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How to Experience Local Life in Hangzhou

Last updated by meimeili at 2013/12/24; Destinations: Hangzhou

On your journey throughout China, surely you will have done some things that are quire touristy. That is, visited places or done things that are mostly traveler-based. But what if you really want to get down to the nitty gritty of it and really experience what daily life is like for the millions of people who call the destination their home? Here are our tips for living like a local in Hangzhou!


Although Mandarin Chinese remains the dominant language in Hangzhou as it is throughout China as a whole, the citizens of this city tend to speak a Wu dialect. This dialect is distinct from others found in the southern Zhjiang and southern Jiangsu Provinces. If you want to pick up some of these slang words and styles of speaking, there is no better way to learn than to converse with a local!

General Etiquette

When meeting a friend or acquaintance for dinner, it is customary to shake hands without making strong eye contact. Strong eye contact is reserved for people you know well such as a close friend or family member. Be sure not to criticize things you might not particularly like since the people place importance on maintaining face and honor. Negative comments may be perceived as rude insults. As well, do not lose your temper as that is another example of losing face. The people of Hangzhou are known as some of the most happy and carefree people in China, who love life and place an high importance on enjoying the pleasures of life.


Etiquette: Firstly, it is considered rude to arrive late so be sure to arrive on time to your host’s home or restaurant. Do remove your shoes when entering a private residence. A small gift such as fruits or snacks is always appreciated. Begin your meal only after the host has made the first move, and always transfer the food from the communal plates in the center of the table with the serving utensils provided (not with your own pair of chopsticks).

Chopsticks will be your only tool for eating, and when you wish to take a rest from eating, place the pair on the provided rests or across the top of your bowl. Keep your hands above the table at all times rather than relaxing them to your side even if you are taking a break; with that said, it is strange to put down your chopsticks unless you are essentially completely done eating. Finally, aim to try at least a small bite of every dish available to show that you appreciate the effort of the meal, and do not leave any food in your bowl at the end as that is considered extremely wasteful.

Drinking: Tea, particularly longjing green tea, is a very prominent part of the drinking profile of Hangzhou residents. Xi Hu Long Jing tea is considered the premier version of longjing tea. With that said, bars where mainly alcohol is served is not much of a staple in the Hangzhou social and culinary scene. Teahouses are where you will find most of the action. The prices can vary depending on the category of teahouse you visit and the tea you select to indulge in, with some servings costing as much as 60 Yuan each and higher. Often, small snacks such as fruits will be provided to accompany your tea.

It is highly recommended to try one of the teahouses located on the perimeters of West Lake so you can enjoy your drink in the company of incredible panoramas and atmosphere. Your waitress will come by and refill hot water into your pitcher, meaning a tea excursion is meant to be a leisurely and reflective experience perfect for lingering and relaxing. Still, there is a growing population of young people who love to frequent the city’s fine alcohol bars. Nanshan Road Bar Street is the epicenter of this trend, where friends and couples like to get together.


The food created in Hangzhou is considered one of the 8 main cuisine and regional styles in China. There is a particular emphasis on freshness in the meats and vegetables. Freshness is even more important when it involve seafood such as fish and prawns. Some dishes you should try are West Lake vinegar fish, Dongpo pork, Longjing shrimp, beggar’s chicken, steamed rice and pork wrapped in lotus leaves, braised bamboo shoots, and sister song’s fish soup. Another favorite is something called stinky tofu; indeed, you can smell it being prepared a mile away! However, the stinky tofu is beloved for its rich taste, especially accompanied with hot sauce. In general, it seems that most people either love it or hate it! Dining in Hangzhou, you can either choose to enjoy in a nice restaurant, or test your tongue at the countless street and garden stalls. Breakfast is a very busy time and you will see citizens grabbing something delicious to eat while on their way to school or work; many of these stalls then disappear by the time noon rolls around. With so much variety to choose from, you can be sure you never have to eat the same thing again if you wish!


Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal: The canal is the longest in the world and links Hangzhou with the north where the capital lies. It remains a very important track for trade and transportation. During the day, a visit to the Grand Canal is interesting for the many settlements that thrive off canal life. The views are also very beautiful. However, at night, the locals really come out to enjoy the scene. It is lit up with golden lights on the land side as well as twinkling lights from the yachts that dot the river. After dinnertime, you will often find the local people singing and dancing as they did dating all the way back to the Song Dynasty more than 900 years ago. This is a custom that has not died with time. Walking along the paths alongside the canal, you can reach Wu Lin Square. The springtime makes for an especially stunning visit because this is when the jasmine blossoms bloom.

West Lake: There is a saying that the life of a Hangzhou resident can be seen 3 ways: it faces the West Lake, it faces themselves, and it faces their family. The West Lake has been a staple element in the landscape and culture of Hangzhou for as long as the two have existed. The lake remains an enormous pride of the city and its people, with its significance cemented by its status as a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site. As well, due to its free entrance, you will always find people, families, and couples enjoying the views and tranquility the lake has to offer any time of the year. The West Lake can be said to be even more beautiful at night due to the calm and romantic nighttime atmosphere. You can also venture to the nearby Hubin Road to grab a nice meal or snack. After a visit to West Lake, it is common to visit a friend’s home to play a few games of mahjong, a very traditional Chinese blocks game.

Biking: Hangzhou is a great place to bike! Not only are there designated bike lanes on almost all principal roads, the city also has a public bike rental system. It is free for the first hour, 2 Yuan per hour for the next 2 hours, then 3 Yuan for any hour after that. There are stations well strewn throughout Hangzhou where you can check out and return your bicycle. Signing up for the program, you must present a transit card, form of ID, and a 300 Yuan deposit which will be used to deduct any rental fees. Not only is biking around the city a more intimate way of seeing the city for visitors, it is also the way that locals can more easily get around without having to wait for the progress of vehicular traffic.

Exercise: Because of the richness of nature in and around Hangzhou, exercise and outdoor excursions has become a major part of local life. Activities that better personal health are very popular, such as hiking, climbing, swimming, shadowboxing, and something known as fan dancing. Fan dancing is a typical and traditional morning exercise where a fan is used to guide graceful movements in a dance style. This kind of dancing can also be seen as part of classical demonstrations and performances including ancient costume dramas. You will often see especially older people in public parks in the morning, practicing such dance or other forms of peaceful and calm exercise. Beyond this, the locals of Hangzhou love nature itself, so do not pollute your surroundings.