When talking about travelling to China, bustling Shanghai and historic Beijing would often be the first to come to mind. However, you’d be missing out if you did not make add a stop to Suzhou as well to your itinerary.
Talk about Suzhou to any Chinese, and they will mention how beautiful Suzhou is. ”上有天堂，下有苏杭” – “Heaven above, Suzhou and Hangzhou below”. Located just 30 minutes by high-speed rail from Shanghai in the province of Jiangsu, Suzhou is a city renowned for its ethereal beauty and picturesque network of canals. Due to this reputation, Marco Polo even gave it the moniker “Venice of the East”.
Top 5 Must-Dos in the “Venice of the East”
Below, I share with you some tips of the top 5 must-dos when in the city.
1. Gardens, Gardens, … and more Garden
The Classical gardens are an icon and must-see for every visitor to the city. Suzhou is home to a whopping 69 preserved historical gardens, nine of which have been conferred the UNESCO World Heritage Site Status. This includes two of the four most well-known gardens in China – the Lingering Garden and the Humble Administrator’s Garden.
2. Leaning Tower of China, anyone? (aka Tiger Hill or Yunyan Pagoda)
While Italy has the leaning tower in Pisa, Suzhou also houses the Leaning Tower of China!
The Tiger Hill Pagoda sits atop Tiger Hill in the Northwest of Suzhou City, and is one of the most iconic buildings in the city. It was completed in the mid to late AD 900s during the Song Dynasty but have been reconstructed for many times since then. Today, it is about 7 storeys high and has been leaning about 3 degrees since its completion.
Not only that, the pagoda also holds huge historical and religious significance. Excavation and archaeological works in recent years have unearthed many precious Buddhist relics from the pagoda, many of which are stored safe in museums. Unfortunately, since 2010, access to climb the pagoda has been prohibited.
Not only that, the pagoda is situated within a scenic compound that you can take your time to explore and catch a view of the city landscape!
Pretty worth it, yeah?
3. Take a walk down Pingjiang Road Historical Block and Shantang Old Street
Smacked in the middle of Suzhou City are Pingjiang Road and Shantang Old Street, two nationally, historically, and culturally significant famous commercial blocks that showcase the architecture of the city in its olden times. In fact, they have a history spanning 800 and 1,200 years respectively!
Today, the Pingjiang area is lined with chic modern cafes, streetside stores, and souvenir stores that are sure to whet your appetite and make for good window shopping as well. On the other hand, Shantang Street is a quieter residential area even till today, with old temples and monuments along the way.
Either way, the cobblestone pathways in both areas are sure to transport you back to ancient China again!
4. Is China, China, without lakes???
The two most iconic lakes in Suzhou are Lake Tai and Lake Jinji.
Bordering the west of Suzhou is Lake Tai, a large freshwater lake located in the southern part of the Yangtze River delta. In fact, it is the third largest freshwater lake in the whole of China! Over the years, the lake has been the lifeline of the many cities surrounding it, including Wuxi, Changzhou and Huzhou.
Lake Jinji, on the other hand, is a much smaller freshwater lake located in the central part of Suzhou Industrial Park and Central Business District, covering an area of ~7 square kilometers. Surrounding the lake are some of Suzhou’s most iconic skyscrapers and urban buildings, including the Suzhou Ferris Wheel, Cultural and Arts Centre, and dazzling international hotel chains. The most iconic of all is Gate to the East, also the tallest building in Suzhou.
Not only does the Lake Jinji area make for a good shopping trip and night walk, do not miss out on the beautiful water show that takes place every Friday night! (It’s said to be better than that in Las Vegas, mind you).
5. Explore an ancient water town
While Suzhou already has a sprawling network of canals, you should not miss the opportunity to take a trip to one of the many ancient water towns that in the vicinity. Amongst the many, the top 8 ancient towns include Qibao, Zhujiajiao, Luzhi, Zhouzhuang, Xitang, Tongli, Nanxun, and Wuzhen.
While I was there, though, I made a trip to Tongli, one of more accessible and famous water towns from Suzhou and enjoyed several hours exploring the compound filled with local eateries, museums, souvenir shops and historical landmarks.
It was a good trip!
A city filled with lots of charm
While this list only lists our top 5 recommendations, there are many more sights and attractions that have not been covered here.
So the next time you plan your trip down to the Far East, be sure to mark Suzhou on your map as well!