Hangzhou has long been a famous tourist attraction. The widely expressed Chinese proverb, "in heaven there is paradise and on earth there are Hangzhou and Suzhou" combined with the words of Marco Polo who described this place as, "the most beautiful and magnificent city in the world" have helped to make Hangzhou one of the biggest tourist attractions in the entire country.
Fortunately, while any city would struggle to live up to a reputation as "paradise", Hangzhou makes a good stab at it. Despite the crowds, hoards of tour groups and the idyllic preconceptions one might have before arrival, it is hard not to like this city. Even the most cynical traveler will appreciate the West Lake for its space and beauty, if nothing else.
Hangzhou is a city with a rich history and culture, spanning back over 2000 years. The city first made a name for itself in the sixth century, when the Grand Canal opened up and linked the area to other centers of trade such as Suzhou. The Song dynasty helped to make Hangzhou famous when they moved the imperial family here in the 12th Century. With its inviting views and outstanding scenery, the West Lake soon became popular with numerous artists, poets and painters seeking inspiration in this little bit of "paradise".
Today, Hangzhou (the capital of Zhejiang province) has a population of 6.11 million. The "West Lake" provides the idyllic image of Hangzhou that most people leave with. This huge circular fresh water lake, covering 3km from north to south and 3kms from east to west, is surrounded by hills on three sides and the city on the fourth. Two picture- postcard causeways cross the lake and three islands float in the middle. There are numerous historical relics and sights scattered about the Lake, including the famous Buddhist temple, Lingyin
Temple. You can see many of Hangzhou's sights in a couple of days. However, this is a nice place to relax and do some good walking and eating so if possible, plan to spend at least a few days here.
Most visitors to Hangzhou come from Shanghai, and the stark contrast between the two cities is incredible. Hangzhou can get very busy but the sheer size of the area around the West Lake, means that it is always possible to find a bit of peace and quiet. The air and the water feel refreshingly clean here too, and a day or two spent walking around the lake, the tea plantations and the surrounding hills should blow away any cobwebs, leaving you feeling refreshed and recharged.