The ancient city of Suzhou is often referred to as the “Venice of the Orient” because of the canals and lakes that weave between its city streets. Suzhou is just over 100 kilometres (63 miles) from Shanghai but the culture and customs of the former Wu capital differ greatly from China’s most populatedcity. Suzhou dates back to the 6th century B.C. and traditional ways of life still resonate in the streets of this rapidly modernising city. Spend a few days exploring Suzhou’s gardens, courtyards and buildings which provide evocative glimpses back through the city’s 2,500-year history.
The star attractions of Suzhou are its splendid gardens, of which more than 60 can be found scattered throughout the city. Take a boat ride through the canals of the Humble Administrator’s Garden, the city’s largest garden. Marvel at the intricately carved tree roots and extensive bonsai collection. Explore the design of the Lingering Garden, with lake and mountain scenes. Lose yourself amid the twists and turns of the Lion Forest Garden and on hot days cool off under the forest canopy of the Surging Wave (Canglang) Pavilion. These gardens are among Suzhou’s Classical Gardens, which are included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List.
Crisscrossed with charming canal streets and bridges, compact Suzhou is the perfect walking or cycling city. Stroll across 1,000-year-old paving stones on scenic Ping Jiang Road, pausing to admire ancient shophouses and Western-style coffee shops. Shop for souvenirs along Shan Tang Street then explore the quite neighbourhoods beyond. The city is also studded with pagoda-style temples, such as the Cold Mountain Temple, Huqiu Tower and the joss smoke-shrouded Temple of Mystery.
Getting around Suzhou is a breeze thanks to a network of pedicabs and easy-to-follow walking paths. Take a ride along the canals aboard a historic boat to see the city from a different angle. Although Suzhou doesn’t have its own airport, nearby Shanghai and Wuxi are less than an hour away by shuttle bus or high speed train.