The Grand Canal is one of China’s biggest and best accomplishments, and Hangzhou has become one of the best places to see it. Explore China’s history as you see the historic buildings and structures which line its path. Experience modern China as you witness the barges which make their way down the waterway, day and night.
Surrounded by a buzzing urban city, packed with things to do and see, the Grand Canal Hangzhou has become an important part of the city’s tourism infrastructure and should be on your itinerary.
Interesting Facts About The Grand Canal
- The Grand Canal is often considered one of the world’s most impressive construction projects, along with the Great Wall of China.
-The Grand Canal Stretches over 1,100 miles from Beijing to Hangzhou and also connects two of the most important natural rivers in China: The Yellow River and the Yangtze River.
-The Grand Canal was originally built over 2000 years ago, in order to easily send food from the southern farmlands to the north where the capital was located.
-At one point, over 45,000 laborers were needed to make sure that the canal stayed in tip-top condition during the Ming Dynasty.
-The famous Pound Lock, used all around the world, was actually created during the Song Dynasty for use with this Canal, as a means of making sure that the water level could be raised and lowered.
History Of The Grand Canal
The first mention of a canal being built in to connect the Eastern coast of China was sometime during the Spring an Autumn Period in China (between 722–481 BC). It was conceived of as an easier way for the king of the state of Wu to travel through the country and to transport goods. In 486 BC, construction started. Within what is believed to be 3 years, several waterways had been created in order to connect the large waterways of the Yangtze with the Huai River.
In and around Hangzhou, many of the modern-day canal ways were originally put in place by the Sui Dynasty. It’s believed that over 5 million laborers contributed to the construction of these waterways, which were completed in 605 BC. Throughout the many dynasties which followed, the Grand Canal was gradually expanded upon and reinforced so as to look and function better. During the rule of the Southern Song Dynasty, Linan (located very close to Hangzhou) was designated as China’s capital. This period saw the canal becoming increasingly important as a shipping lane until the Yuan Dynasty took over.
Today, the Grand Canal is a fixture in Hangzhou and irreplaceable. It weaves throughout the city, being an important place for locals to walk along and spend their recreational time. Small parks and walkways have formed along its edges, belonging to each of the communities which live there. Following the canal, it is possible to make your way to each of Hangzhou’s most important locations with ease. With a mixture of old, traditional buildings, and newer, imposing structures, a trip along the canal opens you up to the best of China’s past, and its present.
Culture of the Grand Canal
West Lake Cultural Center: Very possibly the cultural hub of Hangzhou, the West Lake Cultural Center is centrally located and has pretty much anything a visitor to Hangzhou could possibly want. You’ll find places to eat, a shopping center, museums, aerial views, and more.
Qiaoxizhi Historic Street Block: An historic and tourist area, where you’ll be able to sample traditional Hangzhou delicacies and buy a couple of souvenirs for when you return home. The Qiaoxizhi Historic Street Block is a great place to visit if you’re looking for that ‘ancient’ China you’ve seen and heard about on postcards.
Gongchen Bridge: Located along the canal, this bridge is only accessible to pedestrians and cyclists – meaning you won’t have to worry about any automotive traffic. The bridge offers a great view down the canal from either side, with sunset affording some particularly great sights.
Just Go for a Stroll: One of the best things about the canal is that each section of the canal is home to a life of its own. No matter where you go, you’ll be able to see locals engaging in something unique. From square dancing to normal dancing (and everything in between), to the older generation sitting around playing cards, the Grand Canal seems to breathe life into those who rotate around it. This makes it a perfect place for taking pictures and soaking up the culture.
Take a Cruise Along the Grand Canal: There are several options if you want to take a cruise along the river. You can either go with a more expensive and dedicated tour operator, or take the water taxi. This water taxi is much cheaper and sets of from multiple places around the city. If you do decide to go with the water taxi, it’s best to start at the West Lake Cultural Center, as it serves as a kind of ‘hub’ for the network. You can also visit Xixi Wetlands from here.
Tips for Visiting the Grand Canal
-Make sure to bring sun cream and lots of water during the summer. The area around the canal is very humid and it’s easy to get sunburnt if you’re not careful. You’ll notice lots of locals using sun umbrellas. There is a reason for this.
-Dedicate some time to just walking along the canal edges. The closer to the city center, the better. You’ll find yourself in a genuine and intriguing China – one you won’t see otherwise.
-The Grand Canal in Hangzhou has recently had a lot of work done to it. There are now several statues and attractions (including mist machines) which dot the edges of the canal. See if you can spot any of them.
-The Grand Canal is amazing at night. It is very heavily lit by several lighting designs, which give it an almost magical air. Make sure to walk along its banks at night time – at least once. However, do this nearer to the city center where it’s safe.