"Fabled city of gardens" Top 5 Page for this destination Suzhou by cheezecake_deli

Suzhou Travel Guide: 346 reviews and 1,113 photos

An earthly paradise...

Founded in 600 BC by King He Lu as the capital of the Wu Kingdom, Suzhou has been famous throughout China as an earthly paradise for more than a thousand years – an old saying goes, “Above there is heaven, below there are Suzhou and Hangzhou”. It was an early centre of silk production, a prized commodity exported to the rest of the country and beyond. It is also the birthplace of the oldest form of Chinese opera known as “kunju” and of a celebrated musical style called “pingtan”. The city prospered on trade along the Grand Canal, reaching its zenith during the Tang and Song dynasties. During the Ming dynasty, Suzhou flourished as a place of refinement and culture, attracting wealthy merchants, scholars and officials, who patronised the arts and built themselves elegant houses and gardens. These classical gardens – designed according to uniquely Chinese principles incorporating the rules of fengshui and Daoist philosophy – are Suzhou’s most compelling legacy today. Many have miraculously survived the turmoils of 20th century China. Present-day Suzhou is a bustling city of 6 million people, with a central ancient moated town surrounded by the modern boom town, a development of the last 15 years as a result of rapid industrialisation in the Yangtze river delta region.

Tourist hotspot!

Suzhou is located in southern Jiangsu province in eastern China, in flat country criss-crossed by canals and rivers. It is only a 40-minute train ride from Shanghai (or 90+ minutes from Nanjing). Like nearby Hangzhou, it is a popular destination throughout the year, especially for the Chinese, because of its numerous literary and cultural associations. It is also a cosmopolitan place, with sizeable expatriate business communities particularly from Korea, Taiwan and Singapore. As a result, it has a highly developed tourist infrastructure, with many hotels catering to all budgets, a busy eating-out scene and easy-to-use public transportation (taxis, buses and rickshaws). For these reasons, it is relatively easy to visit Suzhou independently, though many visitors (particularly the East Asians) still come on package deals.

For most people, the main reason to visit is to see the classical gardens of Suzhou, now designated a UNESCO World Heritage site. There are numerous to choose from, though I have listed below the most famous ones. Suzhou offers more than just gardens, however, and there are also culturally significant temples, pagodas and museums. Finally, there is also an opportunity to take a cruise on the Grand Canal…

Beyond gardens

Top 10 sights:
1. Humble Administrator’s Garden (Zhuozheng Yuan) – the largest classical garden of Suzhou and one of the finest
2. Lion Grove Garden (Shizi Lin) – another unmissable garden, with a difference, characterised by rockeries resembling lions
3. Master of the Nets Garden (Wangshi Yuan) – small but perfectly formed, considered by garden connoisseurs to be the best of them all
4. North Temple Pagoda (Beisi Ta) – the tallest ancient pagoda south of the Yangtze
5. Cold Mountain Temple (Hanshan Si) – a delightful Buddhist temple immortalised by a famous Tang poet
6. Coiled Gate (Pan Men) – a restored fortified gate that controlled access to Suzhou by water and land 700 years ago
7. Tongli – a pretty and quaint canal town on the outskirts of the city
8. The Grand Canal – take a cruise on the world’s longest artificial waterway
9. Suzhou Confucius Temple (Kong Miao) – which houses China’s oldest surviving city map
10. Deep Blue Wave Pavilion Garden (Canglang Ting) – the oldest surviving classical garden in Suzhou.

  • Last visit to Suzhou: Jun 2007
  • Intro Updated Jul 1, 2007
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