The first place you’ll be told to visit in Hangzhou is West Lake. That should come as no surprise, given that West Lake has been a part of Chinese poetry and folklore for hundreds of years. But, when it comes down to it, West Lake is just a giant lake. How best to enjoy it? Look at it? Take a selfie? Those are good starting places. Of course, there are other, probably more satisfying ways to explore this famed lake in Hangzhou.
- Quick Trip West Lake
If you just want to see West Lake and walk along it for no more than an hour, then that’s easy. There’s a subway stop on line one “龙翔桥” (longxiangqiao) that has a convenient exit for exploring the lake. This path will likely lead you to 湖滨路 (Hubin road) which is a walking street along the lake. This portion will be crowded. Not just crowded with walkers, but with tourist carts as well. (If you’re lucky, you’ll see the squirrel that delights all Chinese tourists).
- West Lake by bike
Most travelers prefer this method of exploring West Lake. It will take much of the day, though, so be prepared. You can get a transit card for a 200 RMB refundable deposit for a red bike, or if you have Wechat, you can get one of the bikes scanned by QR code. The bikes are 1 RMB after an hour, and the prices jack way up the longer you keep them, so be sure to switch bikes when you can. If this sounds like too much of a hassle, you can also rent bicycles from vendors along the lake for a day. I suggest making your way to the southern side of the lake, where there’s more greenery and less traffic. Also be prepared for hills. A bit tough on the way up, glorious on the way down.
- West Lake by foot
This will take almost all day. Don’t be fooled: West Lake is bigger than you think. That being said, it’s easier to veer on side paths and get lost in the woods when you don’t have to lock up a bike and fetch it later. Once you get closer to the tea fields, there will be plenty of side paths winding through Dragonwell tea bushes.
- West Lake by boat
Indeed, West Lake being a body of water, there are boats! The boat vendors are hard to miss, since they stand on the shore yelling “BOAT! BOAT! BOAT!” as you walk by. You can rent a paddle-boat (by which I mean, the vendor paddles the boat) and see the Three Pillars Mirroring the Moon (aka the image on the back of the 1 RMB note), and visit Yingzhou Isle. Bargain liberally.
- West Lake panorama
You can also enjoy West Lake from above. While there are several panoramic spots, my favorite would have to be from atop Baoshi Hill (宝石山), which is off of Beishan Road (北山路) and where you’ll also find Baochu Pagoda (保俶塔). The trick is to get on top of the rocks. That’s where you’ll see what I consider the best panoramic view. (Plus, it’s FREE so you can’t beat that.) Other places include Bei Feng Hill (北高峰), Leifeng Pagoda (雷峰塔) among others.
If you don’t want to do a circumference of the lake, you can also consider walking through a part of it. There are two causeways connecting different shores: Bai Causeway (白堤) and Su Causeway (苏堤). I personally prefer Su Causeway, because it’s greenery is a bit denser, and the Broken Bridge on the Bai Causeway is usually swamped with people. (Especially during public holidays!) Actually, the best causeway would have to be Yanggong Causeway (杨公堤), but there’s less of a lake view on that one. Another area is Solitary Hill (孤山) which is an inlet off of Beishan Road. There’s a seal museum (the stamp kind, not the animal), plus a series of interesting sculptures throughout the area. You can still see the lake, just from a different angle.
In the end, it’s up to you how you decide to visit West Lake. Just know that if you don’t visit it at all, you will be faced with a wash of shame from fellow China travelers! (Just kidding. But still, give it a visit!)