West Lake is quite a big lake and you can see different classic scenes from different locations. Long ago people named the Ten Scenes of West Lake and Emperor Qianlong marked each with a four-character inscription 200 years ago. Every scene has its own iconic features.
1. Spring Dawn at Su Causeway
- Bus 507, 507, K4, or Y2 to Sudi (苏堤 /soo-dee/ 'Su Causeway')
- Best time: March and April for peach blossom
- Popular activities: walking and biking on the causeway
- Chinese: 苏堤春晓 Sūdī Chūnxiǎo /soo-dee chwnn-sshyaoww/ 'Su Causeway Spring Dawn'
Spring Dawn at Su Causeway tops the list of the ten best known scenes in Hangzhou for beauty. When spring comes, the whole causeway is blanketed by peach blossoms and weeping willow catkins, creating an especially charming scene.
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.
2. Lotus in the Breeze at Crooked Courtyard
- Bus 507 or 15 to Quyuanfenghe (曲院风荷 /chyoo-ywen fnng-her/ 'Crooked Courtyard Wind Lotus')
- Best time: June, July, and August for lotus flowers
- Chinese: 曲苑风荷 Qūyuàn fēnghé /chyoo-ywen fnng-her/ 'Crooked Courtyard Wind Lotus'
This was a “scene of scents". Crooked Courtyard was the location of a winery, and 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
- Bus 7, 51, 52, or K7 to Duanqiao (断桥 /dawn-chyaoww/ 'Broken Bridge'), then walk or take a boat
- Best time: nights with a bright moon
- Chinese: 平湖秋月 Pínghú qiūyuè /ping-hoo chyoh-ywhere/ 'Calm Lake Autumn Moon'
This scene is seen from the western end of Bai Causeway. In the 1½-acre (0.6 ha) garden there, plants and flowers intermingle with pavilions and platforms.
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 its view was named "Autumn Moon on Calm Lake".
4. Melting Snow on Broken Bridge
- Bus 7, 51, 52, or K7 to Duanqiao
- Best time: winter with snow melting (seldom seen now)
- Chinese: 断桥残雪 Duànqiáo cánxuě /dawn-chyaow tsan-sshwair/ 'Broken Bridge Stricken Snow'
The most romantic, in origin, of the ten scenic sights is surely Melting Snow on Broken Bridge. According to "The Legend of the White Snake", Broken Bridge is the site where two lovers met and fell madly in love. The beautiful maiden was actually a white snake.
Broken Bridge is not really broken, but is a traditional arched stone bridge. Snow melts on the north side of the bridge first, as the south side is in shade, giving 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
- Bus K4 or 38 to Qingbomen (清波门 /ching-bor-mnn/ 'blue waves gate')
- Best time: summer, before the orioles migrate
- Scenic Bonus: It's the best place to admire the scenery of the lake surrounded by mountains on three sides.
- Chinese: 柳浪闻莺 Liǔlàng wényīng /lyoh-lung wnn-ying/ 'Willow Wave Hear Orioles'
This sight is on the southeast of West Lake. During the Southern Song Dynasty (1127–1279) an imperial garden— was built on this site. It featured especially weeping willow trees — almost always the perfect complement to a waterscape.
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
- Bus K4, 308, or 504 to Sudi
- Best time: summer, when the lotuses bloom
- Chinese: 花港观鱼 Huāgǎng guān yú /hwaa-gung gwan yoo/ 'Flowery Harbor Watch Fish'
This is the scene of a popular leisure activity. It's the best site to see and feed the fish of West Lake, at the southern end of Su Causeway. A stream flows from Huajia Hill to join West Lake there, and many flowers grow where the fresh water flows in, so it was called "Flowery Harbor".
This area has been made into a 22-ha (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
- Bus K4 to Jingsi
- Best time: dusk, when it's not too cloudy
- Chinese: 雷峰夕照 Léifēng xìzhào /lay-fnng sshee-jaoww/ 'Thunder Peak Dusk Glow'
Sunset Glow over Leifeng Pagoda is the classic West Lake sunset view, with West Lake in the foreground, the pagoda central, backed by mountains. Leifeng Pagoda is on the south of West Lake. View it from Changqiao Park (长桥公园) or Xueshi Park (学士公园).
8. Twin Peaks Piercing the Clouds
- Bus 7, 27, or 807 to Hongchunqiao (洪春桥 /hong-chwnn-chyaoww/ 'Hongchun Bridge')
- Best time: morning, when clouds or mist wreath the mountains
- Chinese: 双峰插云 Shuāng fēng chā yún /shwung fnng chaa ywnn/ 'Twin Peaks Piercing Clouds'
Most visitors to West Lake are so fascinated by the lake itself that they often don't notice the surroundings.
Visitors are advised to also lift their gaze from the lake's surface and behold the view on the other side of the lake. There one is rewarded by the sight of two mountain peaks, five kilometers (three miles) north. On days with low-lying clouds or fog these two taller peaks pierce through the vapor.
9. Evening Bell Ringing at Nanping Mountain
- Bus K4 to Jingsi (静寺 /jing-srr/ 'quiet temple')
- Best time: dusk, when the big bell is rung
- Chinese: 南屏晚钟 Nánpíng wǎn zhōng /nan-ping wann jong/ 'South Screen Evening Bell'
This sight, like most of the other sights 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 reverberates across the lake, amplified in the still evening air. It calls for humility and reminds Buddhists of their age-old religious heritage. Indeed, it reminds anyone who experiences this beautiful setting of his or her ultimate smallness.
10. Three Pools Mirroring the Moon
- Take a boat from 80 yuan (13 USD)
- Best time: morning and late afternoon, or a moonlit Mid-Autumn night
- Chinese: 三潭印月 Sāntán yìnyuè /san-tan yin-yhwere/ 'Three Pools Mirror Moon'
Three miniature stone pagodas in the lake itself are the centerpiece of the scene "Three Pools Mirroring the Moon". West of Three Pools Mirroring the Moon Island stand the rounded hollow stone pagodas, with five round holes like windows around the top and bottom levels. They were built over 800 years ago and are 2 meters (6½') in height.
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.
This scene is on the back of the one yuan bill, and so it is the most famous.
Tour the Ten Scenes with China Highlights
If you are planning a tour of the Ten Scenes of West Lake, we suggest you to combine it with other famous sights near West Lake. See our 2-Day Hangzhou Essential Tour for inspiration. Or just contact us to tailor-make a West Lake tour.