Commissioned during the Sui Dynasty as a way to connect the Haihe, Yellow, Huaihe, Yangtze and Qiantang rivers, the Grand Canal at one point stretched for over 1,100 miles (1,770 kilometers) and earned the title of longest canal or artificial river in the entire world. Once running from Hangzhou all the way to Beijing, various sections of the canal have fallen into disrepair and are no longer navigable. Nevertheless, visitors to the southern sections around Hangzhou are still able to book a cruise boat on the historic trade route for a view of traditional waterfront villages and a chance to learn the history of the greatest supply conduit in all of Ancient China. In addition to the authentic village surroundings, passengers aboard cruise boats are afforded views of the intricate stone architecture which has gone into the area’s historic stone bridges. One such bridge, the 400 year old Gong Cheng Bridge, is a pristine stone replica of a bridge spanning a different Grand Canal—the Ponte Vecchio in Venice, Italy.
Though most modern travelers now employ more sophisticated modes of transport such as trains or airplanes, it’s still possible to travel on the Grand Canal from Hangzhou all the way north to Suzhou on an overnight trip of 13 hours.