Biking: Hangzhou’s public biking system is admirable. Not only are there designated bike lanes on almost all major and principle streets, the city also has a bike rental system. To take advantage of this cheap or even free way of getting around Hangzhou, you must present a copy of ID, deposit of 300 Yuan, and a transit card. It is free for the first hour of rental, 2 Yuan per hour for the next 2 hours, then 3 Yuan per hour beyond that. The amount accrued during your rental is deducted from your deposit; you can request your deposit back at any time. It is also alright to take a bike out for a spin for 1 hour, return it to one of the many stations throughout the city, then immediately check another one out for another hour; this way, it is entirely possible to bike around Hangzhou all day without spending a cent!
Bus: As with most major cities in China these days, Hangzhou has a thorough public transportation and bus system. Taxi is not a cheap option for getting around Hangzhou, unlike in some other destinations. Most rides in the city cost between 1 to 2 Yuan per person. Some longer distance routes or ones to tourist highlight destinations are 3 to 5 Yuan. Be sure to bring exact change as change is not distributed.
There are hotels of all price ranges throughout Hangzhou. At more unofficial and casual locations, feel free to bargain for your room. The more nights you stay or with more people, the more bargaining power you will have. At more firmly established accommodations, this practice is not as useful.
See & Do
Museums: Unlike museums in other places which offer general collections of art or historical relics, there are some fine museums in Hangzhou that showcase something unique, something niche. For example, the Zhejiang Art Museum, China National Tea Museum, China National Silk Museum, and Southern Song Dynasty Guan Kiln Museum are all absolutely free for entrance! Each of these establishments specializes in the theme reflected in their name, all very significant parts of Chinese history and culture. Other museums and temples in the city tend to cost a few Yuan for entrance.
Qiantang River Walkway & Bore: The Qiantang River is the largest river in Hangzhou. The walkway along the river is always quite pretty, combining views of the city with the water. However, the Qiantang River bore is the largest in the world and attracts visitors every 18th day of the 8th month of the Chinese lunar calendar, typically September and October. A tidal bore is created when the edge of a tide rises above the water and runs against the flow of the body of water. Considering the numbers, you can see why this bore is particularly impressive: the bore can be 4 meters high up to even 10 meters, 3 meters wide, and travel at more than 20 miles per hour! It is so strong that sometimes its roar can be heard before it is seen. Yanguan Town in Haining or Xiaoshan in Hangzhou are the best places to witness this strange natural phenomenon.
West Lake & Boat Ride: Thanks to the support of the government, the UNESCO World Heritage Site of West Lake is free for all visitors. This is Hangzhou’s top attraction in many ways due to its stunning natural landscapes combining the views of the water and the forested mountains all around it. The 10 main scenic areas of West Lake are not to be missed; be sure to spend at least half a day here or more in order to appreciate the views as much as possible. During your time at the lake, you might feel compelled to get closer to the water! Well, try going on a short boat ride. You will see a few options available such as a 1.5 hour ride for about 45 Yuan per person. This way, you can enjoy the views from a closer perspective. An experience at the West Lake, whether by foot, bicycle, or boat, is essential on a visit to Hangzhou.
Visit Shanghai: If Hangzhou is your base, then consider visiting Shanghai for a weekend or more! Shanghai is in many ways China’s second city (behind Beijing the capital of course) and it has a very distinct culture and vibe than anywhere else in the country. Shanghai is also a shopping, dining, and urban center for those who love or are craving city life. A bus between the 2 cities is about 100 Yuan each way per person, taking about 1.5 hours. Alternatively, a fast train between Shanghai and Hangzhou is about 80 Yuan each way per person, taking about 1 hour in total for the journey.
China Grand Canal & Ferry Ride: The Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal is the longest canal in the world, even more so than the Suez or Panama. Even if you cannot walk to Beijing, a stroll along the canal in Hangzhou will yield fascinating glimpses into various aspects of life in Hangzhou such as river dwelling culture, unique restaurants, and historic sites such as old bridges and relics. If you fancy a short ferry ride of about 30 minutes, take one of 5 daily departures starting from Wulin Gate/West Lake Culture Plaza. The cost is just 3 Yuan!
Wushan Lu Night Market: At night, this part of Hangzhou comes alive. The Wushan Lu night market is open daily where you can find specialties, curiously, such as scissors, tea, silk, and fans. There is also an incredibly wide array of clothing, souvenirs, and toys such as Chairman Mao Zedong memorabilia, jewelry, electronic gadgets, handicrafts, and more. Pirated and counterfeit goods can also be found for a good price. Bargaining is key if you are to purchase anything. Also, watch your belongings as pickpocketing is common.
Silk: This has long been and is still one of China’s more impressive and popular items and exports. Visit Xinhua Road and Jiankang Road if you are interested in purchasing some real silk items. On these 2 streets, you will find silk products based on wholesale and retail value.
Lingyin Temple: Found in the northwest of West Lake, Linyin Temple is one of the 3 most famous and certainly is the oldest in Hangzhou. It is more than 1,700 years old! The entrance fee is 45 Yuan per person. On any given day, you will see many worshippers coming to give praise and respect to Buddha. In front of Linyin Temple is Flying Peak which is a famous Buddhist grotto site; entrance is 30 Yuan. Chairlifts are also available to where this temple sits on a hill; this delight is an additional 40 Yuan per person for the roundtrip journey. The views of West Lake and its surroundings from the lift are spectacular. 2 hours is recommended for visiting this area.
Liuhe Pagoda (Six Harmonious Pagoda): Resting on Yuelun Hill looming over the Qiantang River, this pagoda was constructed in the North Song Dynasty (960-1127). The views of the river are wonderful. Entrance is 20 Yuan per person, with an additional 10 Yuan per person for those who wish to ascend to the top via lift.
As with anywhere else in China, street food and smaller local restaurants are the way to go if you want a delicious but cheap meal. Even if you are in main areas such as some principal plazas or the West Lake for example, it is easy to duck into a smaller street or alleyway a few blocks away for some traditional and local fare. Sanitation and hygiene should always be considered, however, so choose wisely. Dumplings, rice, and noodle dishes tend to be the cheapest, somewhere between 6 to 20 Yuan per dish.