An old Chinese proverb praising the beauty and prosperity of Suzhou says, "In heaven there is paradise, on earth there are Hangzhou and Suzhou." It has long been a heaven for scholars, artists, and skilled craftsmen, and it still is today.
The beautifully landscaped city of Suzhou is located in the center of the Yangtze Delta region, and is renowned for its classic gardens, traditional waterside architecture, and traditional operas. Suzhou was a prosperous ancient state capital, built in 514 BC by He Lv (/her lyoo/), the King of Wu State. It grew in favor with China's dynasties — a summer retreat of emperors, and a well-placed trade center.
As the saying goes, "Gardens in the south of Yangtze River are the best in the world, and Suzhou gardens are the best among them." Suzhou's classical gardens have an international reputation.
Suzhou has been a prosperous city for many years. The classic gardens flourished in the mid-Ming to early-Qing dynasties (1500–1700). Most gardens are private ones built by aristocrats, scholars, and rich businessmen, and date back to the sixth century BC.
Today, more than 60 classic gardens are remain in the city, nine of which have been listed as World Heritage, namely the Humble Administrator's Garden, Lingering Garden, Net Master's Garden, the Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty, Canglang Pavilion, Lion Grove Garden, the Garden of Cultivation, the Couple's Garden Retreat, and the Retreat and Reflection Garden.
With the Yangtze River flowing through the city's north boundary, and the Grand Canal running down from north to south, Suzhou is rich in canals, and is called "the World's Oriental Venice".
The water towns of Suzhou are crisscrossed by canals, rivers, and bridges. Old buildings and streets are built along the waterways. Many of them are still preserved well, reflecting old China. You can walk along lanes and bridges, or take a boat to appreciate ancient architecture and the beautiful canal scenery.
The top water towns of Suzhou are Zhouzhuang Water Town, Luzhi Water Town, Tongli Water Town, Shaxi Water town, Qiandeng Water Town, and Jinxi Water Town. Of these Zhouzhuang is honored as the number one water town in China, but it is the most commercialized. Tongli is a quiet water town and is less crowded.
Suzhou is the hometown of Kun Opera (or Kunqu /kwnn-chyoo/), one of the oldest forms of Chinese opera. It was listed as one of the Masterpieces of Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO in 2001. It perfectly blends dramatic literature, soulful singing, and elegant dancing.
The best place to watch a Kun Opera performance and learn about Kun Opera is Suzhou Opera Museum.
Suzhou is located between Shanghai and Nanjing. Suzhou Railway Station is among the busiest passenger stations in China. The Shanghai–Nanjing High-Speed Railway passes through Suzhou Railway Station. There are frequent high-speed trains from Suzhou to Shanghai, Kunshan, Wuxi, Zhenjiang, and Nanjing. It only takes 25 minutes to Shanghai and less than 1½ hours to Nanjing.
The Beijing–Shanghai High-Speed Railway passes through Suzhou. Suzhou North Railway Station is served by this high speed railway. It only takes 5 hours from Suzhou to Beijing.
There are also many high-speed trains to/from other cities like Hangzhou, Chengdu, Xi'an, Guangzhou, and so on. If you go to Suzhou, take the high-speed train. Read more about Suzhou transportation.
For first time travelers to Suzhou must-see attractions and historic sites are the Humble Administrator's Garden, Lingering Garden, the Grand Canal, and Zhouzhuang Water Town.
The First Day: Arrive in Suzhou. Check in to your hotel. Stroll around the city to experience the local life. Have a cup of tea and some local snacks in a tea house.
The Second Day: Explore the best representatives of Chinese gardens — Humble Administrator's Garden and Lingering Garden. Take a motorboat cruise on the Grand Canal. Ride a rickshaw to visit the old streets and hutongs in the old city area.
The Third Day: Visit Zhouzhuang Water Town. Experience the traditional culture, appreciate the well-preserved ancient architecture, and enjoy the beautiful scenery along the waterways.
For a first time trip to China you may not want to go to Suzhou, as there are more popular places to go, like Beijing, Shanghai, Xi'an, and Guilin. Suzhou is a good second trip destination to deepen your understanding and appreciation of Chinese culture.
2-Day Essential Suzhou and Water Town Tour from Shanghai: The world heritage site gardens and China water towns are two highlights that should not be missed in Suzhou.