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Suzhou is a city of gardens. The first garden can be traced back to the 6th century BC. The private gardens reached their zenith in the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing (1644–1911) dynasties, with about 200 gardens being scattered around the city.
Today, there are 69 preserved gardens in Suzhou, nine of which have been designated as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Here, we would like to introduce the top five gardens.
Covering an area of 5.6 hectares (13.8 acres), the Humble Administrator's Garden (拙政园) is the largest garden in Suzhou and recognized as one of the four most famous gardens in China.
This garden was constructed in 1509 during the Ming Dynasty. It is a masterpiece of the Ming Dynasty's garden landscaping.
The garden is divided into three major parts: the eastern part, central part, and western part. The Central Section is the main and elite part of the garden.
It is outstanding for its smart use of ponds, interconnected via narrow streams that flow underneath charming bridges. Numerous pavilions, corridors, rockeries, and ancient trees are dotted across the garden, creating a relaxing, harmonious atmosphere.
Lingering Garden (留园) is one of the best preserved gardens in Suzhou, and praised as one of China's four famous gardens, along with the Humble Administrator's Garden, the Summer Palace in Beijing, and Chengde Summer Palace.
Originally built in the Ming Dynasty and improved to its present layout in the Qing Dynasty, Lingering Garden is a classic example of the Qing Dynasty's garden landscaping.
This garden is famous for its striking architecture. It has the most buildings among Suzhou's gardens, perfectly combined corridors, artificial hills, rocks, and water features.
The garden is divided into four distinctly themed areas: artificial hills in the west, pastoral scenery in the north, halls and pavilion structures in the east, and hills and water features at the center.
Built in 1180 during the Southern Song Dynasty, the Master of the Nets Garden (网师园) is the smallest (smaller than one ninth the size of the Humble Administrator's Garden) yet the most delicate landscape garden in Suzhou City.
This garden consists of a residential quarter and the garden proper. At each turn, there is an elegant picture of pavilions, rocks, trees, and water.
It reflects the wisdom of the ancient landscape architects who perfectly combined the techniques of relative dimension, contrast, sequence, and depth, as well as borrowed scenery.
This garden is also open to the public in the evenings from March to November. You can not only see the garden itself but can also appreciate a series of cultural displays from opera-style singing to the playing of traditional Chinese musical instruments.
Built in 1342 during the Yuan Dynasty, Lion Grove Garden (狮子林) is a representative garden of the Yuan Dynasty.
This garden is dominated by elaborate rock formations of all shapes and sizes, which give this garden quite a different appearance to the other gardens. There are many rockeries in the shape of a lion, hence the name Lion Grove.
Apart from rocks, it has richly ornamental pavilions and towers in different styles, each having its own history and story.
Canglang Pavilion or Surging Waves Pavilion (沧浪亭) is a classical garden built in 1044 during the Song Dynasty. It is the oldest among the existing classical gardens in Suzhou, keeping its original Song Dynasty layout.
Different from Suzhou’s other gardens, which are usually surrounded by a high wall, Canglang Pavilion is situated by the side of a lake to its north and faces a miniature mountain to its south.
The garden itself is small and peaceful with fewer tourists compared with other more famous gardens in the city.
If you want to visit more gardens, here are another four gardens listed as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO: Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty (环秀山庄), Couple's Retreat Garden (耦园), Garden of Cultivation (艺圃), and Retreat and Reflection Garden (退思园).
1. A visit to Suzhou Garden Museum beforehand is helpful for you to understand the gardens.
2. You are recommended to visit on weekdays as there are so many people on weekends and holidays. Try to arrive early in the morning so as to avoid large Chinese tour groups.
The gardens in Suzhou are rich in culture and history. Traveling with a professional guide is helpful as he/she will share the background information about the gardens with you and tell you about their highlights.
Here are our most popular Suzhou tours, for inspiration: