When planning to travel in the Shanghai area, I was sure I wasn’t too interested in spending too much time in Shanghai itself, while its neighbouring Suzhou and Hangzhou fascinated me far more with their history, lovely waterside spots, laid back lifestyle.
Suzhou has a history of over 2500 years. In the 6th century BC the city was already the capital of the Wu kingdom. The city boasts a number of gorgeous classical gardens dating from 11th-19th centuries, which are inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list. Furthermore, due to its lovely canals, Suzhou is often called Venice of the East and Venice of China. The construction of canals (Grant Canal was completed in the 7th century) contributed to development of trade and made Suzhou important administrative and economic center.
We fell in love with the city from the start, when we saw the beautiful bus stops.
Practical Details for Visiting Suzhou
Below I will list the Suzhou-specific tips. For general tips for visiting China, which also applies to Suzhou, please, see the relevant post here.
- Suzhou is served by 4 railway stations. The Suzhou railway station and North railway station are most frequently used for high speed trains to/from Xi’An, Shanghai and Hangzhou. You can be in Shanghai within half an hour and in Hangzhou within 1.5.
- Suzhou is a great strategic location to stay at, if you are visiting the Shanghai area. It’s cheaper and very easily accessible by high speed trains. Find accommodation near a metro station. It’s preferable to do so inside the city walls, which will make getting around even easier. We decided to stay in a hotel in Suzhou, instead of in Shanghai which was the best decision. The hotel was located near the South gate of the old city, 3 mins from the metro station, which was extremely convenient.
- The transport network is well-developed in Suzhou. Currently, the city has 6 lines and that happened in a short period of time from first opening of metro network in 2012. Interestingly, the city’s line 11 is now linked to Shanghai subway. Either way, metro is very convenient way to get around the city and reach all major sightseeing locations. As in other cities, buses are more complicated (although I have to note bus stations are cute).
I wanted to see and do a lot, but with only one day here, we had to limit ourselves. So here is a possible guide on what to do in Suzhou, if you only have a day.
1-day Itinerary of Suzhou
Price for Combo ticket with Ke garden: 40 yuan. Separately: 20 yuan.
Canglang pavilion is the oldest garden in Suzhou. You can get here by taking metro line 4 and getting off at Sanyuanfang or Nanmen station, it’s the same distance from either of them.
This garden affected us a lot. Maybe the reason was that it wasn’t big, it was compact and cute. Or maybe because we visited very early in the morning, soon after opening at 8am and we walked around before any loud tour groups arrived. Whatever the reason, we absolutely adored this beautiful garden. The other gardens we visited were larger and had completely different vibes.
We spotted this man working in peace in a pavilion and decided not to disturb him.
This is a lovely street along the canal with 800 years of history. From Canglang Pavilion take metro line 4 and change to line 2 to get to station Xiangmen, which is south of the canals.
We walked around here for hours. The vibes on this street are lovely. You will find locals and tourists here. This area is obviously touristy, but so beautiful. You will notice some people wearing traditional clothes and posing for photos, the boats with singing boatmen, the cute shops and cafes with beautiful scarves and fans and tea, the small bridges with postcard-worthy views. we couldn’t help but marvel at all the cute things around.
At the time we visited Momicafe had two branches on the street selling books, beautiful souvenirs and tasty cakes. Seems it since closed, however, there are a lot of cafes around and you can find a cute one nearby the canal.
Boat ride on the Canals
Price: 180 yuans for 1-6 persons. You can hire the whole boat or share it with others.
The small boats on the canal have two locations they leave from – one is farther north, another somewhere in the middle of the road. I suggest to take a boat from the middle, as they run in the south section, which is quieter and more picturesque. The north part is more crowded, as it is closer to the Humble Administrator’s garden and more tourists go there.
You technically need to wear the life vest, but you can take it off at times. We adored our boatman, he was absolutely nice. With the translate apps, he “told” us that he was collecting money from around the world, so we found small coins and paper money from Georgia to give him for his collection. This made him very happy. The boatmen generally offer their customers to sing, for this you will have to pay 20 yuan. We obviously opted in for this and it was a very nice experience. I wholeheartedly recommend doing this.
Actually this boat ride proved to us, why Suzhou is called Venice of the East. It’s lovely atmosphere definitely compares to that of Venice (I am not talking about Grand canal, but the cute smaller canals 🙂 ).
We didn’t wanna leave the canals, but it was getting later in the day and we still had to see Humble Administrator’s garden and Lion Grove garden.
The Humble Administrator’s garden
Price (high season): 80 yuan with no discounts.
From the canals we walked to the Humble Administrator’s garden. You can do the same or get here by taking the newly opened metro line 5 to the stop with the same name, as the garden.
The garden was extremely crowded, when we visited (I believe it is busy any time). The views are absolutely breathtaking, but the loud tour groups and huge numbers of people really is overwhelming. So we didn’t spend too much time there, just walked around the main areas, visited the Bonsai trees area, took pictures with beautiful lakes and pavilions and left.
Lion Grove garden
Price (high season): 40 yuan.
Next on was Lion Grove garden. We walked here from Humble Administrator’s garden. You can also get here by line 5 stop Humble Administrator’s garden.
This one we absolutely loved. Even though we were already tired from so many new experiences, we came alive while getting lost in the stone maze of this beautiful garden. I suggest to wander around without aim for a while. Do be careful, as the stairs can be slippery at times and enjoy yourself.
After visiting the gardens, it was already dark and the canals were lighted. We found some food nearby and sat at the canal enjoying the view. Then we walked towards metro, to the south of the canal and headed to another canal area in the west – Shangtang road. This area dates back 1200 years. It was beautiful with lighted lanterns. If you want to buy anything, keep in mind that things are, for some reason, more expensive here. The same simple souvenirs we bought in Xi’an were triple the price. I do advice to visit this part in the evening, as we did, and spend daylight hours visiting other attractions.
Btw boats run here as well, but the canals are not as nice as along Pingjiang road and the boats are also far bigger and not remotely as nice.
This was a perfect day in Suzhou. I will definitely come back to visit other gardens, water towns and to just enjoy this amazing city.
Suggestions for additional days in Suzhou
- Lingering garden,
- Master of Nets garden
- Tiger hill – the hill is named that way, due to its shape resembling a tiger.
- Baodai bridge – Over 300-meter long stone arch bridge first built in 9th century and reconstructed in 15th.