Suzhou, which some have compared to "Heaven on Earth," awaits with bountiful beauty and a rich cultural heritage. The city has over 2,500 years of rich history, culture and abundant historical sites. With enchanting sceneries and delicious local cuisine, it has become a popular weekend escape from the hustle and bustle of Shanghai.
Suzhou is in the southeast of Jiangsu Province. The city is on the lower reaches of the Yangtze River and on the shores of Taihu Lake. It is known as the "Venice of the East."
It has an area of 8,488.4 square kilometers. The urban core of Suzhou is Gusu District, but informally called Old Town Suzhou. Suzhou Industrial Park is to the east of the old town, and Suzhou High and New Technology Development Zone is to the west. Suzhou is one of the most prosperous cities in China. Its development has a direct correlation with the growth of its satellite cities, including Kunshan, Taicang, Changshu and Zhangjiagang.
The number of permanent residents reached 10.6 million by the end of 2012. Of those, 6.5 million live in the downtown area.
Suzhou has a four-season, monsoon-influenced humid subtropical climate with hot, humid summers and cool, cloudy, damp winters with occasional snowfall.
The city's canals, stone bridges, pagodas and meticulously designed gardens have contributed to its status as one of the top tourist attractions in China. The classical gardens in Suzhou were added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
Suzhou is famous for its classical gardens. The Humble Administrator's Garden and Lingering Garden are among "the best four gardens in China." The Great Wave Pavilion and the Lion Forest Garden represent the garden building style of the Song (AD 960-1279), Yuan (1271-1368), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties.
Located 5 kilometers west of the center of Suzhou, Tiger Hill is named after a white tiger that legend says appeared on the hill at the burial site of Helu, who was the King of Wu during the Spring and Autumn Period (770-476 BC). Renowned as the first scenic spot in Suzhou, it is famous for its beautiful scenery, long history and many attractions with mysterious stories. Tiger Hill is 34.3 meters above sea level.
Hanshan Temple is a Buddhist temple and monastery in Suzhou. It is near Fengqiao, or Maple Bridge, about 5 kilometers west of the old city of Suzhou. The temple is famed in East Asia because of the well-known poem "A Night Mooring near Maple Bridge" written by Zhang Ji, a poet of the Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907).
Xuanmiao Temple, originally built in 276 AD, is a prominent Taoist temple with a long history in the center of old Suzhou City. In front of the temple is Guanqian Street, a famous pedestrian strip.
Suzhou's city wall is one of the most sophisticated, ingenious and best preserved in China. It also uses water gates in a region crisscrossed by rivers and streams. One of the most famous gates is Pan Gate, which was the major entrance to the walls that surrounded ancient Suzhou. It contains one land and one water gate (which contains two smaller water gates), and an enclosed courtyard between inner and outer stone walls.
Combining land and water gates was a major military invention. The water gates built over canals not only repelled invaders on water but also helped control floods during heavy rains, and facilitated traffic.
Take a bike ride through the old city to stop at gardens, temples, city walls and bridges.
Check out Kunqu opera, one of the oldest forms of Chinese opera, and pingtan, a traditional combination of songs and storytelling at pavilions near the tranquil lake.
￥ East line:
Guanqian Street has many historic restaurants and shops, including Songhe Lou and Deyue Lou for Suzhou cuisine, Lugaojian for spiced pork with homemade red sauce, Caizhizhai for candy and roasted seeds and nuts and Huangtianyuan for steamed cakes.
￥ West line:
Located in the northwest of Suzhou, Shantang Street also called Seven-mile Shantang connects Chang Gate in the east with Tiger Hill in the west. You can travel by boat on Shantang Canal to see street life and buy lotus seeds and water chestnuts.
Stone Road is also a popular shopping and entertainment street near Chang Gate. Try "Three White in Taihu Lake," or Taihu Lake silver fish, white fish and white shrimp.
High-speed train from Shanghai Railway Station or Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station takes 30 minutes. One-way, second class costs 40 yuan (US$6.50).
Suzhou has a good public transportation system with buses routes that cover all parts of the city. Fares are usually 2 yuan for an air-conditioned bus. Make sure you have some coins.
Taxis are available in the city and are an easy way to get around. The regular taxi starting price is 11 yuan.
These man-powered vehicles in downtown area are great for seeing the sights. The starting price is 15 yuan, rising 5 yuan to 10 yuan for a longer trip. Negotiate the price first when taking a pedicab to ensure that there are no misunderstandings.