Hangzhou is different from the other big Chinese cities. It is the only one with a magnificent natural site right in the middle. We are talking about the West Lake. Though rivers and lakes populate Wuhan, in Hangzhou this natural wonder is what gives the city its character. The whole of Hangzhou city seems to revolve around the lake. Indeed, both the modern and the traditional center are next to it. Likewise, most of the historical sites and museums surround the lake. What you won’t find is extravagant contemporary architecture, which flourished in a different part of the city. Authorities cleverly decided not to overshadow the lake with tall towers. We believe these are the 10 most interesting facts about Hangzhou City.
01 Hangzhou Is China’s Eleventh Most Populated City
When it comes to population, Hangzhou is China’s eleventh-largest city, ahead of Shenyang and Suzhou. According to the last Official Census of 2010, the urban population of Hangzhou was 5.8 million people. At that time, 21 million people lived within the Hangzhou Metropolitan Area, making it China’s fourth-largest metropolitan area. In the last decade, Hangzhou has grown at an astonishing rate. No wonder, since it’s considered the best commercial city in China. According to the latest estimates, the urban area of Hangzhou is now the home of some 7.6 million people. Just like most other big Chinese cities, Hangzhou’s population is overwhelmingly Han Chinese.
02 The City Was Regional Capital Twice
Hangzhou has a special place in Chinese history. It was the capital of a regional power twice. Between 907 and 978, during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period, it was the seat of the Wuyue Kingdom. At the time, Hangzhou was called Xifu and ruled over Zhejiang, Shanghai, and southern Jiangsu province. Two centuries later, from 1127 to 1276, Hangzhou was the capital of the Southern Song Dynasty. Hangzhou, then known as Lin’an, dominated all of Southeastern China, including Yunnan and Tibet to the west.
03 The Grand Canal Ends in Hangzhou
The renowned Grand Canal of China is the longest man-made canal in the world. Though the oldest sections are from the 5th century, these were connected in the late 6th and early 7th centuries. The total length of the canal is 1776 km (1104 miles). It starts in Beijing and continues south to Tianjin. The canal crosses the provinces of Hebei, Shandong, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang and ends near Hangzhou. The southern section of the canal, Jiangnan Canal, is intensely used today. In Hangzhou, the Grand Canal crosses first the north of the city, and then flows to the east and empties in the Qiangtang River. The Dayunhe Gongchen Bridge was built over the canal north of the city in the 17th century. It is the highest and longest old stone arch bridge in the city.
04 The West Lake Is the Star of the City
The West Lake or Xi Hu is by far Hangzhou’s most famous site. In the year 2011, UNESCO included the West Lake and the surrounding area to the south, east, and west in its World Heritage Sites List. This outstandingly beautiful scenic area includes the main lake, smaller lakes, several gardens, temples, pagodas, and artificial islands. The lake is so beautiful, that it inspired the design of several gardens across China, Japan, and Korea. Regarding Chinese literature, the West Lake is mentioned in hundreds of poems and stories. The Pai Lai Feng with its carved Buddha statues, and the Lingyin Temple, one of China’s largest, are probably the most impressive buildings in the scenic area.
05 The City Center is Next to the Lake
Lush nature covers the north, west, and south of the West Lake. Thus, Hangzhou’s city center occupies the eastern shore. The center stretches from Wulin Square next to the Grand Canal on the north, to the Wu Shan Scenic Area to the south. Modern skyscrapers and shopping malls populate the northern section of the center. Pedestrian Hubin Road is adjacent to the lake, and together with nearby Dongpo Road are two of the most popular streets in the center. The area south of Xihu Avenue is traditional, with colorful pedestrian Hefang Street in the center. This is where ancient Hangzhou used to be.
06 Ancient Sites Dot Hangzhou
Like every other Chinese city, Hangzhou had entire neighborhoods with traditional houses and temples. The few remaining ones are now tourist attractions. The prettiest traditional houses are close to Hefang Road. The grandest of them all is the late 19th-century former residence of Hu Xueyan. The other two old neighborhoods are the Wuliuxiang Historic Block, east of Hefang Road, and the Dadou Road Historic Block by the Grand Canal, north of the city center. To the south of Hefang Road, close to the lake, we find two remarkable temples: the Pagoda of Six Harmonies and the Chenghuang Pavilion.
07 Hangzhou Is the Home of Great Museums
Hangzhou is home to several outstanding museums. The two most popular are inside the West Lake Scenic Area. The National Tea Museum has a tea plantation and offers an insight into tea production. The China National Silk Museum is the largest in the world. The museum displays an incredible collection of silk pieces and traditional tools. Likewise, the Silk Museum is in charge of a comprehensive research program on the fabric. Another interesting museum is the Museum of Traditional Chinese Medicine. The only medicine museum in China occupies an ancient house on Hefang Road. Besides, Hangzhou has a Museum Quarter, which includes five unique museums. The Great Canal Museum, the China Fan Museum, the China Umbrella Museum, the China Knives, Scissors and Swords Museum, and the Hangzhou Arts and Crafts Museum. The quarter is next to the ancient Dayunhe Gongchen Bridge.
08 Hangzhou’s Contemporary Architecture Is Stunning
Hangzhou hosts some of the best contemporary architecture in China. Great modern architecture can be seen all over the city. However, Hangzhou’s most impressive skyline is next to the Qiantang River, around the so-called Central Business District. The UN Studio’s Raffles City is in this area. The fluid structure consists of two 250 meter tall towers that merge into a massive plaza. Across the River, the giant Hangzhou Sports Park Stadium dominates the landscape. The American architecture studio NBBJ designed the complex in the shape of lotus flowers. The Xixi Green Office Complex is on the other side of the city. Nearby Xixi National Wetland Park inspired its authors, renowned Gad Studio.
09 The Famous Yellow Mountain Is a Step Away
Nature has blessed China with impressive sites all over the country. However, most are usually not close to big cities, with just a few near the coast. Since fast trains were introduced, Hangzhou is an hour and a half away from the famous Yellow Mountain or Huangshan. Huangshan has inspired countless painters and writers throughout the centuries. Some 20.000 poems testify its allure. Due to its outstanding scenery and cultural importance, UNESCO included it in its World Heritage Sites List. That’s not all: authentic villages and towns populate the area around the mountain. Two of these are also on the World Heritage Sites List.
10 Hangzhou Metro Is China’s Tenth Largest
When Hangzhou Metro opened in 2012, it was only the 17th longest metro system in China. Nevertheless, it grew at a faster pace than most other metros in the country. Today, Hangzhou has the tenth longest metro system in China, with 206 kilometers (128 miles), 5 different lines, and 135 stations. The system includes four conventional urban lines and one suburban metro. All lines are underground, except the suburban line and a small section of line 1. All four urban lines cross the Qiantang River, thus connecting Hangzhou’s northern and southern banks. Notice that the first 7 lines (some still under construction) follow the order of colors in a rainbow.