Hangzhou may be best known for West Lake, but one of its lesser-known attractions for non-Chinese travelers is the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal. Most Chinese travelers of course know about it, since it’s long been a part of Chinese history. In total it’s almost 1,200 miles long connecting Hangzhou and Beijing, and is the oldest functioning canal in the world.
You can’t ride it all the way to Beijing, though you’ll be able to watch barges begin their journeys to the capital. Instead, take a boat from the Wulin Port (武林码头) and get off at an old neighborhood. The boats count as public transit, costing less than 10RMB for a ride on the canal.
Once off the boat, you can enjoy small canal-side walking paths, or take a trip to see the Knives, Scissors and Sword Museum, the Fan Museum, and the Umbrella Museum. (I personally enjoyed the Sword Museum, which had a robotic arm demonstrating sword techniques at the time I visited. For all museums: prepare yourself for hordes of wax figurines!). The cluster of small old-time buildings has a good selection of restaurants, coffee shops, and art stores to peruse. In the spring, the canal is especially beautiful, with green willows lining the water.
Probably most travelers would put West Lake, Longjing Tea Village, or Lingying Temple higher on their To-Do lists (and for good reason!), but the Grand Canal is still one of my favorite spots in Hangzhou.