou bike rentalAdding to its charms, Hangzhou is a biking town. There are 66,500 communal bicycles available across 2,700 stations (basically every couple blocks) and they are free for the first hour or if you want to keep it longer, just swap bikes to start your time clock again. We biked all around the lake and city this way with tons of bike paths and lanes in all directions.


what to do on hangzhou lake Since the lake is monstrous, these lovely manicured causeways cut across diagonally in two spots. More like parks over the water than roadways, they are a great place to watch local fisherman, cute couples, and the passing boats.


massive dragon boatAs you’d imagine, boat rides are very popular on West Lake but this jumbo dragon restaurant boat was an option we didn’t see coming.


west lake hangzhou parkLittle parks like this would appear tucked into the woods around the lake. Sculpture, rock scrolls and pagodas were typical to find with the occasional English caption non-nonchalantly saying 23 AD or Han dynasty’s first stele. With 1000 years of art history in this town, I guess it all can’t fit in a museum.


cheap eats in HangzhouAfter a full day of biking, we were starving. The options around the lake seemed to be tofu on a stick or five-course meals. Searching down side streets we ultimately found this gem of a hole-in-the wall. We don’t know what it’s called (Chinese speakers, anyone?) but if you walk down the left hand side of Xueshi Street and look out for this mess of red and white characters, you’ll find the best BBQ and soup buffet in town! We loved the grilled eggplant so much we came back the next day just to satisfy the craving.


west lake at nightYou’d think the hoards of people at the lake would thin out once the sun went down, but no, it’s bumpin at all times. In addition to the posh restaurant scene, the parks fill up with musicians, local line dancers (have we mentioned this Chinese phenomenon?), and kissy couples. We spent the night strolling the system of bridges and water walkways taking it all in.


hangzhou's lake fountain showWalking along the water we noticed a few rows of chairs lined up in front of the lake and people hovering around. Without a stage, microphone, or any signs of a performance we had no idea what the commotion was about but then the most spectacular light show began. Set to classical music, hundreds of water spouts danced with such precision and grace it looked choreographed by the Joffrey Ballet. Watch out Bellagio Las Vegas, Hangzhou Parks and Recreation is gunning for you.


west lake hangzhou hikingThe next morning we went back out on the bikes to take on the rest of the lake. Turning down little lanes and climbing stone stairways draped with bamboo turned out to be as lovely as the premier lakeside attractions.


travel tips for hangzhouTucked in a remote cove, we found this pagoda floating in a harbor of lilies, so we decided to rest there for a bit and soak in the Xi Hu serenity.


rtw couple honeytrekDue to bad weather and our love for the lake, we admittedly spent most of our time in Hangzhou on West Lake; however, during a failed attempt to checkout a surrounding neighborhood we had perhaps our best encounter. We asked a man at the bus stop how to get to XYZ place and we were hitting a language barrier (over 15 minutes at this point) but he was determined to help us find our route. When bus 35 showed up he emphatically motioned for us to follow him and get on. Twenty minutes later when we all hopped off together, we realized he was not heading in our direction at all–he only joined us to make sure we got to our destination safely. We so wish we had a photo of him but instead this smiley photo of us is in his honor and the lovely people of Hangzhou.



19 thoughts on “Lakeside in Hangzhou

  • March 25, 2013 at 8:38 pm

    We had similar experiences in China – the people are SO friendly, I don’t think people realise just how helpful and welcoming they are (till you go of course). Your lake looks gorgeous! Happy travels guys. Oh, I watched your wedding video- so lovely!!

    • March 26, 2013 at 8:15 am

      So glad you had a similar experience with people in China. Even in times when we thought someone was brushing us off because they didn’t understand what we were saying–they were actually just going to track down someone to speak English for us–that happened multiple times. What seemed curt happened to be kindness. Oh the wedding video…it was our anniversary a couple weeks ago so we watched it too with big smiles.

  • March 26, 2013 at 3:01 am

    Another great report. Thanks! I like the bike communal share deal they have in Hangzhou. Cool. And you continue to snag some great shots. Umm, despite the ever-present China haze that seems to thwart making photography there.

    • June 3, 2013 at 9:18 pm

      ken that bike deal was so amazing. its sad more cities dont offer things like that….such a great thing for sightseeing. yeah that China haze was killer for my photo shoots, lmao.

  • March 26, 2013 at 6:58 am

    Once again you offer so many great photos that I’ve read the text I’m lost in click and scroll land for quite some time. Thnx!

    • March 26, 2013 at 8:20 am

      Having you get “lost in click and scroll land” is as good a compliment as it gets : ) Thanks!

  • March 26, 2013 at 10:48 am

    That dragon boat restaurant is incredible, and those water shows are gorgeous. Had a good laugh at that bread packaging, too.

      • June 3, 2013 at 9:19 pm

        I’ve been 5 times! 🙂 I looove Tibet. Absolutely incredible. There is something really special about Chengdu and Xi’an. The historical sights in Beijing are magical. Loved floating down the Yangzi River.

        • June 3, 2013 at 9:20 pm

          Also, Shanghai is a fantastic city and Hong Kong (I know many don’t consider it a part of China) is one of my most favorite places in the world.

  • May 29, 2013 at 11:22 pm

    What a beautiful lake Wish I was there. And I love the pagodas!! So beautiful and peaceful!!

  • May 29, 2013 at 11:22 pm

    I love that dragon boat!!!

  • August 6, 2013 at 10:06 am

    Hi there! I live in southern China with my husband and two young kids and found your journey while searching for China travel blogs. Needless to say, I’ve now been following you guys for a couple of months and happened upon your Hangzhou post on our last afternoon in Hangzhou. On our way out of town, we needed a quick bite to eat and actually found your hole-in-the-wall recommendation. Though they weren’t BBQing, we did have some delicious soup. You can find a photo of our little guy sleep eating his ramen noodles here,

    Your travel writing is stellar; you do an incredible job bringing a place to life. Thanks for sharing your journey – we will most definitely be using your tips in our China travels.



    • August 7, 2013 at 6:43 am

      @laurenhesterman:disqus thank you SO much for the shout out on your own blog (check it out guys….and we are so glad you made it to that restaurant. great little gem that was. and thank you…i mean wow, what a compliment, especially coming from a fellow blogger, it means a lot to us. so glad to have you along for the journey 🙂

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