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West Lake has been central to tourism in Hangzhou for centuries. Marco Polo visited 700 years ago, and today’s tourists retrace his steps around this beautiful, manmade body of water. Many of the people booking accommodation in West Lake District arrive directly from Shanghai, whether they’re residents on a weekend trip or international tourists on their first venture onto Mainland China.

The ‘Ten Scenes of West Lake’ were collected in the days of the Southern Song Dynasty, and each is marked so that visitors can enjoy them. Many of these require coming at a set time, like ‘Lei Feng Pagoda in evening glow’ or ‘Melting snow at broken bridge’. The tourism bureau recently added ten more of their own, so today’s visitors can also ‘Enjoy tea at Dragon Well Village’ or view the ‘Sunny and rainy lakeside’ or the ‘Precious stone hill floating in Rosy Cloud’. The last one is a reference to a particular hillside at sunset where the boulders seem ready to lift off.

Other sites around the include Yellow Dragon Cave where Song-Dynasty Chinese would pray for rain, and the 4th-century Ling Yin Temple. The latter is one of China’s oldest temples and has been rebuilt more than 15 times. South of the lake is Xihu Tian Di, an attractively landscaped cultural center added a few years ago.

Wushan Square has a pagoda overlooking the lake, with walking trails that explore the hillside. Farther east is He Fang Street, a lively pedestrian area with merchants selling souvenirs and snacks. After sunset, the action shifts to Nanshan Road, with its late-night bars and pubs. Several hotels in West Lake District are close enough to Nanshan Road for tourists to safely walk home after dark.