8 Things to Do With Kids in Hangzhou
With beautiful sights, delicious cuisine and plenty of fun activities for the kids, Hangzhou is the ideal getaway for a relaxing family vacation.
Hangzhou’s stunning West Lake, or Xi Hu, has inspired poets, leaders and heroes whose names have been passed down in stories for generations. The city is also a destination for romance, and the setting of one of China’s greatest love stories. As the ancients once said, “In the universe, there is heaven; on earth, there is Hangzhou.”
My family and I ensconced ourselves for four days at the breathtakingly beautiful Four Seasons Hotel Hangzhou at West Lake. This sprawling property is created in traditional Chinese style, with windows framed in dark wood, snaking passageways, curving eaves and countless indoor courtyards enclosing picturesque Chinese gardens. But it is also filled with all of the modern accommodations you would want: huge rooms from 645 square feet (60 square metres), WiFi, two pools (one indoor, one outdoor) and an extravagant, chinoiserie-filled Spa.
With so many things to do in Hangzhou, it can be hard to choose. Here are a few kid-friendly activities to do while visiting this beautiful city.
Head to the parks
The Hotel is just a five-minute walk from the beautiful parks around the man-made West Lake, which has been landscaped and manicured to perfection since its creation in the eighth century. Wander over to the many lakeside parks with meandering walkways, pavilions, half-moon bridges and tranquil willows, and watch the elderly folk doing tai chi or just sip tea at a nearby café. Within the area is Zhongshan Park—once the holiday home of Emperor Qianlong—and Quyuan Gardens, a collection of gardens spread over several islets. You can also take advantage of bicycles from the Hotel and pedal your way around the lake.
Walk the Su and Bai Causeways
No visit to West Lake is complete without walking the famous Su and Bai Causeways, spanning a few miles each. Named after two former governors Su Dongpo and Bai Juyi, both famous poets in Chinese literature, the causeways are landscaped with plum and cherry trees, bounded on both sides by the lake. Take an early morning stroll, ride on the electric tourist shuttle or jump on a row boat for a personal ride around the lake. Look for the stone carvings of verses left by Emperor Qianlong, expounding the ten beautiful sights of Hangzhou. To avoid a larger crowd, try to time your visit on a weekday.
Witness a breath-taking performance
Even if the weather is cold, wrap up and catch Impression West Lake, a superb performance of the story of Madam White Snake, directed by famous Chinese director Zang Yimou with music by Kitaro. Hundreds of dancers swirl onto a stage built just below the surface of the water, with West Lake as the backdrop and dramatic lighting and hydraulics to make for a must-see show.
The show is a five-minute walk from the Hotel, where you can get tickets from the Concierge—be sure to ask for seats on the water platform, which puts you closest to the stage.
Go back in time
If your kids want to know how it felt to live in ancient China, stroll down to Qinghefang Old Street, a historical stretch of ancient shop buildings and old stores. The 400-year-old Zhang Xiaoquan Scissors shop sells beautifully engraved kitchen knives, and Hangzhou Wangxingji Fans offers a large array of traditional Chinese fans ranging from silk to paper and feathers. There’s plenty of activity going on to interest children, too: the rhythmic pounding of mochi with huge hammers, maltose lollipops shaped into the form of animals and sugar figurines molded by an old master.
Visit Old Hu’s mansion
To learn more about ancient China, head to Hu Xueyan’s mansion. Not well known to international tourists, this is the former residence of one of China’s most wealthy businessmen in the Qing Dynasty. Kids can marvel at the fascinating courtyard house with its coloured glass and elaborately carved eaves, peek at rooms which seem to have been frozen in time, and explore the artificial cave system built into rockery with tunnels, nooks and corners—all for their entertainment. See the various pavilions Hu Xueyan built to house his 19 wives, then walk up to his bedroom, which overlooks it all. Keep a look out for an entry to the basement, where the master kept all of his gold and treasures.
Take a boat ride at Xixi Wetlands
If it’s sunny outside, head to the newly opened Xixi Wetlands, about 15 minutes from West Lake. This nature reserve is a glorious expanse of pretty waterways and shady ponds, hiding old fishing villages and fields. Take a boat ride along the maze-like canals into the old village, now converted into a museum. Walk down quiet lanes, see an old rural kitchen and tour an exhibition of silk production. Then wander through fields of reeds to see abandoned fishing boats.
Relax at the Hotel
While exploring Hangzhou, we made time to enjoy the various amenities offered at the Hotel. Though it was too cold to try the outdoor swimming pool, the indoor pool was fabulously grand and warm, with high ceilings and arching pillars. We alternated between taking a dip, relaxing by the cushioned loungers and popping into the beautiful, cavernous steam rooms.
Don’t miss the opportunity to indulge at the Spa. Designed by Bill Bensley, this spa is extravagantly opulent and sensuous. Each treatment room is huge, with its own shower room and separate changing room. In all of this lavish luxury, it was a treat to lie down for a massage.
Sample local fare
While perusing the city, we were keen to try the local cuisine at the Hotel’s Jin Sha restaurant. Overlooking a landscaped pond with décor that hints of old jazzy Shanghai, the restaurant boasts 11 stunning private rooms. Over an afternoon, we tucked into local favorites such as the famous Dongpo pork, crisp spring onion pancake, steamed pork dumplings with crab meat, crab claw with sturgeon caviar and chilled, stewed pear with wild rice pearls.