Suzhou is one of the fastest growing major cities in the world and one of the most highly developed and prosperous cities in China. Dubbed ‘The Venice of the East’, it is also one of the country’s top tourist destinations.
Discover the delights of Suzhou with our introduction to the city’s top beauty spots, including the canal network, ancient bridges and UNESCO World Heritage-listed classical gardens; a must-see escape in the city for business and leisure travellers alike.
1. Pan Gate scenic area
In the southwest corner of Suzhou lies the Pan Gate scenic area, named after the historic Pan Gate – the sole remaining original coiled gate of its kind in the city, dating from 1355. Once used to guard and control the waterways in Suzhou, today the area diligently guards its history and traditions. From the gate, there are beautiful views of the arched Wumen Bridge, as well as the Ruiguang Pagoda, which was constructed in 1004. Connected to the gate is also a 300m stretch of ancient city wall where visitors can walk along and discover old halls, bridges, pavilions, bell towers and the small, but charming, Wuxiang Temple.
2. Suzhou Opera Museum
Home to the historic Kunqu Opera, Suzhou has a proud heritage of performing arts in China. This UNESCO World Heritage-listed opera was formed during the Ming Dynasty and is one of the oldest forms of opera still performed today. Visitors can learn more about the history of the opera and its legacy in Suzhou at the Opera Museum. Located inside a Ming dynasty-era theatre, the museum traces the story of the 500-year old history of the opera through music, lyrics and scores, along with instruments, costumes, masks and photographs. From the museum, there is also the opportunity to see Kunqu performed live; there are daily performances from the nearby tearoom, along with a calendar of special performances throughout the year at the museum itself.
3. Temple of Mystery
There are few more striking contrasts of the traditional and modern in Suzhou than at the Taoist Temple of Mystery. Located in the heart of one of the busiest shopping streets in the city and flanked on either side by fast food chains like McDonalds and KFC, visitors can be forgiven for not noticing this important historical landmark. Since the site was first occupied during the West Jin Dynasty around 276 AD, the temple square has been both a place of worship and a busy public meeting place, where markets, performances and community gatherings would take place in Suzhou. The site was rebuilt in 1775, and through the main gate there are four buildings to explore – the Hall of the Thunder God, the Hall of the Wealth God, the Goddess Tower and the Hall of Literary Prosperity – along with incredible statues and Chinese artworks to admire.
4. Canal network
In old Suzhou, the waterways are one of the city’s most prominent features, and from the canal network, visitors can see some of the most beautiful buildings and landmarks in the city. Often compared to the canals of Venice, the waterways of Suzhou are equally as historic – buildings and streets dating back hundreds of years still line their banks. There are modern charms here too; take your time exploring and stop off at the numerous shops, cafés and restaurants to relax, indulge and soak in the scenery.
5. Classical Gardens
Copyright: Bruce Au
Suzhou’s Classical Gardens are one of the most prominent attractions in the city, and with good reason. Built during a period of nearly a thousand years between the Northern Song and the late Qing Dynasties, the gardens are responsible for defining many of the elements now considered part of a classic Chinese garden design. Their beauty and history helped land them on the UNESCO World Heritage list, and today offer an interesting glimpse of the past. There are nine gardens in total, with some of the most popular being the Humble Administrator’s Garden, the Lingering Garden and the Master of the Nets Garden.
6. Ancient bridges
As a city of waterways, it is only natural that Suzhou is also a city of bridges. Wander through the Old Town and there are several particularly striking bridges to behold. A cruise down the Grand Canal is one of the simplest ways to take them all in as you pass through the city, while inside the Classical Gardens there are well-preserved examples of traditional stone bridges to admire.
7. Suzhou Silk Museum
Known as the silk capital of China, no trip to the city of Suzhou would be complete without a visit to the Silk Museum. During the Tang and Song Dynasties in particular, silk was an important part of the culture and identity of Suzhou; by the Ming and Qing Dynasties, even the royal families wanted silk made by Suzhou weavers. The museum traces the interesting history of silk in the region. The Silkworm-rearing room is filled with real silk worms feasting on mulberry leaves, giving visitors a glimpse of what it would have been like to work in silk production during the Qing Dynasty. Next door in the workshop there are ancient looms where local craftspeople demonstrate the ancient practices of silk production.
Ready to explore it all? Book your stay at the comfortable Pan Pacific Suzhou and follow our guide to the top seven landmarks to see in the city.
What are your must-see landmarks in Suzhou? Let us know in the comments below.