Famous for its natural scenery, Hangzhou and its West Lake have been immortalized by countless poets and artists. Marco Polo is said to have passed Hangzhou, calling it "beyond dispute the finest and the noblest in the world". With a population of over 9 million, it is the capital of Zhejiang province and the local political, economic and cultural center. Situated at the southern end of the Grand Canal, Hangzhou thrived during the Ming and Qing dynasties, becoming the home of many wealthy merchants and artistic patrons. Some of the elaborate residences they built still stand today.
These wealthy, cultured elites helped create Hangzhou’s famously refined cuisine. Hangzhou cuisine is characterized by freshness, light sweetness, and complicated technique, and often incorporates ingredients from West Lake and the many other bodies of water surrounding the city. Many dishes incorporate Hangzhou’s other most famous export: tea.
In close proximity to Shanghai, Hangzhou can be reached in about 2-3 hours by road, or one hour by train. While it can be done as a day trip, at least one night is recommended in order to relax and take in all the sights.