Often dubbed the “Venice of the East,” Suzhou is an ancient city with a history that spans over a thousand years and is famed for its scenic canals, exquisite classical gardens, and more. Due to its renowned beauty and historical significance, Suzhou is a popular tour destination in China and is full of UNESCO World Heritage-listed sites, all dotted amongst the city’s modern elements.
Suzhou is best known for its intricate and meticulously manicured gardens. The city’s nine gardens are regarded as iconic examples of classical Chinese garden design and are collectively inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to their rich history and cultural significance. Suzhou’s gardens, including the Humble Administrator's Garden, Lingering Garden, and Master of the Nets Garden, amongst others, are lush and verdant retreats that offer visitors a unique glimpse into the peaceful symbolic life of the successful Chinese officials and businessmen in the ancient time.
Aside from its unmissable gardens, Suzhou’s next best-known claim to fame is its canals, a typical trait of cities and towns in the Yangtze delta. A drift down the canal along Shantang Old Street, which will take you under arched stone bridges and past whitewashed homes busy with local life, will allow you to take a step back in time and admire Suzhou as it might have looked hundreds of years ago.
Pingjiang Ancient Street offers even more insight into the city’s past, as well as numerous places to shop for local handicrafts and souvenirs, including silk, a product that Suzhou is known for.
Those interested in Chinese art, both modern and traditional, should not miss a visit to the Suzhou Museum. The unique design of this treasure-filled museum came from world-famous architect I.M. Pei and is a sight worth seeing all on its own.
The area surrounding Suzhou is full of atmospheric water towns that make for a great day trip. We recommend Tongli Water Town or Zhouzhuang Water Town; while popular, these canal towns have not been over-commercialized and still retain their old-world charm.
Suzhou can easily be enjoyed via a day trip from Shanghai or Hangzhou, and you will be able to cover most of the city’s top sights in one day. If you are planning a trip to Suzhou, please check out the popular sights and activities here and our suggested itineraries here, or you can simply ask us to customize a vacation package for you.
Suzhou dishes are typical of Jiangsu cuisine, one of the eight major culinary traditions of China, and feature seafood as a primary ingredient. Suzhou in particular is known for its fish dishes, chief among them squirrel-shaped Mandarin Fish. The meat of the fish is prepared so that it protrudes outwards in what looks like a bunch of bushy squirrel tails, hence its name. The fish is deep-fried and doused in a delicious sweet and sour sauce that makes this local delicacy a particularly tasty treat, despite its somewhat unusual appearance. Other common dishes include crab, steamed white fish, fengzhen noodles, and shelled fresh shrimp.
If you're looking for an evening activity, we recommend a night tour of the Master of the Nets Garden, during which you will be able to admire the view of this scenic garden lit up with lanterns and enjoy a show of traditional Chinese music and comedy.
Both Pingjiang Ancient Street and Shantang Old Street buzz with activity in the evening. Here, you will find numerous shops, bars, and restaurants where you can relax and enjoy a delicious local meal after a day of sightseeing. You can also duck into a traditional teahouse to enjoy a traditional Pingtan show, a musical/spoken performance art that is a specialty of Suzhou.
While Suzhou is beautiful and scenic at any time of year, spring and fall are generally the best seasons to visit, as the weather is mild and comfortable. Spring (late March through May) is a particularly nice time of year to visit, as many of Suzhou’s trees and flowers will be in bloom, making its gardens even more picturesque. This also means more crowds, however. Summers in Suzhou can get very hot and humid, particularly in July and August, but this is still a nice period for travel. Winters are chilly and the gardens may not be as green, but there are generally fewer crowds since this is the low season for tourism. As always, we recommend avoiding traveling in Suzhou during public holidays due to heavy crowds. Learn more about avoiding crowds in China here.
Suzhou is a key transportation hub and is well connected to major cities throughout China. It is most convenient to reach Suzhou from Shanghai by high-speed train; the trip takes just 30 minutes.
Within Suzhou, it is easiest to get around by car. The city also boasts an intuitive subway system that you can use to navigate between major sites. Most attractions can also be reached by bus.