Things to Do in Suzhou
Topped by the wonky, 1,000-year-old Cloud Rock Leaning Pagoda, China’s answer to the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Suzhou’s Tiger Hill is an artificial burial mound that likely conceals the remains of the city’s founder, King Helü. Gardens, pools, bonsai, bamboo forests, and tea houses make the hill a charming place to linger.
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.
Spanning around 13 acres (five hectares, the Humble Administrator’s Garden (Zhuo Zheng Yuan is the largest and best known of Suzhou’s nine UNESCO World Heritage–listed gardens. First built in 1509 for an official named Wang Xianchen, it’s one of China’s finest classical gardens, with bridges, pavilions, rock gardens, and reflecting pools.
Pingjiang Road (Pingjiang Lu, an ancient canal-side street in Suzhou dating back more than 800 years, attracts visitors with its collection of quaint old bookshops, teahouses, local theaters, and traditional Suzhou houses with whitewashed walls and black tiles. A stroll down the cobbled street gives a glimpse into local life.
In a city known for its beautiful gardens, Lingering Garden (Li Yuan is a standout. One of the four most famous classical gardens in China, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s renowned for its wonderful layout and use of space, with ponds, bridges, rockeries, gardens, statues, pavilions, and buildings with striking architecture.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
More 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.
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 sixth century BC feature a 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.