In the 15th century, Marco Polo wrote that Hangzhou was “the City of Heaven, the most magnificent in all the world.” While it goes without saying that leaving such an impression on Marco Polo is no small task, Hangzhou has a loveliness that you really need to see to believe. The city may not have quite the majesty of its Song Dynasty heydays, but it’s still considered one of China’s Seven Ancient Capitals and is without question one of the country’s most beautiful cities.
Besides the relaxing, tree-lined streets of Hangzhou, it is the tranquil expanse of water known as West Lake that serves as the city’s trademark. Each of Hangzhou’s four distinct seasons bring its own fine character to the water’s edge, and you can be sure that at any time of year China’s most famous lake will be swarming with visitors. The rest of Hangzhou’s charm comes from the locals, who can be found playing mahjong, sipping green tea and dancing to their friends’ operatic tunes throughout the green spaces of the city. Rounding out the attractions, a sprinkling of pagodas and bridges, as well as a set of famous tea fields, mean that breezy Hangzhou offers enough to warrant setting aside several days.
Its name meaning the ‘capital of Hang’ was formally romanised as Hangchow. Located crucially at the mouth of Hangzhou Bay it’s been regarded as one of the most wealthy and well-renowned cities in China for the bulk of the last millennia.
With Neolithic cultures around this area being dated back as far 7,000 years – predominantly on the outskirts of Hangzhou proper – this area of China has a more fascinating and diverse history that most affluent cities on the modern day. During the troublesome days of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period, the Wuyue Kingdom appointed Hangzhou (or Xifu as it was then known) its capital between 907 to 978 – and as such made it one of the Seven Ancient Capitals of China.
Despite the official population sitting at just over 8 million inhabitants, the surrounding areas clock up residents in excess of 20 million. None of these are more famous these days than Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba (China’s answer to Twitter, eBay and Yahoo combined), who still keeps his company’s HQ here to date.