West Lake is an iconic, symbolic sight in Hangzhou and is regarded as one of the most beautiful sights in China. Its beauty is the subject of many poems and paintings. Legends originating in West Lake add to it an aura of romance.
Here we provide highlights and popular ways of visiting West Lake for your inspiration.
- Chinese: 西湖 Xī Hú /sshee hoo/ (xi is 'west'; hu is 'lake')
- Location: southwest of downtown Hangzhou, 180 km southwest of Shanghai
- Area: 6.5 square kilometers (2½ square miles)
- Highlights: The Ten Scenic Sites of West Lake, boat cruises, biking, scenic walks, Impression West Lake night show
- Recommended length of visit: 1 day
West Lake Overview
West Lake is divided into five sections by a mountain and three causeways. Three islands stand in the lake. Two pagodas face each other across the lake.
Xi Hu is a good place for observing the life-style of local people. It is the main recreational area in Hangzhou. It occupies an important place in the hearts of Hangzhou people.
The construction and maintenance of West Lake involved the wisdom and effort of generations. Its beauty reflects “an idyllic fusion between humanity and nature”.
Scenic spots in West Lake
Su Causeway is one of the best-known "Ten Scenic Sites of West Lake". It is a long causeway with willow trees and other plants on either side. When spring comes, the causeway is blanketed by peach blossoms and weeping willow catkins, creating an especially charming scene.
Fish and Lotus Fronds at Flower Pond
At the southern end of Su Causeway, there is a charming park with many varieties of tree and flower, featuring a peony garden which blooms in April, and the famous goldfish pond.
Many people come every day to see and feed goldfish in the pond, which has become one of the most popular features of the lake.
Three Pools Mirroring the Moon
It is perhaps the most famous of West Lake’s classic sights. Its image is printed on the one yuan bank note. 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 three pagodas on the water. The light from the pagoda windows and the moon cast their reflection on the water, hence the name.
Leifeng Pagoda is the oldest colorful bronze pagoda in China. On the top of the pagoda, tourists can enjoy the whole view of the West Lake, especially when the sunset glows over the pagoda. It is also a good place for photographing.
Popular Ways of Exploring West Lake
Biking/Walking Around the Lake
West Lake is regarded as one of the best biking routes in China. To admire the lake’s beauty, visitors can bike or walk around it at leisure.
On bike or by foot, you’ll have more freedom to explore in an environmentally friendly and healthy way. You'll experience more of the people of China, and more of nature.
The most popular biking/walking avenues are Su Causeway and Bai Causeway. These two causeways allow you to see most of the lake’s scenery. No motor vehicles are allowed there, so they are quite safe for biking and walking.
See our West Lake Biking Guide for a recommended route around West Lake, plus routes for nearby attractions.
Boating on the Lake
Take a cruise to visit some of West Lake's islands. There are many kinds of boat, including large painted boats, small rowing boats, and even self-rowing boats. Cruises are available day and night.
Three Pools Mirroring the Moon is the must visit place if you take a boat. Most docks have boats to this site. The highlight of boating is to enjoy a leisurely time on the peaceful lake and see the mountains, bridges, and pagodas from the vantage point of the water itself.
Circling the Lake by Battery Car
Take a battery car to circle the lake and enjoy the beautiful scenery. The car will pass Su Causeway, Leifeng Pagoda, Broken Bridge, Hubin Park, Yuefei Temple, etc. This is the most convenient and efficient way to obtain a comprehensive impression of the lake.
It is recommended for people who have difficulties walking or who are traveling with babies.
Activities in the West Lake
Leisurely Afternoon Tea by the Lakeside
After a stroll around the lake, it’s time to enjoy a lazy time by its banks. Sip a cup of longjing tea, taste some delicious dessert and enjoy the scenery outside. Meanwhile, our guide is ready to share with you about the history of Hangzhou.
Impression West Lake - the Night Show on the Lake
Impression West Lake is a live outdoor evening performance, with lights, music, and dancing on its West Lake stage. It tells a beautiful love story in five acts: "First Encounter", "Falling in Love", "Saying Goodbye", "Memories", and "Impressions". The show is performed from March to December.
- Tickets: 250 yuan (40 USD) – 600 yuan (100 USD)
- Best times: spring and fall
- April to October: 7:45–8:45
- March, November, December: 7:15–8:15
- If the weather is good and demand is high, there may be a second performance from 9:45 to 10:45.
Watch Wonderful Sunsets
West Lake is one of the best places in China for admiring the sunset. Besides its beautiful daytime and nighttime scenery, the sunset at West Lake is on many China-photographers' lists of best evening shots.
Best locations for photographing the sunset: Broken Bridge, Su Causeway, Sixth Park, and Xiaoyinzhou Island.
Best locations for shooting the whole lake: Chenghuangge Pavilion, Leifeng Pagoda, and Baoshi Mountain.
Music Fountain Show
There is a music fountain at Lakeside Third Park Dock, West Lake. The fountain area is 126 meters long, and erupts into life twice a day and four times in the evening.
- Begins: 10:00 am, 3:30 pm, 7:30 pm, 8:00 pm, 8:30 pm, 9:00 pm
- Lasting: 15 minutes by day, 10 minutes by night
A Romantic West Lake Legend
Chinese people like West Lake not just for its scenery, but also for its many romantic legends.
One of the best-known involves a love story between a mortal man named Xu Xian and a white snake spirit named Bai Suzhen. They met on a rainy day at West Lake, fell in love and got married.
The marriage, however, was opposed by Fa Hai, an evil monk. He insisted that the union of humans and spirits was forbidden, and imprisoned the white snake spirit in Leifeng Pagoda.
Years later, Bai Suzhen was rescued. The couple then lived happily ever after. This love story has enhanced the popularity of West Lake among tourists.
Best Times for Visiting West Lake
West Lake is suitable for visiting all year round. The scenery varies according to the weather, and season.
Spring - Best Season
Spring (March to May) is the best season for enjoying the lake. Green leaves and flower blossoms enhance its beauty. March and April are the peak season for West Lake travel.
Summer - Lotus Blossoms
Summer (June to August) is the season of lotus flowers. The lotuses attract many people.
"Lotus in the Breeze at Crooked Courtyard" (a classic West Lake sight) is the best place to see in summer. It is an area by the western shore of the lake. Every summer, there are hundreds of types of lotus in full bloom, attracting many visitors.
Fall - Calm Lake and Clear Sky
Fall (September to November) is cool at West Lake. The weather is less rainy, which makes it a good season for walking round or leisurely boating on the lake. West Lake is also a popular place for observing the full moon at Mid-Autumn Festival.
Winter - "Melting Snow on Broken Bridge"
"Melting Snow on Broken Bridge" is one highlight of winter. The bridge is not only famous for its snowy scenery, but also for its romantic legend. It was on the Broken Bridge that Bai Suzhen first met her lover, Xu Xian. Then the romance blossomed…
Winter (December to February) at West Lake is very cold and wet. Sometimes it snows. The lake in snowy surroundings is a different, still spectacular, sight. Winter is really a good season for enjoying a less-crowded West Lake.
How to Get to West Lake
Hangzhou Xiaoshan Airport – West Lake: about 30 km
Book private transport (recommended): We advise you to book a transfer service with driver and travel guide. Then you will not have to worry about getting lost and can learn about the lake on your way there.
Take a taxi (less recommended): It's about 1 hour's drive. Most drivers don't speak English, so you should prepare in Chinese the name of the exact point at West Lake where you want to go.
Take an airport bus (not recommended): This is about 2 hours' drive, including the bus waiting time. First take the airport bus to Hangzhou Railway Station, and then take bus Y2 to Jingsi (净寺).
A One-Day Round Trip from Shanghai to West Lake is Easy
Travelling between Hangzhou, Suzhou, and Shanghai is now very convenient because of the bullet train system. You can travel from one to another in about an hour.
If you travel to Hangzhou by bullet train, it is better to choose a train arriving at Hangzhou Station or Hangzhou Dong (East) Station. Then you can take a bus or subway to West Lake. Check more transport information on Hangzhou.
- Check about how to plan a trip from Shanghai to Hangzhou.
- Read about how to make a plan to travel Shanghai, Hangzhou and Suzhou.
Lingyin Temple: 'Temple of the Soul's Retreat' is a quiet and sheltered sanctuary. It is one of the largest and most-visited Buddhist temples in China, and holds the largest statue of the Buddha Sakyamuni in the lotus position.
Qinghefang Pedestrian Street: The shops are mainly oriented for tourists, and they sell curios, paintings, souvenirs, craft products, and other works of art. There are also restaurants featuring foreign food for tourists, and some teahouses and shops with long histories.
Six Harmonies Pagoda: It offers a fine view of Qiantang River, famous for the world's largest tidal bores, which are extremely spectacular during the Mid-Autumn Festival.
Meijiawu Tea Plantation: It is one of the Four Famous Sites for Longjing Tea (Dragon Well - "China's Top Tea"), featuring a tea farm and village with rich tea culture and tourist development. It attracts over a million tourists every year.
Enjoy a Lazy West Lake Tour with Us
We’d like to create a journey of leisure and freedom for you. Our itinerary is flexible.
- 1-Day Dragon Well Tea Culture and West Lake Tour: Step into one of the best tea plantations and experience the tea culture.
- 2-Day Hangzhou Highlights and Grand Canal Heritage Tour: Visit a Dragon Well tea plantation, and explore Grand Canal and West Lake on a cruise.
If you are not interested in the above tours, you can contact us to tailor make a West Lake tour according to your requirements. We will help you arrange the tickets to attractions, transport, accommodation, a top guide, and a cruise to save you a lot of hassle.