Suzhou, with a history of nearly 2500 years and know as "paradise on earth", is one of the first batch of national historical and cultural cities in China and the first "World Heritage Model City" in the world. The representative of Chinese private gardens - the classical gardens in Suzhou and the Suzhou section of the Grand Canal, are listed as world cultural heritage by UNESCO. The magical and soft Suzhou silk has always been a star product for thousands of years.
While you are in Suzhou, you can tour beautiful gardens, visit museums, have a close contact with delicate silk, travel by boat, etc. Here we have selected top 10 things to do in Suzhou to help you find can’t-be-missed attractions and explore Suzhou in all perspectives. If you want to have some of them or some other experience included in your itinerary, feel free to tell us. We can customize a private Suzhou tour according to your own ideas and needs.
Humble Administrator’s Garden
Suzhou is known as "the city of gardens". The private gardens in Suzhou can be traced back to the 6th century BC. In the late Qing Dynasty (A.D. 1636-1912), there were more than 170 gardens in Suzhou, and now more than 50 exist. Suzhou classical garden is a combination of residence and garden, where you can enjoy the natural beauty while living in the house. It shows human beings' attachment to nature, pursuit of harmony with nature, and desire to beautify and improve their living environment. Classical Gardens of Suzhou are generally acknowledged as the great masterpieces in the world history of gardening and nine of them are listed in the World Cultural Heritages. Among them, Humble Administrator’s Garden and Lingering Garden are the leaders and pride of Chinese garden culture.
Humble Administrator’s Garden (拙政园): Built in A.D. 1509, Humble Administrator's Garden is a representation of Jiangnan (regions south of the Yangtze River) classical garden, and is now the largest classical garden in Suzhou. The whole garden features in water scenery, magnificent rockeries, delicate pavilions and lush flowers and trees. Walking on the meandering paths and corridors, every step you take will lead you to different scenery. Scenic and peaceful, everything in the garden tells a story in the past.
Lingering Garden (留园): Lingering Garden (Liuyuan Garden) is a large-scale classical private garden in China, covering an area of 23300 square meters, representing the style of the Qing Dynasty. It is famous for its exquisite architectural art, magnificent halls, and varied courtyards. This rhythmic garden space system has become a world-famous example of architectural space artistic processing. Lingering Garden is roughly divided into four parts: the east is mainly architecture, the middle is landscape garden, the west is rock and stone rockery, and the north is pastoral scenery.
▶Other Classical Gardens in Suzhou: Lion Grove Garden (狮子林), Canglang Pavilion (沧浪亭), Couple Garden (耦园), Retreat & Reflection Garden (退思园), Garden of Cultivation (艺圃), etc.
Apart from these gardens, do not miss Suzhou Museum - one of the most beautiful museums in China. It is a combination of classical garden and modern architecture. Suzhou Museum is the top regional museum, which was founded in 1960 in the former residence of the Zhong Prince of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom. The building itself is an attraction, designed by Ieoh Ming Pei, the world renowned award-winning architect. “Chinese style with innovation, Suzhou style with creativity”. Its design is influenced heavily by the nearby UNESCO classical garden - Humble Administrator’s Garden. The national-important artifacts, paintings, calligraphy, ceramics …make it one of the top museums in China.
Visit Suzhou No. 1 Silk Factory
Suzhou Silk Museum
Silk is one of the ancient Chinese civilizations and an important embodiment of Chinese culture. Suzhou is the hometown of silk. In 1958, the ancient silk fragments of the Neolithic Age were excavated in Wuxing County of Taihu Lake, which proved the existence of silk in Suzhou over 4700 years ago. Over the thousands of years, Suzhou people have mastered superb silk-making skills and silk has won the favor of people with its skin-friendly texture and graceful patterns. If you want to know more about Suzhou silk, there are some places you can not miss.
Suzhou No. 1 Silk Factory (苏州第一丝厂): Suzhou No. 1 Silk Factory is a state-owned plant established in 1926. This factory is open to public, so you could see closely how the silk is made from silkworm breeding, selecting cocoons to making silk, feel the soft, thin and light silk quilt and fill your eyes with various unprecedented excellent silk exhibits. You can also buy some silk products home from here.
Suzhou Silk Museum (苏州丝绸博物馆): Suzhou Silk Museum built in 1991 is the first museum that specializes in silk in China. In the exhibition halls, you can learn China’s 7000 years’ silk history, know the life of silkworms, watch traditional silk-weaving skill, see what Suzhou Official Weaving Department is like, appreciate silk garment and witness the change of Chinese silk.
Taihuxue Sericulture Cultural Park (太湖雪蚕桑文化园): It is an ecological park providing a series of silk-themed immersion experiences. You can closely watch the life of a silkworm growing from sesame size to cocooning, observe the production process of silk, and experience colorful silk cultural activities such as learning how to draw with cocoons, tie dye and embroider. You can also enjoy the joy of picking fresh, pollution-free and sweet mulberry in the vast mulberry garden. It is a perfect place for a family tour with kids to feel the charm of thousand-year sericulture.
Zhouzhuang Water Town
Tongli Water Town
Jiangnan (regions south of the Yangtze River) is a poetic region which has been praised in countless Chinese literary works since ancient times. It is a place with outstanding people and beautiful scenery and water towns is an indispensable part of Jiangnan. Suzhou itself has been a prosperous city and there are many water towns in Suzhou suburb.
Zhouzhuang Water Town (周庄): Zhouzhuang links Suzhou and Shanghai, about 45 km (1 hour’s drive) from Suzhou downtown and 70 km (75 minutes’ drive) from Shanghai downtown. Zhouzhuang is called “Venice of the East” and is the No.1 water town in China, noted for its profound culture, well preserved ancient residential houses and the elegant watery views. The charming old town can be explored on foot or via a boat tour on the canals. Interesting sights here include Ming-era Zhang’s House with 70 rooms, Shen’s House with 100 rooms, and Chengxu Temple, a Song Dynasty Taoist shrine.
Tongli Water Town (同里): Tongli is 25 kilometers away from Suzhou downtown with 40 minutes’ drive. It is definitely a good choice combining in your Suzhou tour. Tongli is an aged but very well preserved water town with a history of more than 1,000 years, giving visitors a good idea of what Suzhou was like in its heyday. It is smaller than Zhouzhuang but the scenery is more original, the locals still live in a traditional way. Strolling along the ancient alleys, taking a cruise on the clear water, sitting in a tea house watching the canoes passing by…are good ways to spend your leisure time here.
Luzhi Water Town (甪直): Luzhi located in southeastern Suzhou is an ancient water town that is not known to many tourists. Actually, it is as old as Suzhou (2500 years old) and has a longer history than Zhouzhuang and Tongli. It is famous for the water, bridges, and ancient residences. Not being over commercialized, you can see what the local life is really like and spend a couple of relaxing hours walking through the lanes, visiting temples, museums, buildings, and flowing with the river on a wooden boat.
For an authentic taste of the city life in old Suzhou, a stroll along the ancient streets would be a nice choice. Many old-style stores and residences are preserved. Local people are living their daily lives there and many youngsters will dress up in ancient clothes and come here to take beautiful pictures.
Pingjiang Road (平江路): Paralleling with 25 centuries old Pingjiang River, Pingjiang Road is a historical street loved by many tourists. It stretches 1,606 meters from north to south. With well-preserved blocks, it acts as an epitome of ancient Suzhou. Walking in Pingjiang Road is like entering the daily life of people in old times. The charming night view, delicious local food, different kinds of handicrafts will give you a wonderful experience. Apart from these, you could explore old history, admire the exquisite garden, and learn about Kun Opera Culture because it is close to Humble Administrator’s Garden and Kunqu Opera Museum.
Shantang Street (山塘街): Shantang Street or Seven-mile Shantang in the northwestern Gusu District was built in A.D. 825 by the famous poet Bai Juyi. Connecting Tiger Hill in the west and Changmen in the east with a total length of seven miles, Shangtang was once one of the most prosperous street blocks in ancient China. Paying a visit to this antique street block to see the well preserved historic buildings of black tiles and white walls, taking a painted boat on the old river of Jiangnan features, feeling the authentic flavor of old Suzhou in the prosperous stores selling local food, handicrafts, silk, etc. to know more about the profound culture and history of Suzhou city.
Suzhou Grand Canal at Night
Cruise Passing Panmen
Suzhou Ancient Grand Canal is an important part of the Grand Canal that was built in 486 BC with the aim of linking the Yangtze River with Yellow River and is a World Heritage Site as the longest and oldest canal in the world. The Grand Canal in Suzhou serves the most convenient traffic web that covers the whole city. It has been the golden waterway for thousands of years and prospered the economy of Suzhou.
Taking a cruise along Suzhou Grand Canal (苏州古运河) at Xinshiqiao Dock, you could see several historic tower gates such as Pan Gate, Xu Gate, Chang Gate, and old bridges in different styles and the prosperous old Shantang Street. It is also the best way to see the ancient residences along the banks and truly get a good idea about what is going on in the old town. The scenery is especially beautiful at night, tranquil, peaceful and historical, it’s just like a time machine taking you back to the old era when ancient people communicated mainly by shipping on the waterway.
On your Grand Canal cruise, you can pay a visit to Panmen (Pan Gate). Panmen Scenic Area was built on the base of some historic sites by using the architectural structure of classical gardens. It mainly consists of “three fine sceneries”: Panmen Gate, Wu Men Bridge and Ruiguang Pagoda. Panmen Gate is a famous historical landmark in Suzhou with a history of 2500 years, remaining the city’s ancient fortifications. It is the only land and water gate in China. The graceful Wu Men Bridge is the tallest in Suzhou and it dates back to the Song Dynasty (A.D. 960-1279). The seven-story pagoda is constructed of brick with wooden platforms. After a climb up narrow stairs, looking down into the heart of Suzhou reveals a city dotted with large pockets of green - the beautiful gardens that have made the city so famous.
People are always so indulged in the beauty of Suzhou gardens and silk that they sometimes forget the profound history and culture of Suzhou cultivated in 2500 years. Suzhou is an important birthplace of Wu Culture and many learned people in history have come here and left eternal works.
Tiger Hill (虎丘): Tiger Hill is a hot tourist attraction located in the northwest of Suzhou City. With a history of over 2,500 years, Tiger Hill enjoys lots of historical legendary as well as antique architectures. In Spring and Autumn Period (BC 770 ~ BC 476), the King of Wu State called He Lv (阖闾) died in the war against Yue State. His son Fu Chai (夫差) buried him in the Surging Sea Hill. There goes a legend that a white tiger came to the hill three days later. So people renamed it as Tiger Hill. Great litterateur Su Shi once said that “What a lifetime pity it is if you have been to Suzhou without a visit to Tiger Hill”. It is not exaggerated to say that. Small as it is, it has enchanting natural landscape and a dozen of historical & cultural relics. Visiting Tiger Hill is the best way to have a glimpse of the history and legend of Suzhou. Therefore, it is praised as the No.1 Sight in Suzhou and National AAAAA Scenic Spot.
Hanshan Temple (寒山寺): Hanshan Temple, literally “Cold Mountain Temple” is a Buddhist temple in Suzhou. First constructed in Liang Dynasty (A.D. 502-557), the temple was named after a Tang Dynasty poet-monk. Located close to the Grand Canal, it was immortalized by the Tang Dynasty poet Zhang Ji, who arrived here by boat. His poem “A Night Mooring by Maple Bridge” was inscribed on a stone stele, and Hanshan Temple was mentioned in two lines “Outside Suzhou Hanshan Temple is in sight; Its ringing bells reach my boat at midnight”. Now it is the biggest event in Hanshan Temple to hear the New Year’s Bell and pray for peace and fortune. Nearby, a beautiful Maple Bridge offers grand views along the Grand Canal.
Master of the Nets Garden Night View
Performance in Master of the Nets Garden
Master of the Nets Garden is a representative work of middle-sized Suzhou private classical landscape garden. It was firstly built in the Southern Song Dynasty (A.D. 1127-1279) and changed hands many times. But all its owners were learned people with refined taste. It is said that it was named after one of its owners - a retired official who wished to become an accomplished fisherman. Apart from the pavilions, lakes, rockeries, and poem steles, when night falls, Master of the Nets Garden (网师园) presents a totally different scene.
It is the only garden in Suzhou opening at night (May to November only, 19:30 to 22:00). The night view is fantastic and the Night Garden Traditional Art Performance will give you an unforgettable evening. A series of musical and acting sketches are set in different parts of the garden. In different halls, you can enjoy traditional stringed and woodwind instruments performance, classical dance together with a 21-or 25-stringed plucked instrument show, melodious Kun Opera, traditional storytelling and ballad singing in Suzhou dialect etc.
The Peony Pavilion
Palace of Eternal Life
Traditional Suzhou Opera, known as Kunju or Kunqu, is renowned as the oldest form of Chinese opera with a history of about 600 years. It was listed as a “Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity” by the UNESCO in 2001. To provide the best stage effect and artistic beauty, Kunqu Opera is especially excellent in the fine makeup, soft and graceful singing, elegant actions, and traditional music, etc., which is really a hearty visual and audio feast.
Classic Kunqu Operas such as The Peony Pavilion (牡丹亭), Palace of Eternal Life (长生殿), and Peach Blossoms Fan (桃花扇) are passed down generation by generation. For a complete Kunqu opera performance (about 1.5-2 hours) presented by professional Kunqu actors/actresses, you can buy a performance ticket in Suzhou Kunqu Theater (江苏省苏州昆剧院). If you just want to get a quick glimpse of Kunqu Opera, there are some Kunqu Opera houses in Shantang Street providing excerpts of a complete play.
Taihu Lake in Sunset
Full View of Jinji Lake at Night
As a city along Yangtze Rive, Suzhou is rich in rivers and lakes. There are more than 300 lakes in all sizes in Suzhou. Suzhou's water is graceful and deep into Suzhou people's lives. Suzhou's history, memory, beauty and vitality are inseparable from its water. When you are in Suzhou, it is very pleasant to take a walk along the lakes, enjoy the sunset and bath in the gentle breeze. Popular lakes in Suzhou include Taihu Lake, Jinji Lake, Yangcheng Lake, Dushu Lake, Qingjian Lake, etc.
Taihu Lake: Taihu Lake is one of the five largest freshwater lakes in China, covering an area of 2445㎞² and spanning in four cities, which are Suzhou, Wuxi, Changzhou, and Huzhou. There are over 50 islands in Taihu and the main scenic spots are in Xishan and Dongshan scenic areas. The sunset in Taihu is amazing with sailing boats, ducks, and reeds in the orange glow. Taihu is also the paradise for lake food. You can't miss the "three whites of Taihu Lake" - white fish, silver fish and white shrimp. When you are here in autumn, there are delicious hairy crabs.
Jinji Lake: Jinji Lake is the largest inner city lake in China. Every day, many tourists come to the lake for leisure, walking, shopping and eating. There are four entrances in the scenic area and people generally choose the western one. There is a bicycle rental spot from the subway entrance. If you want to ride around the lake, you can rent a bicycle here. Ligong Dyke is the only long dyke in Jinji Lake, which retains the traditional Suzhou architecture features. The Jinji Lake Bridge at night can't be missed. The colorful digital waterfall flows down from the bridge with beautiful scenery.
Sweet and Sour Mandarin Fish
Su Cuisine is one of the eight famous cuisines of China. As a distinctive Jiangsu city, you can taste authentic Su cuisine in Suzhou. As Jiangsu boasts a developed water system, and this area has abundant vegetables and sea and river foods, many dishes use river, lake and sea foods as their ingredients. Su cuisine focuses on preserving the original flavor of the ingredients with light, fresh and sweet taste. Besides, Suzhou people love pastries and there are many snacks you can try. They are also usually sweet. Su cuisine is welcomed by visitors. Sweet and Sour Mandarin Fish (松鼠鳜鱼), Glutinous Rice Dumplings in Sweet Rice Wine (酒酿小圆), etc. are some of the most popular.
Where to eat: Songhelou (松鹤楼) in Guanqian Street, Xiehe Restaurant (协和菜馆) in Fenghuang Street, Deyuelou (得月楼) in Guanqian Street, etc.
How to Get to Suzhou: You can easily get to Suzhou by high speed train from Shanghai (about 0.5 hour), Hangzhou (about 1.5 hours), Nanjing (about 1 hour), Beijing (about 4.5 hours), etc.
Best Time to Visit Suzhou: April to October, especially April and May in spring and September and October in autumn
Generally, a classic Suzhou tour takes about 1~2 days. Visiting Suzhou, you can't miss elegant Suzhou gardens, like Humble Administrator's Garden, Lingering Garden, Master of the Nets Garden, etc. You can choose one or two of them for a great garden delight. Other must-be-visited sights in Suzhou City include Suzhou No.1 Silk Factory from which you can watch the process of silk making from silkworms to elegant products, Tiger Hill which is known as the first sight in Suzhou, Suzhou Museum which is designed by I. M. Pei and Suzhou's old canalside roads (like Pingjaing Road and Shantang Street), etc. If you like Jiangnan watertowns, you can visit Tongli, Zhouzhuang or Luzhi to have a wonderful time.
If you want to explore more about Jiangsu Province, you can travel to Nanjing - the old capital city of 6 ancient dynasties, Wuxi - a beautiful lakeshore city, Yangzhou - old culture center of southern China, etc. Check more about Jiangsu Tours>
☛ 5 Days Jiangsu Tour (Suzhou, Wuxi & Nanjing)
In fact, most people travel Suzhou with Shanghai - the best gateway city to Suzhou, and Hangzhou which has long been on a par with Suzhou since ancient times. Generally, it needs 2~3 days enjoying Shanghai's highlights and another 2~3 days appreciating the poetic beauty. Check more about Shanghai Suzhou Hangzhou Tours>
Since 2012, we have helped numerous customers visit Suzhou and surroundings. With our fully-inclusive private tour packages, all of our customers enjoyed their trips to the exquisite gardens, peaceful watertowns, informative silk factory or museum, old Suzhou streets, etc. Some of them kindly shared their precious photos and stories about their Suzhou journey, just get inspired now.
"We were lucky for being able to watch Chinese dancers at the Lingering Garden at the time of visit…" - shared by Nguyen (Check her The Pursuit of Natural Beauty with the Beloved one - 14 Days Beautiful China Exploring Tour>)
"Suzhou was the real treat at the end of the trip! Everything about Suzhou was perfect…" - shared by Elizabeth from Britain (Check her Long-lasting Memory brought by First Trip to China - 16 Days well-Organized and Wonderful First Visit to China>
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Top 3 Suzhou tours chosen by most customers to explore Suzhou in the best way. Check the detailed itinerary, or tailor your own trip now with us.
Shanghai / Hangzhou / Suzhou / Shanghai
Suzhou / Zhouzhuang Water Town
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