Trumpeted as the “Venice of the East” or “Paradise on Earth,” Suzhou—the city of classical gardens and historic waterways—is perfectly capable of lulling you into a silent reverie. Scratch beneath the surface, however, and you will find much evidence of urban vitality here.
If you are thinking of visiting Suzhou, read on for the best places to eat, shop, and discover the local way of life in this quaint Chinese city.
1. Things to Do in Suzhou
Undoubtedly, the Suzhou gardens are a priority for many visitors—two esteemed gardens that you should spend time in are the Humble Administrator’s Garden and the Lingering Garden (read our guide to Suzhou’s famous and hidden gardens).
If you are travelling to Suzhou in November, note that Tianping Mountain’s autumn foliage is an annual attraction; it is also during this period that the area springs to life, with performances, craft markets, and food stalls to enjoy.
For a change of scenery—and an otherworldly experience—make a day trip to see the Linwu Cave. The attraction is a breathtaking example of what can happen over thousands of years, when water permeates limestone rock and dissolves the limestone. More intriguingly, this is also believed to be the spot where ancient Taoist monks honed their martial arts skills, to the point where they could kill with a single flick of the wrist.
Another popular day trip option is the scenic Yangcheng Lake. Surprisingly, its main draw has little to do with its aesthetic appeal—for decades, seafood lovers and top chefs (especially from Shanghai) have coveted the lake’s “hairy crabs,” believing them to be superior in taste and texture. These days, demand for the crabs has been somewhat muted, in part due to the proliferation of counterfeit crabs that are placed in Yangcheng Lake for a brief spell before being passed off as the real thing. But the area is still worth a visit and you can make time for the nearby Suzhou Village, which boasts an array of international brands, Chinese designer labels, and outlet stores.
Within the city centre, walking is the best way to get around. Pingjiang Road is where many tourists find themselves, and it is also considered Suzhou’s cultural hub—look out for singing storytellers and opera theatres in the area.
Another street to meander along is Shantang Street; if you are acquainted with the Chinese classic novel Dream of the Red Chamber, you may be keen to learn that its author Cao Xueqin drew inspiration from the Humble Administrator’s Garden (see above) and Shantang Street for his literary masterstroke.
More culture awaits inside the Suzhou Museum. It was designed by eminent architect I.M. Pei at the age of 85 (in 2004), and features a respectable collection of Ming and Qing artefacts. For other places of interest in Suzhou, refer to this itinerary.
2. Where to Eat in Suzhou
While in Suzhou, seize the opportunity to taste authentic Chinese cuisine. To savour the best Chinese dumplings in the city, visit the Lonely Planet-approved Yang Yang. And don’t let Suzhou’s languid pace deceive you—where food is concerned, options are available around the clock, and hot pot establishments in particular (such as Lu Ji) can be counted upon to stay open well past midnight.
In recent years, Suzhou’s culinary scene has expanded to include Western and fusion offerings. To source for restaurant recommendations beyond Chinese cuisine and be updated on new openings, visit City Weekend.
You can continue to bask in Suzhou’s idyllic charm by making a reservation at Pan Pacific Suzhou’s Garden Brasserie (international buffet) or the Keyaki Japanese Restaurant—both restaurants feature serene views of the Panmen Scenic Area.
3. Shopping in Suzhou
Suzhou’s claim to fame is not limited to its gardens—it is also known as the silk capital of the world. Visitors have been captivated by Suzhou’s artisanal silk embroidery (better known as “Su embroidery”), which, at its highest level, can feature two completely different embroidered images on either side of the silk. To best appreciate this traditional art form as well as pick up a souvenir or gift, pay a visit to the Suzhou Embroidery Research Institute. You can also purchase silk embroidery products at Pingjiang Road and Shantang Street (mentioned above). Should you be tempted to negotiate a better price, rest assured that bargaining is considered socially acceptable here.
To bring home other memorabilia that is unique to Suzhou, pop into shops that carry Biluochun tea, which is said to have a distinctive fruity flavour with a sweet aroma and aftertaste. For a full-day, hands-on experience, book a tour to one of Suzhou’s tea plantations on Dongshan Island, where much of the city’s Biluochun tea is produced, and gather the tea leaves yourself.
Avid readers with a soft spot for printed books, set aside time for the multi-level Eslite Bookstore, where you can browse a vast book collection while indulging in coffee and gift shopping on the side. “In a world with more and more iPads, laptops, and tablets, it’s wonderful to find a huge space reserved for paper and ink,” reads a recent glowing review.
If retail therapy is what you seek, head to Suzhou Center, Suzhou’s newest and largest mall, which houses over 600 retail brands. For more shopping destinations, refer to City Weekend’s gift guide and its Suzhou markets round-up.
4. Suzhou Nightlife
For craft beers, Birdland has been hailed as “the only real option” for drinking good beer in Suzhou. To enjoy “live” music, dancing, and socialising, show up at the Suzhou Locke Pub. (Find more bars and clubs here.)
Non-drinkers can soak in the night view while exploring the Suzhou City Moat area on foot or by boat. Alternatively, take in the sights while wandering around the city streets in search of a hearty supper.
To get the latest updates about bar and restaurant promotions, entertainment events, art exhibitions, and other things to do in Suzhou at night, visit That’s Suzhou.
Welcome to Suzhou! If you need help planning your Suzhou holidays, speak to our team at Pan Pacific Suzhou.