Free Things to Do in and around Hangzhou

Hangzhou is the "most splendid and luxurious city in the world", to quote Marco Polo (1254–1324).

Most of the attractions in Hangzhou charge an entrance fee, but there are still some scenic spots you can enjoy for free. How can you find them? Follow us and we'll show you where they are.

West Lake

West Lake is Hangzhou's most well known landmark, famous for its gorgeous natural scenery. The great poet Su Dongpo in the Northern Song Dynasty described West Lake as the Great Beauty Xishi (the top one among the Four Great Beauties in ancient China). After the fairytale, Legend of the White Snake, West Lake became a symbol of eternal love to Chinese people.

Among the most well know sites in this incredibly scenic area are:

  • The Su Causeway
  • The Bai Causeway
  • The Broken Bridge
  • Three Pools Mirroring the Moon

The whole lake is free (unless you take a boat or tourist bus). You can appreciate the beautiful scenery by walking around or taking a bike ride. If you want to enjoy it in a less energetic way, just sit in a lakeside café or bar, ordering a cup of Longjing tea. Let your day start there.

There are three classic bicycle routes at West Lake:

  • Northern route (7.7 km; 2 hours): from Longxiang Bridge (龙翔桥) to Lingyin (灵隐).
  • Southern route (7.4 km; 2.5 hours): from Longxiang (龙翔桥) to Nine Steams (九溪).
  • Route around the lake (12.4 km; 3.5–4 hours): From Longxiang Bridge (龙翔桥) to Longxiang Bridge (龙翔桥).

There are about 800 points where you can rent a public bicycle and more than 30 service points around the lake. The price to rent a bike is about 10–20 yuan, and you can return the bicycle at any of the service points.

Below is a partial list of bike rental points:

  • Orioles Singing in the Willows
  • South entrance of the Su Causeway
  • Long Bridge Park
  • North entrance of The Children's Palace
  • The zoo
  • Six Harmonies Pagoda
  • King Qian's Temple
  • West Lake Avenue

Grand Canal

The 1,764-km (about 1,200-mile) -long Grand Canal (also called Da Yunhe or the Beijing–Hangzhou Canal) is the longest and the greatest man-made waterway in ancient China. It was built in the Sui Dynasty (581–618), taking more than 6 years to complete the joining of several river systems in different directions from Beijing to Hangzhou, and played a significant role in transporting grains and goods from south to north.

There are several sections of the Grand Canal, and the scenery in Hangzhou is the most marvelous, including more than 40 sights. You can enjoy good food while appreciating the surrounding scenery:

  • The newly-built China Grand Canal Museum
  • Two landscape belts along the banks of the Grand Canal
  • West Lake Cultural Square
  • Grand Canal Cultural Square
  • Genshan Park
  • Qingsha Park
  • Beixing Park
  • Six bridge ports and fifteen bridges

How to visit

Boating on the old Canal is one of the best ways to get a riverside view of typical river towns in southern China. Starting from Pujia Wharf, the boat takes you along Gongchen Bridge Wharf.

Prince Bay Park

Prince Bay Park is right next to West Lake and an ideal place to get a scenic overview of the Lake from a high angle. At the top of the mountain inside the park, you can enjoy tulips and cherry blossoms in spring. It's also a romantic park for lovers or newly married couples, and in spring it's popular with brides and grooms as a background for wedding photos. 

The best time to visit is from March to April (20 March – 10 April) when thousands of tulips, cherry blossoms, and apple blossoms are in bloom.

Tips:

  • There are good paths to walk on, but not all of them are suitable for a baby trolley or stroller.
  • In springtime this park is very crowded and traffic nearby is bad, so carry a map with you just in case a taxi can't get you to your destination.

Hefang Ancient Street

The 1.8-km-long Hefang Ancient Street is a typical pedestrian shopping street that's been around since the Song Dynasty (960–1279). It's in old downtown Hangzhou, about a 15-minute walk from West Lake. It's lined with shops and restaurants typical of traditional Ming and Qing style buildings, and stalls selling various souvenirs.

On the street you can enjoy the well-preserved 'four-corner buildings group', which are masterpiece examples of traditional blocks of Hangzhou, with some of the most famous century-old shops and typical ancient buildings, such as Baohetang Pharmacy and Huqingyutang Pharmacy.

Plan to spend 1–2 hours at Hefang Ancient Street. You can sample anything from street snacks to fine works of art. You'll find candy sculptors, pillow shops, caricaturists, old-fashioned movie players, storytellers, bonsai shops, teahouses, and an array of small eateries, all of which make Hefang Street charmingly lively.

Transportation:

  • Take bus 8, 60, or K216, and get off at East Entrance of Gaoyin Road (高银街东口).
  • Take bus  25, 35, K187, K404, Y8, or K85, and get off at Wushan Station (吴山公交站).

Meijiawu Tea Plantation

Meijiawu Tea Plantation is home to one of China's most famous types of tea, Longjing Tea (Dragon Well Tea). Located on the southwest side of West Lake, Meijiawu Tea Plantation is a legendary Hangzhou attraction, where you can tour the grounds, learn about the complexities of tea, and experience a traditional tea ceremony.

The plantation is frequently visited by those who come for a taste of Longjing tea, well noted for its greenness, fragrance, mellow taste, and beautiful tea leaves.

Zhejiang Art Museum

Located at 138 Nanshan Road, Zhejiang Art Museum is adjacent to poetic West Lake. Opened in 2009, with a total area of more than 35,000 square meters, it is the biggest art museum in China, and it's free to access. The museum is in the style of a local ethnic building and from the top floor, you can get an overlook of West Lake.  

Zhejiang Museum has a great variety of fine art from all areas of China, and there are representative works from all the different schools, as well as from various artists. You'll find a meeting of modern arts, archaic arts, and folk arts. In all there are 14 exhibition halls, which will take visitors roughly 3 hours to stroll around.

Transportation:

  • Take bus K102, J9, Y9,Y6, 822/K822, 809, K808, 12/K12, K4, or 514/K514, get off at Wansong Ling Intersection (万松岭路口站), and walk another 100 meters south.
  • Take bus Y9, Y6, Y3, K808, or K4, get off at Long Bridge Station (长桥站), and walk another 50 meters east.

Jiuxi (Nine Streams)

Nine Streams (Jiuxi) is a place to relax and enjoy the water and streams. It's located at Yangmei Hill, next to Longjin Village, about 10 km from West Lake.

The streams flow through Hangzhou's west mountains and flow into the Qiantang River. The chief features are its clear waters, verdant trees, and inspirational peace. There is also a temple named Li'an Temple (Fayu Temple), which was built during the Five Dynasties Period (907–960), and is one of the few temples in Hangzhou that does not charge admission.

When you feel tired you can take a rest at the temple and enjoy some tea there. The best season to come is autumn, when sweet osmanthus is in full bloom.

Transportation: Buses K4, 308, 504, and 27 all can take you to Jiuxi.

Questions and Answers About Free Things to Do in and around Hangzhou

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Hi, I'm Ruru Zhou
I updated this article on September 23, 2013
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