Suzhou China – For centuries Suzhou has been the hub of elegance, high culture, and the silk trade in China. Suzhou still stands today as a testament to the beauty of the past despite many of the areas are now becoming urbanised. In fact, Suzhou has a booming modern economy and many people have their eyes on the city for development.
Masterfully blending the old and the new, there’s enough to do to fill around three days. It also makes a great day trip or overnight stay from Shanghai. Suzhou is a perfect escape from city life and offers a great deal for photographers, art lovers, and foodies.
The old town areas, canals, and traditional waterside architecture are perfect for wandering around and getting lost in. Whereas, the nine famous UNESCO heritage gardens are a tranquil and stark contrast to urban city life in modern China. Suzhou is a must-visit city in China with a lot to offer visitors despite its relatively small size.
How To Get To Suzhou, China
Getting to Suzhou is very convenient, particularly if you arrive at the more central Hongqiao airport which is nearer to the train station than Pudong airport. Either way, it won’t be a problem as you simply hop on the subway until you reach Hongqiao train station (line 1, red).
From there you can buy a single or return ticket to Suzhou at the ticket counter. There are trains running every half an hour so there’s no need to pre-book unless you’re travelling on a major public holiday. (Even then you should be fine). Take your passport, they sometimes ask for it.
It’ll take about half an hour on the bullet train and will cost around 7 USD. Public transport is excellent quality in China and reasonably priced. You’re guaranteed a seat and the journey is a smooth and pleasant one. There are two stations in the city: Suzhou Train Station which is the most central and Suzhou North Station. You’ll want the central one.
Once you’re in Suzhou, an easy and inexpensive way to get around is using taxis. Just have the Chinese address written down or the name of the place you want to go, if it’s a tourist attraction. There are also plenty of buses running to everywhere you need to go and two subway lines. Make sure you check which bus number you need in advance if you’re considering the buses.
Where To Stay In Suzhou, China
There’s an option for every budget in Suzhou, from traditional spaces, to more modern and boutique hotels. Luckily accommodation is relatively inexpensive to other parts of East Asia so you get more for your money.
With beautiful private and shared rooms, you can stay in the very heart of Suzhou in a traditional Chinese building for budget prices. All of the main attractions are within walking distance as you’ll be based on Piangjian road, the main tourist street where most of the beautiful canal pictures are taken. They have a restaurant on-site but you’re also near to street-vendors and local restaurants. You can’t beat this for price, location, and traditional aesthetics.
Book here: Mingtown Youth Hostel
This more luxurious stay is particularly special as you’re actually staying inside one of Suzhou’s famous gardens in the historic area of Tongil. The whole interior and surrounding area make you feel like you’re living in historical China. From the antique wooden furniture in your room to the canals, gardens, and historical buildings all around you. The owners are lovely and go out of their way to make any stay special. A traditional and western breakfast is provided and the facilities in the rooms are excellent.
Book here: Tongli 1917 Best South Boutique Inn
For those looking for a more modern style but still within the convenience of the old town, look no further than Hotel Soul. An on-site gym and restaurant, combined with excellent room facilities, and an ideal location make this a perfect modern choice for your stay. It’s also very near the subway, Suzhou rail station, and the hotel offers a free shuttle service to The Humble Administrator’s Garden.
Book here: Hotel Soul
For more info and practical tips about travelling to China, you can also check out this blog post: How to plan a trip to China.
The Best Things To Do In Suzhou, China
Visit one of the 9 UNESCO Classical Gardens
Suzhou is renowned of its gardens and this was recognised by UNESCO in its ‘Nine Classical Gardens of Suzhou’. They’re all beautiful in their own way but the main features that you’ll find in all of the gardens are pavilions, flowers, water, and bridges. They’re wonderfully romantic and each one could be a Chinese painting of old time.
The Humble Administrator’s Garden, The Lion Forest Garden (named due to the vaguely lion shaped rocks you can find there), and the Lingering Garden are the most popular. The gardens are one of the main reasons to come to Suzhou and they attract thousands of visitors a year. Try to see at least two to take in the different vibes. Luckily, most of them are very close together so seeing more than one isn’t going to take up too much time.
Take a Stroll up Tiger Hill
The beautiful pagoda on Tiger Hill has been compared to The Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy and is well-worth a visit, even if only to compare the two. The bonsai gardens around the area offer gorgeous views, and the old Chinese architecture make this a must-visit on any trip to Suzhou. You can also go for a walk around Sword Pond which is supposed to be the resting place of 1000 buried ancient swords and is very scenic. The entrance fee is 80 yuan and open 7:30am-5:30pm. It’s not far from the Lingering Garden and The Humble Administrator’s Garden so you can easily combine these activities.
- Location: 8 Mennei Street, Huqiu District
- Access: Take bus 32, 146, 816, or 949 and get off at Huqiu Station.
Enjoy Tongli Ancient Town
Tongli is gorgeous and definitely not a place you should leave off your Suzhou itinerary. You could call it a condensed version of Suzhou as you’ll find beautiful gardens to visit, the famous three bridges (named peace, good luck, and celebration in Chinese), and beautiful old architecture at every turn. You can also try most of Suzhou’s delicacies here, including: dimsum, fried eels with sauce and delicious sticky rice pudding. This is a perfect area to visit if you have limited time in the city.
You can actually take a bus from Shanghai to Tongli if you really don’t have much time in Suzhou, it takes two hours and return buses are around 4pm.
Visit Zhouzhuang Watertown
This beautiful area serves as a reminder of the many water towns that existed in China in the 14th century. Over 800 people still live in there and preserve the town using old customs and local practices. This area is perfect for beautiful pictures that capture the feeling of old China. Apart from the scenic canals, you’ll also find the famous ‘twin bridges’ here, traditional houses that you can look inside, and plenty of tea shops, local eateries, and souvenir shops to keep you busy. It’s actually on the road between Shanghai and Suzhou and is deemed to be the best water town in China.
While we speak about Shanghai, if you are planning to visit that city with kids, make sure to check out this blog post: Ultimate guide to Shanghai with kids.
Wander at Pingjiang Road
This is the centre of Suzhou’s cultural life, and one of the main attractions for tourists visiting the area. A beautifully quaint road lined with bookshops, eateries, and local opera theatres. You can find delicate handmade dumplings in animal shapes, take pictures on the bridges, buy handmade good and souvenirs, drink tea and coffee, and generally enjoy the bustling atmosphere. This one of the favourite spots among guests and locals, and for good reason.
Discover Chinese history at Suzhou Museum
Designed by famous architect Leoh Ming Pai, this museum is a hub of Chinese history featuring over 15,000 pieces. You can view cultural relics including: ancient Chinese art, calligraphy, gold, silver, and jade items. It also takes you through Suzhou’s history within China. Descriptions are in English and Mandarin. Blending the modern and the old this museum uses technology and excellent design to make sure you leave entertained and with a greater knowledge of Chinese history.
- Location: 204, Dongbei Street, Pingjiang District
- Transportation: buses 112 and 202 can take you there
- Opening times: 9:00am-5:00pm except Mondays
Eat at De Yue Lou Resturant
This beautiful restaurant has a long history of several hundred years and dates back to the Ming dynasty. This is the perfect place to try Suzhou’s local cuisine and visit one of the most famous restaurants in China at the same time. The interior is a traditional Chinese setting but is a bit more up-market than you’ll usually find. Luckily the menu price offers as many affordable dishes as more expensive. Some must-try dishes are: De Yue spring chicken, squirrel-shaped mandarin fish and ham sliced in honey sauce. They have an English language menu
Address: No.27 Taijian Lane, China
Try Watermelon Chicken
One of the more unusual dishes that is unique to Suzhou is watermelon chicken. It’s exactly how it sounds, braised chicken that is marinated and served in a watermelon. Whereas most foods on offer in Suzhou are spicy, the result here is a sweet and savoury soup that is delicious on its own or with rice. The chicken is well-cooked and just falls off the bone. It also makes for some great pictures.
Visit The Bookworm
The Bookworm is one of the most popular eateries to stop at, particularly if you’re a book lover. They brand themselves as a literary bar and event space and they often host fantastic evenings including: book readings, pub quizzes, and music. They’re also involved in the organisation of the local literary festival. Even if you’re not looking for events, this is a great place to stop since their menu is fantastic – a delicious mix of Western and Chinese food. They have an extensive drinks menu and some of the best coffee around.
As expected, you’re surrounded by books and cosy nooks to relax in.
Address: 77 Gunxiufang, Shiquan Jie
Go Biking around Yangcheng Lake
Yangcheng Lake is a great day trip from Suzhou if you have some extra time. Walking around the lake is lovely in itself but if you enjoy cycling then you’re in luck as there’s plenty of places to rent bicycles around the lake. It’s also where the famous Yangcheng ‘hairy crabs’ come from that are quite a delicacy around China. Take in the serene views and get some exercise at the same.
Access: take the minibus Suzhou-Kunshan at Suzhou North Bus Station. Get off at Kunshan and then take bus No. 107 or 118.
Suzhou offers a lot of options for those hoping to explore some of ancient China and don’t want to travel too far. It’s just a stone’s throw away from the buzzing mega-city that is Shanghai and offers stark contrast to the urban jungles around it. Suzhou is also a good hub if you’re carrying on to other parts of China thanks to the bullet trains. Come to Suzhou for the gardens, the excellent food, and the boutique shops where you’ll never know what you’ll find. Visitors can enjoy some peace, tranquillity, and some of the most beautiful natural scenes in China.
PS: For more travel inspiration, feel free to check out these blogs posts: China Travel Blog.