Hangzhou and Suzhou are heavenly paradises in the south of China. But what should you choose if you only can visit one of these majestic cities?
Ask any Chinese person about Hangzhou and Suzhou, and he will unabashedly declare them “paradise on Earth.” The pride might have originated from on old adage dating back to the Song dynasty: “Heaven is above and Hangzhou and Suzhou are below.” This indeed serves as perfect description of China’s two most picturesque cities.
It might seem difficult to separate the two at first – both run a parallel track in Chinese history: they flourished during the Tang and Song Dynasties, and were home to many great scholars – but nowadays they offer characteristically different experiences for the traveler.
If you only have time for either, read on to find out which city is more suitable for you:
Hangzhou, Heaven on Earth
Seven centuries ago, Marco Polo announced Hangzhou as “the finest, most splendid city in the world”. Many travelers before and after him have become enamored by the city’s natural beauty, in no small part due to its fabled West Lake (Xi Hu).
Chronicled by poets and loved by Emperors, the West Lake has captured the Chinese imagination for centuries. With ancient pagodas, stony arched bridges and willow-lined banks set against the backdrop of mist-covered hills, the West Lake draws you in like a Chinese ink painting. Take in the sights on a relaxing boat ride across the lake.
As one of China’s most acclaimed destinations, Hangzhou is busy with tourists throughout the year. Leave the city streets for peace and quiet in the ancient temples hidden amongst the lush hills surrounding the lake.
The yellow-walled and red-roofed Lingyin Buddhist Temple (Soul’s Retreat) is the grandest temple in the region, and perhaps the most important: it marks the earliest traces of Zen Buddhist temples in Hangzhou. Next-door, Yongfu Temple is lesser-known and a better-kept secret – enjoy a tranquil walk with the grounds to yourself.
According to legend, Emperor Qianlong fell in love with Longjing tea, a specialty of the region, during one of his famous holidays to the West Lake. Legend has it that spring water from the “Dreaming of the Tiger Spring” brings out the finest flavors of Longjing tea. While you might not be able to drink tea brewed with ancient spring water, try out China’s most famous tea while surrounded by pagodas in the elegant gardens of Guo’s Villa.
Suzhou attracts its fair share of tourists, but in comparison to its poster city cousin, Hangzhou, Suzhou channels a laid-back and unpretentious charm. The verdant city houses an unparalleled selection of Chinese classical gardens – miniature versions of natural landscapes. Wander through Zhuozheng Garden, a secluded expanse of elegant pavilions, placid ponds and bamboo-lined hallways.
Sometimes dubbed the “Venice of the Orient”, Suzhou sits on a system of interlocked canals which once served as important dynastic trading routes. Pingjiang Road and Shantang Street, the city’s oldest streets, run parallel to its waterways, and paint an exquisite portrait of stone bridges, flowing water, hanging red-paper lanterns and the black-and-white style of classic Jiangnan architecture.
No trip to Suzhou is complete without a Pingtan and Kunqu opera performance. Pingtan is a traditional storytelling and ballad singing performance art that originated from Suzhou during the Song Dynasty. Kunqu, which counts Emperor Kangxi and Qianlong as fans, is one of the oldest extant forms of Chinese opera. Enjoy the show as you unwind to a steaming pot of tea in a rustic teahouse by the waters.
Here is a summary of the travel highlights for the two cities:
|Attractions & highlights||West Lake||Classical-style Chinese gardens|
|Ancient temples, Parks, wetlands, Longjing tea||Interlocking canals and historical architecture|
|West Lake boat ride||Grand Canal boat ride|
|Distance from Shanghai||Daily high-speed trains with regular intervals (duration 45mins-1h15mins)||Daily high-speed trains with regular intervals (duration 30mins-45mins)|
|Shows & Events||Romance of Song Dynasty||Pingtan (Storytelling and Ballad Singing) & Kunqu Opera performance|
|Impression West Lake Show (closed for upgrading, reopens September, 2016)|
Can’t decide between the twin wonders of Hangzhou and Suzhou? Luckily you can experience both of these heavenly cities on our Hangzhou & Suzhou: Heaven on Earth tour.