With a history stretching back over 2000 years and incredible charm, beauty and serenity, the West Lake is the most famous attraction in Hangzhou and the most popular lake in China. Su Shi, a famous poet from the Song Dynasty (960-1127) compared the West Lake to Lady Xizi, the most beautiful and alluring woman in ancient China。
History & Facts
West Lake has a history almost as old as Hangzhou itself and the original West Lake formed over 2000 years ago with the sedimentation of the Qiantang River. During China’s famed Tang Dynasty (618-907), the lake was nearly double its current size. Around the middle of the Tang Dynasty, the lake had dried up due to mismanagement so a new dyke and dam system was built, causeways were constructed and the lake extensively developed.
Over the last thousand or so years the West Lake has been a major tourist attraction and cultural drawcard with continuous development and maintenance such as dredging and the creation of islands. The Three Pools Mirroring the Moon is the lake’s largest island and Mid-Lake Pavilion is the oldest island.
West Lake is surrounded on three sides by mountains and hills and has a surface area of around 6 square kilometres. The length or circumference of the West Lake is roughly 15 kilometers, the average water depth is around 0.8 meters and the lake itself can hold up to 14,290,000 cubic meters of water. West Lake is so big it even has its own dry dock for the maintenance and repair of boats.
Many people say you can walk around the West Lake in 4 to 5 hours. Sure, you can but if you want to relax, enjoy the walk and explore the lake properly, you will need a whole day to travel around it.
Enjoying West Lake
Walking around the lake is a delight so put aside at least one day to slowly wander around the lake, relaxing and enjoying the spots that appeal to you. The lake has two causeways (the Yang and the Su cause ways) that you can cross during your walk that provide marvellous views. A large number of Hangzhou’s attractions such as Leifeng Pagoda, Solitary Hill and the Tomb of General Yue Fei are on the lake side and best included in your journey around the lake.
The lake is surrounded by bike rental stations so you can also ride around it. Access to some parts of the lake is prevented by very strict security guards so best to use a combination of riding and walking to enjoy the lake. You can also travel around the lake by boat. The smaller boats with paddlers cost 80RMB for 30 to 40 minutes and tickets in the larger boats normally start at 25RMB per person.
Depending on when you visit Hangzhou, you may be able to see a performance on the lake called the “Impressions of West Lake”. The performance starts at 7:30pm at the northern end of Su Causeway and ticket prices range from 250RMB to over 1000RMB. If you see the performance or just enjoy the lake at night, bring mosquito repellent. The West Lake mosquitoes are voracious and everywhere on the lake.
West Lake is the center of Hangzhou so getting there is easy. Almost every bus goes to the West Lake and taxi rides from the train station and most hotels will only cost the minimum fare.
The 10 Scenes of West Lake
The ten best known West Lake scenic spots are known as the “Ten Scenes of West Lake” and each scene has a 4 character description. To show the beauty of the West Lake, I have included photos (not mine unfortunately) below for each of the scenes and the translated description.
Scene One – Dawn on the Su Causeway in Spring (苏堤春晓)
Scene Two – Curved Yard and Lotus Pool in Summer (曲苑风荷)
Scene Three – Moon over the Peaceful Lake in Autumn (平湖秋月)
Scene Four – Remnant Snow on the Bridge in Winter (断桥残雪)
Scene Five – Leifeng Pagoda in the Sunset (雷峰夕照)
Scene Six – Two Peaks Piercing the Clouds (双峰插云)
Scene Seven – Orioles Singing in the Willows (柳浪闻莺)
Scene Eight – Fish Viewing at the Flower Pond (花港观鱼)
Scene Nine – Three Ponds Mirroring the Moon (三潭映月)
Scene 10 – Evening Bell Ringing at the Nanping Hill (南屏晚钟)