Having sampled the highlights of Shanghai in just two days, make your third and final day a little different by skipping out of town and heading for nearby Hangzhou, once described by Marco Polo as "the finest, most splendid city in the world." Unless you're traveling by private car, we recommend taking the train down to Hangzhou the night before for a more relaxed visit the next day (though it is possible to take an early train in the morning as well). We haven't packed too much in this suggested itinerary because Hangzhou's famed West Lake (Xi Hu) is best appreciated at a leisurely pace. Alternatively, you can also visit Suzhou, or any of the water villages of the Yangzi River delta on your third day. The itinerary below takes in the highlights of Hangzhou.
Start: Ling Yin Si (Temple of the Soul's Retreat) by taxi, or bus no. K7 or Y1.
1. Ling Yin Si (Temple of the Soul's Retreat)
Hangzhou's most famous temple complex gets impossibly crowded, so it's wise to start off here first thing in the morning. The highlight here is the Buddhist rock carvings of Feilai Feng (Peak That Flew from Afar), dating back more than 600 years. Afterwards, head for the large main temple to see the giant gilded Buddha.
If you are a tea connoisseur, you can follow the main path of Feilai Feng past Yongfu Temple and onto the grounds of Amanfayun, a hotel now occupying what was once Fayun Cun, a village of tea farmers. Here along the Fayun Pathway is the Tea House where you can sip, purchase, and learn all about tea from the surrounding area. Or you can take a cab to the Chinese Tea Museum (Zhongguo Chaye Bowuguan) or directly to Longjing Village if you are interested in purchasing tea directly from the villagers. You should speak some Mandarin or have someone with you who does. Whatever you do, avoid the tourist trap at the Dragon Well Tea Park (Longjing Wencha).
Otherwise, take a cab or bus no. K7 or Y1 from Ling Yin Si to the Shangri-La Hotel. Across the street is Hangzhou's most famous sight:
2. Xi Hu (West Lake)
Despite modernization at the eastern lakeshore and attempts to enlarge the lake in the west by dredging another causeway, Hangzhou's most famous lake has managed for the most part to retain its tranquillity and loveliness, much of which can be best appreciated by strolling the lake. For now, take a lake cruise on one of the large passenger ferries, which also stops at Xiao Ying Zhou (Island of Small Seas) in the middle of the lake. On your return, you can wander along Gushan Dao (Solitary Island), which is home to a pretty park, the Zhejiang Provincial Museum, and Hangzhou's famous restaurant, Lou Wai Lou.
3. Lou Wai Lou Lunch
Lou Wai Lou, a Hangzhou institution, is the spot for lunch, even if it's the spot for all the tour groups in town as well. Try local specialties such as Beggar's Chicken (jiaohua ji), shrimp with longjing tea leaves (longjing xiaren), and dongpo pork.
4. Lakeshore Promenade
Walk off lunch along the Bai Causeway (Bai Di) in the northern part of the lake. Cross Duan Qiao (Broken Bridge), and take a leisurely stroll to the pedestrian mall of Hubin Lu edging the northeast part of the lake.
Make your way by foot or taxi to the southern end of the lake.
5. Lei Feng Ta (Lei Feng Pagoda)
This rebuilt Buddhist pagoda has some of the best panoramic views of the lake, as well as of the hills and tea plantations of Longjing village to the west, and the modern skyscrapers of downtown Hangzhou to the east.
Take a short taxi ride to:
6. Zhongguo Sichou Bowuguan (China Silk Museum)
This surprisingly comprehensive exhibit of the history and art of silk weaving reminds us that Hangzhou, too, produced its share of silk.
By now, it's almost time to wind down. Hop a cab to:
7. Xi Hu Tiandi
This is Hangzhou's version of Shanghai's Xintiandi, complete with trendy restaurants and bars where you can take a refresher before heading for the railway station to board your evening train back to Shanghai.