Since ancient times, Hangzhou has been reputed for its production of silk and tea for trade. Here, visitors can find Longjing tea or Dragonwell tea, which is considered one of the best in China, exquisite silk brocades, as well as unique handicrafts and art pieces. Shopping in Hangzhou ranges from a traditional to a modern experience and there are several major shopping areas spread all over the city.
Hefang Street (Hefang Jie 河坊街) is a marketplace where traditional Chinese products such as silk, tea, Chinese medicine, paintings, earthenware teapots called zisha, fans and so on, are sold. Many of the shop houses date back to the Ming (1368-1644 AD) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties so a walk down this historical street will not only bring visitors back to the past, but also offer a taste of cultural shopping.
If you are interested in buying Longjing tea, there are several tea shops at the marketplace such as the West Lake Tea shop. Throughout history, Longjing tea has been well known for its fresh taste and fragrance. Later, it was found to contain vitamin C, amino acids as well as a high concentration of catechins. With such health benefits, the Longjing tea is a favorite among many Chinese, and is one of the treasured teas in China, usually offered to government officials during events or ceremonies. The best leaves are normally in late March and early April, when the leaves are first harvested.
Visitors walking along the street will also be attracted to the local handicrafts such as having clay figurines of your image made in fifteen minutes, zisha or earthenware teapots with ornamental hand cravings and glass bottles with Chinese paintings painted on the inside. Zisha or clay earthenware is widely used in China to brew and serve mostly black tea, Oolong tea and Pu Er tea. Its first use dates back to as early as the Song dynasty. During brewing, the teapot absorbs a tiny amount of tea and prolonged usage of it eventually retains the flavor of the tea. Zisha teapots are also valued in the market for their exquisite handicrafts since it takes years of practice to produce a teapot of fine quality that ensures a smooth control of tea during pouring. The art of painting from the inside of a glass bottles is also another craft that takes patience and time. Visitors will be intrigued by the lovely Chinese paintings of pandas, mountains and flowers painted skillfully on the interior of the glass bottles by artists using delicate, tiny brushes. As such, Hefang Street is a perfect place to buy unique handicrafts as souvenirs.
Hangzhou Silk City at 253 Xinhua Road, near Fengqi road is an ideal place to shop for silk products. There are more than 600 shops carrying a wide range of silk, from fabrics to clothing, bags, shoes, handicrafts and so on. Many of these shops also export to countries worldwide and the market is known for its fine quality and reasonable prices.
According to folklore, silk was discovered by Empress Leizu, wife of the legendary Yellow Emperor or Huangdi. It is not known if the reign of Huangdi really existed but it is said that he ruled from 2697 BC to 2597 BC. As the story goes, Empress Leizu and Huangdi lived during a time when clothes were still made out of animal skins. One day, while taking a walk in her garden, Leizu noticed some silkworms feeding on the leaves of the mulberry trees in the garden and spinning cocoons that seemed to be made up of fine threads. She took one cocoon home and dropped it into a pot of boiling water whereby a fine thread started to unwind from it. Upon closer examination, Leizu realized that she could unwind the thread continuously from the cocoon and decided to collect several more samples. Day and night, she worked and experimented till she succeeded in spinning and weaving garments from it. Realizing that this would provide clothing for the people, Leizu persuaded her husband to grant her a trove of mulberry trees where she could rear silkworms and went on to invent the first silk reel and silk weaving loom. From then on, the people did not have to rely on animal skins as clothing and Leizu has since been revered as the founder of silk.
The major shopping streets are Jiefang Road, Yan'an Road and Wulin Gate/Square, Wushan Square. Luxurious brand such as Hermes, Versace and Giorgio Armani can be found near the West Lake. Shops such as Vero Moda, Only and Adidas are also located nearby. Wulin Road is every female's paradise where stores carrying female fashions line the street.
The entire Yan'an Road is a common shopping area. There are two squares at the two end of the road, and many small stores are on the road between the two squares.
Wulin Square: At the northern end of Yan'an Road and surrounded by several large stores -- Hangzhou Tower, Hangzhou Department Store, In Time Department store (Wulin Square Branch), and GDA Palaza. This is a shopping paradise for every female as shops here carry a wide variety of ladies' style and fashion.
Wushan Square: At the southern end of Yan'an Road. There are also several big store such as Hangzhou Jieba Department Store, In Time Department store (West Lake Branch), Yuanhua Department Store.