The most famous attraction in Hangzhou is West Lake (Xi Hu /sshee hoo/). West Lake is man-made and created after the Chinese love for garden style parks for recreation.
Hangzhou's West Lake Scenic Area, in the southwest of the city, covers 60 square kilometers (23 square miles), of which West Lake itself occupies 5.6 square kilometers (2.2 square miles).
It was originally the center of the city, but now the Qiantang River is becoming the central feature as the south bank is developed in similar fashion to Shanghai’s Pudong District. West Lake is a place of tranquility where urbanity becomes a silhouette on the northeast horizon and mountains near and far surround it on the other three sides. The occasional pagoda and Chinese-style arched bridge add atmosphere to the tree-lined walkways, verdant islands and hills.
To admire the beauty of West Lake, visitors can leisurely bike around the lake, walk around the lake or take a short cruise on the lake. Contact us to customize a Hangzhou tour. West Lake is considered as one of the best biking routes in China. See West Lake biking guide.
Travelers can take a boat cruise to visit some of its islands. There are many kinds of boats including large painted boats, small rowing boats and even self-rowing boats. See our West Lake Cruises.
The lake has a diameter of about 3 kilometers (2 miles) and a circumference of 15 kilometers (9 miles). There are three causeways or bridges across the lake and three man-made islands named San Tang Yin Yue (Three Pools Mirroring the Moon), Huxin Ting (Mid-Lake Pavilion) and Ruan Dunhuanbi (Ruan’s Mound, after the Governor of Zhejiang in 1800, Ruan Yuan).
Ten Scenic Sites of West Lake
1. Spring Dawn at Su Causeway
Spring Dawn at Su Causeway tops the list of the ten best known sights in Hangzhou. The causeway was built during the Northern Song Dynasty by Su Dongpo (1037-1101), a great scholar and famous poet, and was named after him. Stretching 2.8 kilometers (1.7 miles), it includes six bridges and is heavily sheltered by green vegetation. When spring comes, the whole causeway is blanketed by peach blossoms and weeping willows, creating an especially charming scene.
2. Lotus in the Breeze at Crooked Courtyard
This particular scene has earned its name from the fact that it had an abundance of lotus plants growing along its shores, which was known as Crooked Courtyard. It was also the location of a winery. The "perfume" produced by the combination of the scent of lotus flowers and wine, to which was added the scent of the cool breeze from the lake, was said to be positively intoxicating. Though the winery is no more, the cool evening breeze from the lake still blows and the lotus plants still thrive along the shores of Crooked Courtyard, which has been converted into a public park.
3. Autumn Moon over Calm Lake
This scene is seen from the western end of Bai Causeway. The teahouse with its cement terrace bounded on three sides by water, became one of the traditional places to view West Lake, especially on Mid-Autumn night when the moon is full and bright, so it was named as "Autumn Moon on Calm Lake". This scenic spot covers an area of 6000 square meters (7176 square yards). Various garden plants and flowers intermingle with pavilions and platforms.
4. Melting Snow on Broken Bridge
The most romantic, in origin, of the ten scenic sites is surely the one called Melting Snow on Broken Bridge. According to legend, Broken Bridge, which is not really broken, but is a traditional arched stone bridge, is the site where two lovers, Xu Xian and a beautiful maiden, who is actually a white snake, met and fell madly in love. In early spring, when the snow begins to melt, it melts on one side of the bridge first, due the fact that the other side is in shade, which gives the bridge a split image. Viewed from a distance, it looks as if one half of the bridge has been ripped off, since the snowy side blends perfectly in with the surrounding landscape (hence the bridge's name)
5. Listening to Orioles Singing in the Willows
During the Southern Song Dynasty, an imperial garden, featuring especially weeping willow trees - which is almost always the perfect complement to a seascape - was built on this site. The imperial garden has since become a public park, replete with pavilions, bridges and lawns, and of course the orioles still visit the willows, where they sing as beautifully as when the emperor came here to listen to their song.
6. Viewing Fish and Lotus Fronds at Flower Pond
This spot is located at the southern end of Su Causeway. A clean stream flows from Huajia Hill to join West Lake here, and many flowers grow where the fresh water flows in, so it called "Flowery Harbor". This area now has been made into a 22 hectare (54 acre) park with many varieties of trees and flowers, featuring a peony garden which blooms in April and a goldfish pond which is the famous site for viewing fish.
7.Sunset Glow over Leifeng Pagoda
The stone arched bridge is at the eastern end of the Bai Causeway. The legendary tale of Lady White Snake took place here. After a snowfall, the snow on the sunny side melts first, while snow on the shaded side still lingers. Looking from afar, the bridge appears to be broken, thus the name.
8. Twin Peaks Piercing the Clouds
Most visitors to West Lake are so fascinated by the lake itself that they often don't notice the surroundings. At the site called Twin Peaks Piercing the Clouds, visitors are advised to also lift their gaze from the lake's surface and behold the view on the other side of the lake, where one is rewarded by the sight of two mountain peaks, separated by the short distance of about five kilometers, at the northern rim of the lake. On certain days with low-lying clouds, or on other days when a low-lying fog is present, it is as if these twin peaks pierce through the clouds, the fog, etc., hence the site's name.
9. Evening Bell Ringing at Nanping Mountain
This site, like most of the other sites at West Lake, is to be enjoyed to its fullest under certain specific conditions; Evening Bell Ringing at Nanping Mountain, as the name suggests, is to be enjoyed at dusk, when the sun slowly sets, its softened rays casting their multi-colored reflections on the surface of the lake. At this hour the huge bell of Jingxi Temple peals, its clear, forceful sound reverberating across the lake, as if amplified in the still evening air, calling for humility and reminding Buddhists of their age-old religious heritage - and indeed, reminding anyone who experiences this beautiful setting of his or her ultimate smallness within the larger scope of things.
10. Three Pools Mirroring the Moon
Three miniature stone pagodas, which act like beacons, built over 800 years ago and 2 meters in height, are the centerpiece of the scenic spot called "Three Pools Mirroring the Moon". To the west of Three Pools Mirroring the Moon Island stand rounded hollow stone pagodas with five round holes like windows around the top and bottom levels. On the night of the Mid-Autumn festival, when the moon shines full and bright in the sky, a candle is lit inside each of the pagodas. The light from the holes and the moon cast their reflections on the water, hence the name.
Tour Packages to Visit West Lake
Questions and Answers About West Lake
Hi Ryan, it is about 150m from the "western end of Bai Causeway" to the the "Autumn Moon over Calm Lake" area, just several minutes walk.Whitney Liao replied on 2013-03-31
The West Lake is beautiful all the year round, but most beautiful time is spring (March to May). One day is sufficient for the West Lake area and the Six Harmonies Pagoda.
The Six Harmonies Pagoda is located in the same West Lake area, about 6km away from West Lake. You can take a taxi there.Doris Huang replied on 2013-01-14
I updated this article on February 10, 2014
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