One of the seven ancient capitals of China, Hangzhou has a stash of cultural treasures, including the dreamy West Lake district, Buddhist temples dating back to 326 AD and a number of verdant tea plantations. The picturesque West Lake area is the closest you’ll get to classical China, containing over 60 relic sites sitting amongst the lush greenery of the surrounding hills and the willow-lined banks of the lake itself, making it a popular spot for domestic tourists. Tea plantations occupy the misty hills, producing Longjing and Jingshan tea. However, don’t presume it’s a rural town – the capital of the Zhejiang province is also a sprawling metropolis, home to a lively business district and a number of annual global exhibitions.
When to go
The flowers are in full bloom and the gardens their greenest between April and October. Avoid the first week of October – China’s National Day and week-long holiday following it means the lake will be overrun with domestic tourists.
PlanesHangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport ((www.hzairport.com) has frequent services to Beijing and Hong Kong as well as connections to Delhi, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo, Osaka, Bangkok, Seoul and Singapore. The only European connection is Amsterdam. You can also fly to Shanghai Pudong International Airport ((www.shanghaiairport.com) and hop on the train – it’s only an hour away.
TrainsFrequent high-speed trains connect Hangzhou and Shanghai and take just 50 minutes non-stop. It’s also possible to catch trains to Guangzhou, Beijing, Chengdu and everywhere in between. If you want to venture further, you’ll need to head back to Shanghai for connections.