Hangzhou Travel Guide: Five Free City Attractions to Go!

When Hangzhou’s West Lake was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011, the city government promised there would be no charge for visiting the picturesque area. In fact, many tourist spots in the city haven’t charged admission fees for more than a decade – a reason why Hangzhou is such a popular destination. Here are some of the city’s attractions that needn’t cost you a yuan to visit.

The West Lake

The West Lake is Hangzhou’s best-known landmark. Located in the west of the city, there are numerous free scenic spots around the lake, such as Bai Causeway, Su Causeway and the Broken Bridge. Walk along Bai Causeway, Su causeway, and then turn to Nanshan Road and No. 6 Park. You are rewarded with a sweeping view in a relatively easy manner. Cycling offers another way to enjoy views of the West Lake. You can also appreciate the beautiful scenery in less energetic ways. Along the West Lake are elegant cafes or teahouses. Ordering a cup of famous longjing tea, you can savor it in a leisurely fashion while admiring the wonderful scenery.

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If you are interested in Chinese history, you can learn about the area’s colorful history and amazing tales, including the famous “Legend of the White Snake.”

Zhejiang Art Museum

With poetic West Lake in front of it and Mt Yuhuang (Jade Emperor) to its rear, Zhejiang Art Museum at 138 Nanshan Road can certainly boast a scenic location. Opened in 2009, the museum is in the style of a local ethnic building. You can view its collections for free. With a total area of more than 35,000 square meters, it is the biggest art museum in China. The 14 exhibition halls will take visitors roughly three hours to stroll around.

Zhejiang Art Museum

Xiangshan Campus of China Academy of Art

The campus has been a hot scenic spot since Wang Shu, the school’s dean of architecture and designer of the campus, won a Pritzker Architecture Prize – considered by many in the field the “Nobel Prize” for architecture. Although it’s in suburban Zhuantang Town, the campus receives hoards of visitors eager to see what all the fuss is about.

Xiangshan Campus of China Academy of Art

The campus covers an area of more than 500,000 square meters and is surrounded by tree-covered mountains and flowing streams. The combination of natural scenery and the unique architecture makes for an impressive sight. Most of the buildings are less than five stories tall, featuring square windows that come in different sizes. These add vibrancy to the design, breaking the rule that they must conform to fixed locations and sizes. In addition, the buildings are designed so that their contours match the line of the hills in the distance, visually forming a harmonious bond. Corridors and cloisters wind around the campus, softening the overall look. Wood, stone, bricks and glass are all used to ensure visual diversity on campus. To create an authentic historic feel, six million tiles from demolished traditional houses were used in the project. And adding a note of natural antiquity, centuries-old trees grow along the banks of ponds around the campus.

The Grand Canal of China

The Grand Canal of China is the general name for several famous canals in the country. It is currently applying for World Cultural Heritage status for its significant role in the history of China. Of all of the parts of the Grand Canal of China, the Jing-Hang Grand Canal is considered among the most important by many experts. In Hangzhou, the scenery along the canal is gorgeous, with historic buildings and old stories adding to its attractions. If you’d like to learn more about the canal, the Jing-Hang Grand Canal Museum, located in the Canal Cultural Square, is the place to go.

Jing-Hang Grand Canal

The water-bus is also a good choice for sightseeing on the canal. Starting from Pujia Wharf, the boat takes you along Gongchen Bridge Wharf.

Along the canal, you can find famous food courts such as Dadou Road, Shengli River, with distinctive snacks for hungry sailors.

Jiuxi (Nine Streams and Eighteen Gullies)

Jiuxi is also called Nine Streams and Eighteen Gullies. Jiuxi originates in Yangmei Hill, flows through Hangzhou’s west mountains and empties into the Qiantang River. Jiuxi’s chief feature is its clear waters, bubbling around the rocks and cooling walkers in hot weather. Hills with lush trees flank the streams, adding to the fresh, peaceful environment.

The must-visit architectural gem hidden in Jiuxi is Li’an Temple – also called Fayu Temple – one of the few temples in Hangzhou that does not charge. Li’an Temple has a long history, dating back to the Five Dynasties period (AD 907-960/979). “Li An” means peace in country, named by an emperor in the Song dynasty (960-1279). Enjoy a leisurely cup of tea and inexpensive vegetarian dishes in Li’an Temple is a leisurely way to enjoy a holiday. The best season to Li’an Temple is autumn, when sweet osmanthus is in full bloom. It is said that the fresh mountain air refreshes visitors, while this place of profound thoughts also bestows wisdom upon them.

Secluded farmhouses are dotted around Jiuxi. So when you’re feeling tired during your hike, take a rest or enjoy some reviving barbecue fare in one of these rustic retreats.

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