HANGZHOU, capital of Zhejiang province and southern terminus of the Grand Canal is one of China's most established tourist attractions. The canal has been the instrument of the city's prosperity, ensuring it was a place of great wealth and culture for more than a thousand years. The modern city is not of much interest in itself, but Xi Hu – the lake around which Hangzhou curls – and its shores still offer wonderful Chinese vistas of trees, hills, flowers, old causeways over the lake, fishing boats, pavilions and pagodas. No tour of China would be complete without appreciating the lake's stunning natural beauty and its subsequent impact on the evolution of Chinese literature and culture.
Within the lake are various islands and causeways, while the shores are home to endless parks holding Hangzhou's most famous individual sights, ranging from the extravagant and historic Yuefei Mu (Tomb of Yuefei) to the ancient hillside Buddhist carvings of Feilai Feng and its associated temple, the Lingyin Si, one of China's largest and most renowned. Farther afield, beautiful tea plantations nestle around the village of Longjing.
With most of Hangzhou's sights located on or near the lakeshore, the ideal way to get between them is by bike. It's also possible to walk round the lake's entire circumference in one day, but you wouldn't have time to do justice to all the sights en route. The city is particularly busy at weekends and in summer, when it's packed with trippers escaping from the concrete jungle of Shanghai. This has pushed up hotel prices, but it also brings advantages: there are plenty of restaurants, the natural environment is being protected and the bulk of the Taiping destruction to the temples and gardens on the lakeside has been repaired.