The Grand Canal is the longest and oldest man-made waterway in the world, once covering 1,115 miles (1,794 kilometers) from Beijing to Hangzhou. Dating from the fifth century BC, this engineering marvel is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Some sections are still in use today.
With traditional buildings and historic sites still lining the Grand Canal, it’s best appreciated from water level. Travel through hundreds of years of history and gain a better understanding of how the canal transformed trade and commerce in China during a guided canal cruise, or get a closer look at historical buildings during a walking tour alongside the canal.
Visitors in Hangzhou can take a boat from Wulinmen Pier. Visitors in Suzhou or Shanghai can join an organized day tour, covering portions of the canal in Suzhou, along with other attractions, such as a classical garden and an ancient city gate, or activities, such as a rickshaw ride or a visit to a silk mill.
Things to Know Before You Go
- The canal is open to the public, but canal cruises charge a fee.
- Different cruises travel along many sections of the canal. Be sure you’re clear on your departure and drop-off points, if not traveling as part of a guided tour.
- Full-day tours from Shanghai can last more than 10 hours.
How to Get There
Hangzhou and Suzhou feature two popular sections of the canal for visitors. In Hangzhou, cruises depart from Wulinmen Pier. The best way to get to Wulinmen Wharf is by taxi. In Suzhou, the cruise from Xinshiqiao Dock to Shantang Street is popular. Xinshiqiao Dock is about 4 miles (6 kilometers) from Suzhou Railway Station, and the easiest way to get there is by taxi.
When to Get There
Most cruises are offered year-round. Daytime cruises allow you to better see the details of the buildings alongside the canal, while nighttime cruises offer more atmosphere, as many sights will be illuminated. Visit during spring or fall for the most pleasant weather.
History of the Grand Canal
TheGrand Canal’s oldest sections date back to the fifth century BC, but it wasn’t until the Sui dynasty in the seventh century that the different sections were first connected. There was an organized approach to connect the five major rivers: the Hai River, Huai River, Yangtze River, Yellow River, and Qiantang River. Once completed, the Grand Canal greatly developed China’s economy and enhanced communication throughout the country.