West Lake in Hangzhou has many sights and activities to enjoy. If you like to wander and explore then you’ll be quite happy here. It’s really a great place to visit – so much beautiful nature, parks, historical sights, and restaurants, all concentrated in one relatively small area.
West Lake is a large, shallow lake (2.5 square miles or 6.5 km² and 3 meters deep) flanked on three sides by forest and Hangzhou city to the northeast. We stayed one night at the Wyndham hotel on the north-east corner of the lake. The Wyndham is a nice hotel fairly close to but not “on the lake” therefore we needed a car to get around. As a matter of fact, getting around West Lake pretty much requires a vehicle. I thought we could walk across the street and stroll around the lake…No! West lake is too big and the summer weather very hot and humid.
Most travel guides mention the top ten scenes to see while at West Lake. Although exciting, it’s near impossible to see everything in a day or weekend because there is a lot of walking and the sights are pretty far apart. My advice is choose a few things you must see and leave the rest to idle exploration or a return visit. For example, we prioritized walking along the causeway, the three stone towers, and National Tea Museum which I’ll go into later. Overall, West Lake is very beautiful place to wander around and enjoy.
Getting to and Around West Lake
Hangzhou is about two hours drive from Shanghai or one hour by train. I prefer taking the train because it is inexpensive, fast, and totally fun. Go to Hangzhou Railway Station as it’s closest to the lake.
If you stay in a hotel nearby the lake then it’s possible to get out and explore some on foot. Most sights are spread out in different areas therefore taxis, bus, etc. will save you time and energy.
West Lake is said to be one of the best biking routes in China and I’d recommend renting one if the crowd level is low. Look here for some good biking routes.
Take a boat ride from the causeway to the island where you’ll see more nature and the three pagodas.
See and Do Highlights
Impression West Lake is an evening show of music, lights, water, and dancing. The show is performed on the lake with mountains and the lake scenery as a backdrop.
Su Causeway was originally built using materials dredged out of the lake. The path is about 2 kilometers long and offers pleasant walking, scenic views, and access to several other areas for explorations. Along the path are several historic bridges and sights. Walk along the willow covered path and take in the majesty of nature and quite solitude. Haha, actually everyone who visits West Lake will probably be here too.
Three Pools Mirroring the Moon is a famous scene located on the south side of Lesser Paradise Island made up of three stone pagodas in the lake. They were put there during the Ming Dynasty and on full moon nights candles are put inside. The resulting glow shining out from the tower’s holes makes pretty reflections on the water. This scene is quite famous and is depicted on the 1-yuan bill. You can catch a boat from the south end of the causeway. If you want an up close view rent one of the smaller, private boats.
Leifeng Pagoda in Evening Glow is a large pagoda that overlooks West Lake. It’s atop Evening Glow “Mountain” nearby the southern end of Su Causeway. The original tower collapsed around 1924 and only recently rebuilt in 2002. Interestingly the bricks from the original were thought to posses healing properties. Naturally, locals would steal the bricks, grind them up and use the powder to ward off bad spirits. The tower finally collapsed after many years of plunder. The new tower is built around and over the original and it’s pretty cool to go underneath to see the old archeological remnants. Climb up to the top floor for a spectacular panoramic view of West Lake and Hangzhou city.
Viewing Fish at Flower Pond is a large scenic spot where you can see many red carp fish and seasonal lotus flowers. Although this is one of the top scenes I would mention that these same things are pretty much all around the lake. Seems everywhere we go there are flowers, trees, water, and fish.
China National Tea Museum is situated in the hills just west of the lake. Surrounded by tea fields is the main building where you can learn all about tea history and production. Don’t miss the displays for tea processing, dried bricks, and tea ware. Outside are plenty of paths and fields to stroll about and admire. As you walk around look for stones engraved with different Chinese characters related to tea. The tea museum is the only one of it’s kind in China and a must do for enthusiasts.
So much more… These are but a few things to see and do at West Lake. For more check out the following resources: