Things to Do in Suzhou
The Grand Canal is the longest and oldest man-made waterway in the world, once covering 1,115 miles (1,794 kilometers) from Beijing to Hangzhou. Dating from the fifth century BC, this engineering marvel is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Some sections are still in use today.
Tiger Hill, a large hill-rock known as Hu Qiu or Huqiu in Chinese, is a must-see when visiting Suzhou, both for its beauty and its history. Traditional architecture, tranquil landscapes, and numerous historical sites dating back more than 2,500 years distinguish the hill as a top destination among the city's UNESCO-listed attractions. Highlights include the Tomb of King He Lu, the Sword-Testing Stone—a rock split cleanly in two pieces, supposedly by a legendary sword—and the famously lopsided Yunyan Pagoda, or 'Leaning Tower of China.' Also not to miss is the garden architecture at Wanjing Villa, where potted landscapes and bonsai shrubs create miniature classical gardens.
Tiger Hill, which gets its name from resembling the shape of a crouching tiger, is relatively small and compact, making it an easy stop on any day or half-day tour of Suzhou. Go with a guide to get the most out of the site's rich history, and consider combining your visit with entry to nearby attractions, like the Humble Administrator's Garden or Master of Nets Garden.
The architecture, infrastructure, and way of life in Wuzhen, one of the six famous ancient water towns south of the Yangtze River, hasn’t changed much over the centuries. Traditional houses, shops, and markets built along canals crossed by ancient bridges make the atmospheric town feel like a living history museum.
Of all the Classical Gardens of Suzhou, the Humble Administrator’s Garden (Zhuo Zheng Yuan) is the largest, most famous, and best preserved. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this uniquely-designed garden takes visitors through scenic pathways, quiet pavilions, ancient bridges, calm ponds, and small, forested areas dating back to the Ming dynasty. The Hall of Drifting Fragrance, a traditional Chinese residence at the garden's center, offers views of vast lawns, flowing water, and crape myrtle trees, while the nearby Small Flying Rainbow Bridge is the only bridge in the garden you can walk across.
A great family activity, you can visit the garden on an easy day trip from Shanghai. Combine your ticket with a visit to the famous Zhouzhuang water village nearby or opt for a private tour of Suzhou's classical gardens to visit Tiger Hill and Master of Nets, as well.
The classical gardens of Suzhou feature some of the most tranquil and pristine landscapes in China. More than 50 gardens dating as far back as the 6th century BC cast a harmonious network of manicured paths, bridges, ponds, and pavilions over much of the historic city of Suzhou. Nine of the gardens are designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites, their Ming- and Qing-era mastery of Chinese garden architecture and design having attracted world visitors for hundreds of years. The Lingering Garden, famous for its garden hall inlaid with ancient calligraphy, and the Humble Administrator’s Garden, the largest of the nine, are the best preserved, but also worth visiting are the Master of Nets Garden and Tiger Hill.
You can visit the gardens on a day trip from Shanghai. Most tours include entrance to one or more of the classical gardens, and can also be combined with a trip to nearby attractions, like the Zhouzhuang water village, Tong Li Old Town, or the Silk Museum. If you wish to see the most famous of Suzhou’s gardens in one day, book a private day trip of Suzhou Humble Administrator's Garden, Tiger Hill, and Master of Nets Garden.
Located near the famous Humble Administrator’s Garden, Suzhou Museum is a must-visit for all history, art, and culture lovers visiting the city. This modern museum was designed by the award-winning I.M. Pei, a Chinese American architect. With more than 15,000 pieces to admire, from calligraphy and ancient paintings, to cultural relics and woodcarvings, the museum provides a crucial insight into Suzhou’s history and culture.
The city of Suzhou is famous for its well-designed classical gardens, and a visit to the museum is the perfect opportunity to discover how natural landscapes and buildings blend harmoniously within them. Explore ancient Chinese paintings, calligraphy, and handmade crafts, along with tens of thousands of books, documents, and stone inscriptions that reveal much about the various dynasties that have ruled China over the centuries, including the Yuan, Song, Ming, and Qing Dynasties.
To provide the most context, Suzhou Museum is best visited as part of an extended cultural tour of the area. It can also be visited as part of various day trips of the city, which might include entry into several classical gardens as well as time to explore the ancient streets.
One of the four most famous classical gardens of Suzhou, the Lingering Garden (Liu Yuan) has World Heritage status and also showcases two UNESCO Intangible World Heritage Arts: Pingtan and Guqin music. The garden makes fantastic use of space, with a harmonious layout of temples, statues, rockeries, halls, bridges, and ponds.
Covering almost six acres, the garden is divided into four areas: the east, west, central, and north sections, all of which are connected via a half-mile (700-meter) corridor featuring calligraphy carved into its stone walls. The central area features many buildings surrounding a pond and grotto, while the east garden includes a miniature mountain modeled after Tiantai Mountain, as well as the Celestial Hall of Five Peaks, the largest hall in the garden. The west section is mostly natural, with a large rockery built during the Ming Dynasty, while the north garden, once used to grow vegetables, now showcases a range of potted plants.
Popular among families, the Lingering Garden is often visited on day trips from Shanghai that also include other famous classical gardens in Suzhou. It's common to combine a trip here with visits to the famous water towns of Zhouzhuang and Tongli, but other options include visits to Shantang Old Street and Tiger Hill. For a unique day out, book a Suzhou culture and art tour, which includes a Suzhou opera performance at the Master of Nets Garden.
Nine-century-old Zhouzhuang Water Town, the oldest water township in China and one of the most famous, comprises a network of scenic canals, 14 stone bridges, and well-preserved buildings from the Ming and Qing dynasties. The late Chinese painter Chen Yifei immortalized the village in his paintings.
This picturesque village southeast of Suzhou is one of several ancient water towns dotting the Yangtze River Delta. More than a dozen rivers and waterways divide this Song Dynasty town into multiple islets, connected by 49 stone bridges. This Venice of the Orient is also known for its gardens, including the UNESCO-listed Tuisi Garden.
Built by a Buddhist monk in 1342, the Lion Grove Garden (Shizilin) is one of the oldest classical gardens in Suzhou and one of nine gardens in the area recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Its uniqueness lies in its unusual design of grotto mazes, ponds, and pavilions, with a large and elaborate grotto of taihu rocks at its center. Anyone interested in oriental design and architecture, as well as nature and history, will appreciate a visit here.
The garden's massive grotto is made up of a maze of paths winding through 21 caves across three levels, with a pond dividing the grotto into east and west sections. The rocks, dating back to the Yuan Dynasty, are piled up in such a way that they are meant to resemble lions in various positions. Elsewhere in the garden, there are buildings, trees, ponds, and other elements to explore.
Lion Grove Garden can be visited as part of a day trip from Shanghai to Suzhou. Enjoy a stroll in the grotto maze here, followed by lunch and shopping nearby, or perhaps even a boat ride along the canal. The high-speed express train from Shanghai makes the journey easy, and is included on some organized tours.
More Things to Do in Suzhou
Suzhou is famous for being the silk capital of China – the city was the center of silk production for imperial families throughout the Ming and Qing dynasties. Suzhou Silk Museum provides an opportunity to learn about how silk has been produced and used throughout the centuries, dating as far back as 2000 BC. It’s also a chance to admire the crafts, embroidery, and clothing made from silk, and perhaps purchase a souvenir to take home.
Those interested in architecture will note that Suzhou Silk Museum combines a sense of ancient civilization with a modern design, with white walls representing the purity of silk and round edges symbolizing its softness. The museum is divided into several sections, each offering a different angle on the life and times of silk. In the silkworm-rearing room, you can see live worms enjoying mulberry leaves, their favourite food, before being transported through time in the silk-weaving workshop, where ancient looms reveal the past grandeurs of the silk industry.
A visit to Suzhou Silk Museum is a captivating experience, combining history, culture, and art. To provide the most context, it is best visited as part of an extended cultural tour of the area, with stops at the Classical Gardens of Suzhou, Suzhou Museum, plus several other key attractions in the city. It can also be visited as part of various day trips, which might include entry into one or two classical gardens, as well as time to explore the city’s ancient streets.
Pingjiang Road (Pingjiang Lu) is an ancient canal-side street located in the city of Suzhou. The road and its surroundings have been around for more than 800 years, since the Song Dynasty. A popular tourist destination, this charming cobblestone street gives visitors a fascinating glimpse into local Suzhou life.
More than 1,600 meters long, Pingjiang Road is lined with quaint old bookshops, local theaters, and traditional Suzhou houses with whitewashed walls and black tiles. You’ll also find eccentric cafes, jewelry shops, and street food vendors, as well as a number of other restaurants. Locals and tourists alike gather in the teahouses for performances of Suzhou Pingtan, a traditional performance of ballad singing and storytelling in the local dialect, while those interested in architecture will be in their element with the ancient design of the buildings here – plus there are 18 bridges scattered across the Pingjiang district.
Despite being a popular tourist destination, Pingjiang remains a quiet place away from the noise of the city. Because of its location, a visit here can easily be combined with a tour of Suzhou’s other top attractions, such as the the Humble Administrator’s Garden or Lion Grove Garden. A boat ride on the surrounding canals is a scenic way to experience this unique district.
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