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Discover why Hangzhou is known as Heaven on Earth
Located at the head of Hangzhou Bay, Zhejiang’s capital is a thriving center for finance and technology. But despite providing a home for more than 10 million people, its greatest claim to fame – and the reason it has been likened to Heaven on Earth – is the natural wonder of Hangzhou West Lake.
This beacon of tranquility lies at the heart of the city and attracts visitors with its idyllic, UNESCO-recognized scenery. Misty, verdant hills topped with historic pagodas and serene temples. Ponds adorned with delicate lotus flowers and unspoiled groves of bamboo and willow trees. Stroll across pedestrianized causeways to the holiday palace and gardens commissioned by 18th-century Emperor Qianlong, or cruise in a traditional wooden boat to Xiaoying Island. The banks of the lake are lined with shaded paths and stunning gardens, with countless places to pause and reflect.
The area around the lake is full of Hangzhou attractions. If you have time to visit just one of the many temples, we recommend Lingyin Temple – a Buddhist place of worship that dates back to 326 CE. Make a day of it by riding the cable car to the top of neighboring Northern Peak for mesmerizing lake and city panoramas. Or continue on to Longjing Tea Village, where workers tend lush plantations of the region’s specialty dragon well tea. Teahouses throughout Hangzhou serve this fragrant blend, while local restaurants offer specialties ranging from fried shrimps and longjing tea to lake fish in a sweet-and-sour sauce.
Of course, Hangzhou is so much more than just its majestic lake. The former residence of Hu Xueyan is of significant interest, providing an insight into the immaculately restored house and gardens of the affluent 19th-century businessman. Stroll down Qinghefang Old Street to discover a kaleidoscope of puppet theaters, craft stalls and traditional medicine shops, including the Huqing Yutang Chinese Medicine Museum. If your shopping tastes are a little more modern, browse international designers from Chanel to Hermès at Hangzhou Tower Shopping City. Hangzhou Grand Theatre is the region’s premier venue for performing arts.
Keep an eye out for exuberant annual events at Xixi National Wetland Park, such as the Xixi Flower Fair Festival and the Hangzhou Dragon Boat Festival. The latter offers the chance to see exciting traditional opera, lion dances and dragon-boat races. Dates for both festivals are based on the Chinese lunar calendar.