The host city of the 2022 Asian Games is a mixture of the old and new, with memories of its ancient past combining with a high-tech modern society. It boasts a distinct culture, famous sights and welcoming people.

Where is Hangzhou?

Located close to the Pacific Ocean in Eastern China, Hangzhou is the capital of Zhejiang Province. 

It is the fourth largest metropolitan area in the country and is home to a population of more than 13 million people.

The population of the city itself is around nine million.

Hangzhou is around 100 miles from Shanghai and sits on the Qiantang River, which stretches for 285 miles and enters the Pacific in Hangzhou Bay.

It sits at the southern end of the Grand Canal, the largest canal in the world which runs for more than 1,100 miles to Beijing.

Summers in Hangzhou are hot and humid, while winters are cool and dry.

Temperatures can rise to more than 33 degrees centigrade in July and drop to around eight degrees in January.

Hangzhou is situated to the east of China, close to Shanghai and the Pacific Ocean ©Google Maps
Hangzhou is situated to the east of China, close to Shanghai and the Pacific Ocean ©Google Maps

The city is served by Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport which is just nine miles from the city centre.

Flights depart for cities such as Tokyo, Seoul, Osaka, Singapore, Madrid, Amsterdam and Doha, as well as more than 50 Chinese cities.

Thirty cities in China have direct rail services to Hangzhou, while there is also a long-distance bus station.

Sister cities of Hangzhou around the world include Boston in the United States, Leeds in England, Nice in France, Cape Town in South Africa, Budapest in Hungary and Canberra in Australia.

In 2016, Hangzhou hosted the G20 Summit.

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The Ancient Capital

Hangzhou is one of China's ancient capitals, with the city previously known as both Hangchew and Hangchow before taking its current name in the year 589.

From 907 it was the capital of Wuyue, a coastal Kingdom which lasted until 960. 

In 1127, Hangzhou became the capital of the Southern Song Dynasty, an era which stretched for more than 150 years. 

During this period the city flourished and became a key 12th and 13th century centre for trade and the arts.

A number of scholars, artists and poets came to live in Hangzhou during this time.

Hangzhou is one of China's ancient capitals ©Getty Images
Hangzhou is one of China's ancient capitals ©Getty Images

In 1170, the population was said to number around 450,000 and Hangzhou was believed to be the largest city in the world by 1180.

A huge fire in 1237 destroyed nearly 30,000 buildings, before the region was conquered by the Mongols in 1279.

Hangzhou had initially been founded in the year 200 by the Qin Dynasty.

A city wall was constructed under the Sui Dynasty in 591.

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The Grand Canal

Hangzhou is the southern endpoint of the Grand Canal, which is also known as the Jing–Hang Grand Canal in China.

The canal is the longest in the world, and stretches for 1,104 miles to capital city Beijing in the north.

Major cities connected by the canal include Tianjin, Changzhou, Wuxi and Suzhou, while it travels through Hebei, Shandong, Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces.

It connects five of China's main river basins, including the two longest rivers in China - the Yellow River and the Yangtze River.

It was constructed in various sections from the fifth century BC onwards, with the work described as the "most extensive civil engineering project prior to the industrial revolution".

The canal was then rebuilt by the Sui dynasty and was connected to Hangzhou by the year 610.

More than 3.1 million slaves and criminals were reportedly forced by Emperor Yang to build the canal, with 2.5 million dying due to disease and overwork.

The Grand Canal reaches its southern terminus in Hangzhou ©Getty Images
The Grand Canal reaches its southern terminus in Hangzhou ©Getty Images

The canal became a vital part of China's communication network and economy, being used to transport grain, rice and other materials from north to south and vice versa.

It is sometimes called "The Emperor's Canal" due to its strategic importance to China's leaders.

Others have described it as one of two miracles of classical China, along with The Great Wall.

The canal is still in use today and has the status of a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site.

In Hangzhou, the canal is a popular tourist attraction and is blessed with stunning architecture and a beautiful landscape.

Locals and visitors alike often take to the canal on boats.

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West Lake

West Lake is the most famous site in Hangzhou and is known for its outstanding natural beauty.

Like the Grand Canal, it is a UNESCO Heritage Site.

The freshwater lake was described by the Sui Dynasty as "a paradise on water or water in paradise".

It has a circumference of 15 kilometres and is located in the centre of Hangzhou.

A number of pagodas, temples and gardens are situated around the lake, which is one of China's most well-known tourist attractions.

It has inspired emperors, poets and artists for centuries who have been left captivated by its "beauty and divine charisma".

Four islands are located within the lake, with three of these artificial.

It is divided into five different sections, by three different causeways, and it takes about five hours to walk around.

Major attractions are Leifeng Pagoda, an octagonal pagoda with five storeys, and the zig-zag shaped Long Nine Turns Bridge.

West Lake in Hangzhou is known for its beauty ©Getty Images
West Lake in Hangzhou is known for its beauty ©Getty Images

Wu Hill features a seven-floor high tower where there are tremendous views of the lake, while Solitary Hill is a volcano island which at least three emperors have built palaces on. 

Ten different sights are described as "must sees" when visiting West Lake.

This includes "Three Pools Mirroring the Moon", "Lotus in the Breeze at the Winding Courtyard", "Spring Dawn on the Su Causeway", "Autumn Moon over a Calm Lake", "Listening Orioles Singing in the Willows", "View Fish in the Flower Harbour", "Evening Sunshine over Leifeng Pagoda", "Evening Bells at the Nanping Mountain", "Twin Peaks Piercing the Clouds" and "Melting Snow on Broken Bridge".

In 1089, a long dike across West Lake was constructed by Su Shi, to help farmers battling against drought.

At the Hangzhou 2022 Asian Games, golf will be played at the West Lake International Golf Course.

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Marco Polo

Famed Venetian explorer and writer Marco Polo was fascinated by Hangzhou during his travels in Asia, and now has a permanent link to the city.

He visited many times during the Yuan Dynasty, which lasted between 1271 and 1368, and was instantly won over.

Polo described the city as "beyond dispute the finest and the noblest in the world", and also "the most magnificent and beautiful in the world" and the "city of heaven".

"The number and wealth of the merchants, and the amount of goods that passed through their hands, was so enormous that no man could form a just estimate thereof," he said.

Polo was one of the first westerners to visit Hangzhou and has been honoured with a statue in the city, which stands near West Lake.

Famed Venetian traveller Marco Polo was left captivated by Hangzhou ©Getty Images
Famed Venetian traveller Marco Polo was left captivated by Hangzhou ©Getty Images

He was fascinated by Chinese culture and the technological advances of the time, but few back in Europe at first believed what he reported.

His book Il Milione described his journeys.

International traveller Leif Almö followed in Polo's footsteps and also agreed that Hangzhou was a place of great beauty.

He wrote the lyrics to a song called "Hangzhou" as a tribute to the city.

It is sung in English and has been adopted by the Visit Hangzhou website where it is available to listen for free.

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The home of silk

Hangzhou is a huge centre for silk and has produced the luxury material for centuries. 

It is said that you can buy silk on every street corner in the city.

A sign when you leave the railway station says "Travel all the way to Hangzhou, half for the West Lake, half for the silk".

By 1368, Hangzhou was said to be the centre of the silk industry in China and it was imported to other countries using the Silk Road.

Marco Polo's visits to the city are also said to have helped westerners discover silk from the country, which has been appreciated ever since.

In China, silk from Hangzhou is described as "colourful clouds in the sky".

It is famous for its soft texture, shiny colours and "fine smooth feel".

A foreign visitor admiring the silk made in a factory in Hangzhou in 1975 ©Getty Images
A foreign visitor admiring the silk made in a factory in Hangzhou in 1975 ©Getty Images

Silkworm farming still takes place in Hangzhou, with Hangzhou Silk Town the largest silk market in China.

This contains more than 600 shops which sell a wide variety of clothes and other crafts.

China National Silk Museum is also located in Hangzhou, and is the largest museum of its type in the world.

Situated at West Lake, the museum's shop has the largest collection of silk in the city and sells it by the metre.

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The Green Queen of tea

Hangzhou is famous for Longjing tea, which is an important part of the city's economy and culture.

The green tea is more than 1,200 years old and is known as dragon well tea or the "green queen".

It is regarded as one of the most famous teas in China and is currently grown on plantations surrounding West Lake.

Also known as "golden card", the tea has a strong fragrance and a sweet flavour.

Tourists today can visit Longjing Village, which is close to Hangzhou's city centre, or sip Longjing in various tea houses.

The tea is still largely made by hand and is known as one of the "China Famous Teas" - a title only given to the very best products.

Hangzhou is famous for Longjing tea, which is regarded as one of the best in China ©Getty Images
Hangzhou is famous for Longjing tea, which is regarded as one of the best in China ©Getty Images

Fertile soil, pure water and the climate are said to provide perfect conditions for the tea to be grown.

Longjing is named after the village of the same name, which also means "dragon well".

According to legend, this was named after water in a well which twisted like a dragon when it rained heavily.

The very best samples of Longjing are said to be worth more than gold.

The China National Tea Museum is also located in Hangzhou, and features its own plantation.

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People, cuisine and culture

The people in Hangzhou speak with their own distinct dialect, which is a member of the Wu Chinese language family.

Traditional Mandarin is also widely spoken.

As a city which is surrounded by water, with the Pacific Ocean to the east and West Lake and the river to the west, seafood is popular.

River fishes are regularly eaten, as well as prawns stir-fried in Longjing tea which are famously served at Lou Wai Lou restaurant.

In general, Hangzhou cuisine is said to be more sweet rather than savoury. 

A popular dish is Dongpo pork - belly pork served in a thick gravy.

The China Academy of Art was founded in Hangzhou in 1928, and the city still boasts three of its four campuses.

Opera is popular and is performed in many theatres in the city.

Major festivals which take place in Hangzhou include the Mid Autumn Festival, where people observe a full moon and eat "moon cakes" - also called "reunion cakes".

Hangzhou has a distinct culture and hosts various festivals ©Getty Images
Hangzhou has a distinct culture and hosts various festivals ©Getty Images

This is due to the full moon being a symbol of families reuniting. 

A dragon boat racing festival is also held at Jiang village, where traditional races take place on the river.

Another major gathering is the Hangzhou Chaoshan Plum Blossom Festival.

Quyuan Garden features 200 different species of lotus flowers, while Zhejiang Library houses a collection of nearly 80,000 books which is considered to be a treasure of the Chinese people.

A popular destination is Song Dynasty Village, which transports visitors back to the Southern Song Dynasty which was in place between 1127 and 1279.

People are dressed in costumes from the time, while there are historical performances and demonstrations by acrobats.

The Village also has an indoor theatre with 3,000 seats where "spectacular" shows take place.

Yu Fei, an acclaimed warrior during the Southern Song Dynasty, is honoured with a tomb and shrine at the foot of Qixia Hill.

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A city of cyclists

Hangzhou is a city of cyclists and is home to the first public bicycle project in China.

The scheme, called Hangzhou Public Bicycle, owns more than 116,000 bikes and riding is free for the first hour.

As of December 2021, there were more than 5,100 bike points in Hangzhou, and the maximum daily rental figure was 473,000.

The cumulative rental figure was above 1.17 billion and the free use rate was above 96 per cent.

Hangzhou was named as one of the eight best cities in the world for a public bicycle service by the BBC Travel Channel.

The system works using smartcards and a smartphone app.

Hundreds of thousands of people cycle in Hangzhou every day ©Getty Images
Hundreds of thousands of people cycle in Hangzhou every day ©Getty Images

Due to the popularity of the scheme, riders often found that the bike points were full when trying to return their cycle.

To help combat this, the city introduced smart lock technology in 2018 which allows users to park bikes in dedicated areas next to the docks if space is unavailable.

West Lake is considered as one of the best cycling spots in China.

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Alibaba, the internet city and a cashless society

Alibaba Group, a huge mega-company with interests in areas including the internet, retail and technology, was founded by Jack Ma in Hangzhou in 1999.

The organisation is now a worldwide partner of the International Olympic Committee and it still has headquarters in the city.

Alibaba's mobile app for payments, Alipay, is a key part of Hangzhou life.

People in Hangzhou rarely use cash and it has been described as a "cashless city".

The majority of transactions take place using Alipay, with all of the buses and most of the supermarkets, taxis and restaurants accepting it.

According to China Highlights, Hangzhou became the largest "mobile payment city" in the world.

Cash, however, can still be used by visitors and tourists.

Major Chinese company Alibaba was founded and has its headquarters in Hangzhou ©Getty Images
Major Chinese company Alibaba was founded and has its headquarters in Hangzhou ©Getty Images

Hangzhou has become a technological hub with key industries including IT, in particular areas such as e-commerce, cloud-computing and digital security.

It has been described as an "internet city" with the slogan for the Asian Games - Heart to Heart, @Future - referencing this by including the @ symbol.

Forbes has rated Hangzhou as the best commercial city in mainland China.

According to the Hurun Global Rich List 2021, the city ranks eighth in the world for the most billionaires living there, with 66.

Hangzhou is also considered as a major centre for scientific research.

Major universities include Zhejiang University, a top 100 comprehensive public research university in the world, as well as Zhejiang University of Technology, Hangzhou Normal University, Hangzhou Dianzi University, Zhejiang A&F University, Zhejiang Sci-Tech University and China Jiliang University.

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Sporting events and Olympic champions

Hangzhou has been a host of major sporting events and is the home city of many Olympic gold medallists.

In 2018, the city staged the World Short Course Swimming Championships.

Matches during the 2007 FIFA Women's World Cup were also played there.

Swimming has been a successful sport for the city, with three-time Olympic gold medallist Sun Yang among those to be born there.

Ye Shiwen, who won two golds at London 2012, and Luo Xuejuan, a champion at Athens 2004, are other swimmers from the city to top an Olympic podium.

Hangzhou's Chen Yufei won Olympic gold in women's badminton at Tokyo 2020 ©Getty Images
Hangzhou's Chen Yufei won Olympic gold in women's badminton at Tokyo 2020 ©Getty Images

Badminton player Chen Yufei, the women's singles champion at Tokyo 2020, is from Hangzhou.

Gymnast Lou Yun, who won the vault gold at both Los Angeles 1984 and Seoul 1988, and LA shooting champion Wu Xiaoxuan, are other champions from the city.

Li Zhangyu, a four-time Paralympic cycling champion, is also among the city's sporting stars.