Suzhou’s stunning canals and decorated gardens make this little city the perfect getaway from the bustling metropolis of Shanghai. If you only have one day to indulge in a break from it all, you’ll need to look no further than Suzhou for rest and relaxation mixed with authentic cultural experiences.
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With frequent high-speed trains running in and out of the city (Shanghai is approximately 20 minutes away), Suzhou is the perfect day trip for anyone looking for a respite from the big cities. Whether it’s your first time in town, or you’re back for more, we’ve put together a list of places that combine the classic spots with alternative choices that will bring out a different side of Suzhou you wouldn’t see on the usual tourist itinerary.
Photo by Rita Heine via Flickr
Historically, Suzhou has been linked to the great arts and literary scene that occurred during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Generations of inspired artists, scholars and poets have long been drawn to its dreamy canal scenes and the delicate charm of its classical gardens. If you are here for the first time, Humble Administrator’s Garden will make a great introduction to the Chinese garden style. Walk along winding paths and zigzagging bridges; you’ll realize you’ve become part of a miniature landscape composed of rocks, water, trees and pavilions. The gardens, in particular, get crowded on weekends and public holidays, so it is best to visit early in the day or during weekdays.
Set sail on a boat tour of the Grand Canal, the longest man-made waterway in the world. While much of the water town’s charm has been depleted by rapid modernization, you will see surviving old-world river dwellings, ancient city gates, and arched stone bridges as you cruise down the waterway. (Tip: if you have an extra day, visit nearby water towns Tongli or Wuzhen for a more genuine Jiangnan water town experience.) Have a relaxing lunch at The Bookworm (Lao Shu Chong) at Shiquan Jie, a lovely canal-side bookstore café offering a Western menu of coffees, sandwiches, pastas, salads and smoothies.
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From the Bookworm, a short taxi ride will bring you to Pingjiang Lu, an 800-year-old lively pedestrian street lined with trendy cafés, guesthouses and novelty stores. Duck into one of the smaller lanes off the main street for a glimpse into local life. Near the northern end at Zhongzhangjia Xiang you’ll find the charming Pingtan Museum, where you can learn, listen and watch ancient storytelling art. Don’t miss the elegant performances sung in the local Suzhouhua dialect – shows happen daily from 1.30-3.30pm. Nearby, the Suzhou Kunqu Opera Museum holds performances from 2-3.30pm every Sunday.
Spend the rest of the afternoon at the Suzhou Museum, which exhibits a vast collection of cultural relics like jade, wooden carvings, celadon, paintings, textiles and other displays. The building itself is an architectural work of art – designed by renowned cubist IM Pei, it is a modern interpretation of traditional white-walled Jiangnan dwellings and Suzhou gardens.
Photo by Russ Bowling via Flickr
To complete your Suzhou trip, dine at a traditional Suzhou restaurant – the city boasts a number of excellent restaurants that are worth a try. Many local favorites are located at Taijian Nong (Taijian Lane) around the Guanqian Jie shopping street, including the famous Song He Lou (Pine and Crane Restaurant) that is a little more than 200 years old. Savor traditional Suzhou specialties such as Songshu Guiyu (squirrel-shaped Mandarin fish), Gusu Luya (Gusu marinated duck) and Luobosi Su Bing (pan-fried turnip cake). After dinner, end your day with a stroll in modern Suzhou along Guanqian Jie.
Indulge in a tour through Suzhou’s resplendent atmosphere on the Hangzhou and Suzhou: Heaven on Earth tour. A relaxing getaway from bustling Shanghai, Suzhou impresses clients with its stunning architecture, tranquil canals, and gardens designed by fengshui masters.