Hangzhou (Hángzhōu, 杭州) casts an enchanting spell. Marco Polo marveled that it was "the most beautiful and elegant place in the world" and a popular Chinese saying boasts "above there is heaven, below there is Hangzhou." The serene loveliness of Hangzhou's West Lake and the surrounding hills remain spellbinding and in 2011 earned it a place on the UNESCO World Heritage list, even if realities of modern life—such as massive crowds of camera-happy tourists—occasionally intrude. Millions of tourists visit every year to admire Hangzhou's graceful willows, tranquil waters and expansive gardens. If you can, shoot for a weekday visit to avoid the inevitable weekend crowds.

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