Heaven has paradise; Earth has Suzhou and Hangzhou
Suzhou (苏州; Sou-tseü in Wu, Sūzhōu in Mandarin, old romanization "Soochow".) is a city in Jiangsu province, famed for its beautiful gardens and traditional waterside architecture. A group of gardens form a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The town has many canals; Marco Polo called it the Venice of the East.
Suzhou is a prefecture-level city in the Chinese system of administration, which makes the name "Suzhou" somewhat ambiguous; it can refer either to the city itself or to the entire administrative area. This article covers the city; some towns within the administrative area — Kunshan, Changshu, Zhangjiagang, Taicang and Wujiang — have separate articles.
The other districts of the city (with population numbers as of 2020) are:
- 1 Downtown (Gusu District). This is the central area, the old city with its canals, temples and what is left of the 6th century BCE city wall. It also has much of the entertainment and shopping. (just over two million).
- 2 Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP), on both sides of Jinji Lake, east of downtown (Bus number 2 , metro lines 1, 5 and 11). A development zone, with mainly computer and communications companies, described by some as a masterpiece of urban planning. Jointly designed by the city government and a Singaporean urban planning committee, this area has wide boulevards lined with new high-rise apartments, office buildings and factories with some recreation facilities that might make it worth a visit. Shopping malls, eating and drinking streets are surrounded by some interesting contemporary parkland. (808,000).
- 3 Suzhou New District (SND, Huqiu District), west of downtown (metro line 3). A development zone with many biotech companies. (830,000).
- 4 Wuzhong District, south and west of downtown (metro lines 1, 4 and 5). Known as the "Hometown of Chinese Folk Culture and Art" with crafts including embroidery, carving, tapestry, architectural crafts, bronze casting, musical instrument manufacture, painting and calligraphy. (1.39 million)
- 5 Xiangcheng District, north of downtown (metro lines 2 and 4). Xiangcheng District is named after Wu Zixu, a minister of the State of Wu in the Spring and Autumn Period. It is on the bank of Yangcheng Lake. (890,000).
Many of the city's large expatriate community live either downtown or in the SIP, and most of the bars and restaurants catering to them are in those areas. These may also be good for visitors; most have international menus and English-speaking staff and many have live music, often Filipino bands.
Wuzhong and Wujiang are along Lake Tai, and both have popular beaches.
Wikipedia has a complete list of the administrative divisions with a map.
Downtown Suzhou is completely surrounded by a large, rectangular canal known as the Hucheng River (Hucheng Hé), which is connected to China's Grand Canal. Within the rectangle, 9 east-west canals and 12 north-south canals run through the city. Most of the major sights are within this area.
Outside the main canal is the ring road which is divided into east (Donghuan Lu), west (Xihuan Lu), north-east (Beihuan Dong Lu), north-west (Beihuan Xi Lu), south-east (Nanhuan Dong Lu) and south-west (Nanhuan Xi Lu) sections. It forms a rectangle on the map. The main long-distance transport hubs are along this road, and bus #10 runs in a complete loop of the ring road.
East of the ring road, Jinjihu Lake marks the centre of the SIP with two main through roads crossing the lake (Xiandai Avenue to the north and Jinjihu Avenue to the south). Most streets in the SIP have names beginning with Xing (from 'Xingjiapo', the Chinese rendering of Singapore) for east–west routes and Su (Suzhou) for north–south routes.
The two main roads in downtown are Renmin Lu (north-south, Metro Line 4 runs under it) and Ganjiang Lu (east-west, Metro Line 1 runs under it). Both are well-provided with shopping, hotels and restaurants. Ganjiang Lu has a bridge into the SIP at its east end.
Two streets of importance to travellers run east off Renmim Lu. Guanqian Jie, a bit north of Ganjiang Road, is a busy pedestrians-only shopping street near the center of town, with the Taoist Temple of Mystery and a flea market area toward its east end. Shiquan Jie, south of Ganjiang Road, has restaurants, bars, hotels, the main Suzhou tourist information office, much tourist-oriented shopping, and the Garden of the Master of the Nets.
Guanqian Jie and Shiquan Jie are within walking distance of each other via Renmin Lu on the west, Fenghuan Rd further east or various smaller streets in between. The back streets are not particularly scenic but do have some good shopping, especially for moderately-priced clothes and shoes.
Suzhou has always been a major center of Wu culture which developed in the region around Lake Tai; a Suzhou accent in the Wu language is still considered prestigious, even though the language is now often called "Shanghainese". Suzhou was the capital of the Kingdom of Wu in the first millennium BCE, but through most of history Wu has not been an independent state.
The area was settled much earlier, but the city walls that defined what we now know as Suzhou were built in the late 6th century BCE. By 100 CE Suzhou was one of the ten largest cities on Earth, and in the early 19th century it was the world's largest non-capital city. Throughout this history, Suzhou was clearly the most important city of its region; Shanghai was just a walled town near the river mouth and the officials there reported to higher-ranking officials in Suzhou.
Starting in the mid-19th century, Shanghai boomed due to foreign trade; today it is far larger than Suzhou and very much the center of the area. However Suzhou is still a very significant city; the core city has over five million people, and the whole urban area more than ten million. The entire region is prosperous.
Suzhou has been a center of the silk trade and a place of gardens and canals for centuries. It has long been both a center of commerce and a haven for scholars, artists, and skilled craftsmen.
|“||Suju is a very great and noble city. They possess silk in great quantities,... it hath merchants of great wealth and... accomplished traders and most skilful craftsmen. There are also in this city many philosophers and leeches, diligent students of nature.||”|
—Marco Polo, 13th century
All of that is still the case today, over 700 years later.
In Imperial China, Suzhou was a popular destination for retired scholars and officials, many of whom built classical Chinese gardens around their homes; even lesser houses and some commercial buildings often have lovely small gardens or courtyards. The Classical Gardens of Suzhou are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Today, East China is one of the country's most prosperous and fastest-growing regions, and Suzhou is very much part of that. A wander off the beaten path and into some of the old neighborhoods can be quite a treat, but their seediness and crowded conditions provide a stark contrast to the endless billboards at the edge of the city advertising suburban developments that would not look out-of-place in any allegedly "more developed" country.
Suzhou is a bustling modern city, though you can still see traces of a very old lifestyle centered around the canals. Come prepared to feel a bit betrayed by the guidebooks singing the praises of a quaint thousand-year-old city. The old city center around the canals still has a very high concentration of traditional Chinese buildings in the Jiangnan architectural style, however, making it a great place to snap some postcard-worthy photos to show your friends back home.
Suzhou boasts one of the hottest economies in the world; the city is a major center of high-tech manufacturing and the world's largest single producer of laptop computers. The Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP) east of downtown and the Suzhou New District (SND) in the west have dozens of factories for both Chinese and foreign companies, and many that are joint ventures. This makes for a sense of stark contrasts: The outskirts of town were farmland just a few decades ago, but now there are four-lane highways connecting the city to Shanghai... four-lane highways with pedestrians, bicyclists and pedicabs using the breakdown lanes.
The SIP is definitely the main center for the computer and communications industries, but it is by no means alone. The SND on the opposite side of downtown is also doing very well and seems to be becoming a hub for biotech industries. The whole region is booming and electronics are only part of a very diverse industrial base; products include microchips, flash memory systems, electronics, computer equipment, telecommunications components, power tools, chemicals and materials, automotive components and pharmaceuticals. Kunshan, Wujiang, Changshu, and Zhangjiagang, all administratively "county-level cities" or districts within the prefecture-level city Suzhou, are also growing rapidly, as is the neighboring prefecture-level city Wuxi.
Suzhou has a large expatriate community, many associated with the factories but also the English teachers, Filipino musicians and others found anywhere in China. Compared to other Chinese cities, Suzhou has a higher proportion of expats from other Asian countries: the SIP development was a joint venture between the Suzhou and Singapore governments, and there has been much investment from Singapore and Malaysia. Japanese, Korean, Taiwanese and Indian companies are there as well; Samsung has large factories in Suzhou, including their first semiconductor fabrication plant outside Korea. Of course, there are also many Chinese and Western companies.
The language of the region is the Wu dialect; it is not mutually intelligible with Mandarin, or any other Chinese dialect for that matter. Suzhou is the traditional cradle of Wu culture, and a Suzhou accent has some prestige, even though the language is now often called "Shanghai dialect" or "Shanghainese". Therefore, Suzhou is a good place to learn to speak Wu Chinese. However, as anywhere in China, most people are bilingual in the local dialect and Mandarin, and you should have no problem speaking Mandarin unless you are talking to the elderly.
Suzhou is a prosperous city with huge numbers of migrant workers, mostly from poorer provinces. People in the service industries that you may encounter — taxi drivers, waitresses, hairdressers... — are more likely to speak Mandarin than Wu, and quite likely to have a Sichuan or Anhui accent.
English is not widely spoken; staff at the better hotels and in tourist-oriented shops or the expatriate bars will speak some, but the level varies enormously. Do not expect cab drivers or staff in local restaurants or railway ticket offices to speak any English; some will surprise you, but this is rare. Be sure to have the names of your destinations written in Chinese, so that taxi drivers can get you there; carry a business card for your hotel so they can get you back to it.
Suzhou does not have a civilian airport. The closest airports with flights of use to most travellers are the two in nearby Shanghai. The airport in Wuxi is closer, but it is relatively small and serves mostly domestic flights. Nanjing and Hangzhou are other alternatives; both are large airports with a range of flights and easily reached from Suzhou.
Pudong Airport (PVG IATA) has many international flights and Hongqiao Airport (SHA IATA) has mostly domestic flights, but also some flights to nearby countries. They are 120 km (75 mi) and 86 km (53 mi) away from Suzhou respectively.
Regular shuttle buses run between Suzhou and both Shanghai airports, taking about an hour to Hongqiao and one hour and forty minutes to Pudong.
- Shanghai-Hongqiao to Suzhou. Departs from Shanghai Hongqiao Airport. On the hour from 10:00-16:00; and one at 17:30 and 19:00. ¥50.
- Shanghai-Pudong to Suzhou, 26 Kerry Road. Departs from the parking lot on the 2nd floor of Terminal 1 building. Almost hourly 10:40-19:40. ¥82.
- Suzhou to Shanghai-Pudong. Departs from the CEAG (China Eastern Airlines Group) ticket office (No.115, Ganjiang West Rd). Almost hourly 6:20AM-2:50PM. ¥80.
- Suzhou to Shanghai-Hongqiao. The China Eastern Airlines buses going to Pudong pass through Hongqiao first.
A shuttle bus between Pudong and Hongqiao leaves every 10 minutes from 06:00-18:00 and costs ¥30.
Hongqiao airport can be reached from Suzhou by train; some of the Suzhou-Shanghai bullet trains go to Hongqiao Railway Station which is only about a km from the airport — one stop on the metro or a walk that is fairly long but all indoors and level. The trip takes less than half an hour. Be certain your ticket is for Hongqiao station; some trains go to the original Shanghai Railway Station, which is nowhere near the airport.
It is also possible to reach Pudong Airport by train, but this is much less convenient. From Hongqiao Station, metro linegoes to Pudong Airport but it takes over an hour and you need to change trains once; it is still called line 2 but you need to walk across the platform and get on a different train.
Wuxi is only a few kilometers from Suzhou and, like Suzhou, is a traditional center of Wu culture and a hi-tech hub today. Wuxi Airport is southeast of the town (toward Suzhou) and has flights from major Chinese cities and a few international flights (e.g. from Taiwan). From the airport to Wuxi city center (Wuxi train station) there are infrequent (every 30 minutes) buses, just on the right side when you exit the airport (look for a blue plate with Chinese characters and timetable for 1,2,3 routes). Allow at least 40 minutes to ride to Wuxi center and about 15 minutes for a ride between Wuxi and Suzhou on a high-speed train.
Hangzhou is well worth a visit; like Suzhou, it is both an ancient city with UNESCO-listed heritage sites and one of China's most modern and prosperous cities. Its airport has a good range of domestic flights and some international. The Air Asia flight to Hangzhou from Kuala Lumpur is usually the cheapest way to central China from Southeast Asia.
There is a bus between Suzhou and Hangzhou airports. You can go to the waiting room, which is north of Entrance 5 to the Arrival Hall, First Level of Terminal Building. Price range is ¥20-30 per person.
There are also city-to-city connections, using either fast trains or buses. The trains go via Shanghai while the buses take a more direct route, so the difference in travel time is not huge.
Nanjing is only about an hour from Suzhou via the frequent high-speed trains and is worth a visit; it is a very important city in both Chinese history and today's economy. Its airport has flights from all major Chinese cities and some international flights. Lufthansa fly Frankfurt-Nanjing, partly because the German company Siemens have had a factory in Nanjing for decades; one of their German managers is a hero in China for saving many people from the Japanese during the 1937 Nanjing Massacre.
- See also High-speed rail in China
There are four major train stations in Suzhou:
- 6 Suzhou Station (Suzhou Zhan) (metro lines 2 and 4). North of downtown on the northern ring-road (Beihuan Lu). This station is on the Shanghai-Nanjing mainline; there are frequent high-speed trains to Shanghai, Wuxi, Changzhou, Zhenjiang and Nanjing. A train ride to Shanghai takes less than half an hour and Nanjing is about one hour away. Shanghai trains may go to either the original Shanghai Railway Station or the new Hongqiao Station.
- 7 Suzhou Industrial Park Station (Suzhou Yuanqu) (metro line 3). For travellers to the SIP it is often more convenient to use this station. Like Suzhou Station, it is on the Shanghai-Nanjing mainline.
- 8 Suzhou New District Station (Suzhou Xinqu Zhan) (metro line 3). In the SND northwest of downtown. It is on the Shanghai-Nanjing mainline.
- 9 Suzhou North Station (Suzhou Bei Zhan), Xiangcheng District (metro line 2). This station is used for high-speed trains from Beijing, or from other cities to the north; it is on the Shanghai-Beijing line but not Shanghai-Nanjing. It's a bit on the outskirts but can be reached easily since it is on Metro Line 2. A ride to Beijing usually takes 5 hours.
Suzhou station and the SIP and SND stations are on the main line from Shanghai to Nanjing, but not all trains stop at all stations; you have to specify when buying the ticket.
The slower, cheaper and more crowded T- and K- services from other provinces on their way to Shanghai or Nanjing stop at Suzhou Station, but most travellers prefer the fast D- or G- trains.
Buying train tickets using self-service machines in the stations is no longer possible without a Chinese ID card. Foreigners must buy at the counter at the railway station or at railway ticket offices throughout the city, and must provide their passport as ID. It is often wise to book tickets a few days in advance as trains fill up quickly, especially during public holidays, but the more expensive fast trains can generally be booked the same day.
- China Rail website. It is possible to book tickets via this site, and there is no charge for the service. However, the site is in Chinese only and it accepts only UnionPay so you will probably need a Chinese bank account to use it.
- Ticket Offices in the city, 8 Taijian Alley Guanqian Jie (观前街), 566 Renmin Lu (人民路), 50 Jinmen Lu (金门路), 22 Beiju Lu, 18 Shi Lu (石路), 120 Sanxiang Lu (三香路) and Xiangwang Lu (相王路) (near the east end of Shi Quan Jie (十全街). Prices at these offices are the same as at the station, but dealing with them generally requires some Chinese.
Most travel agents and some hotels will pick up tickets for you for a small additional fee.
From Suzhou or Suzhou North stations, the quickest way into town is by metro. Line 4 serves Suzhou station and runs north–south through the center of downtown. Line 2 serves both Suzhou and Suzhou North stations. Also, each station has a taxi rank; you may have to queue but it rarely takes long. As anywhere in China, it is safer to ignore the taxi touts inside the station and just go to the taxi rank.
From Suzhou Station, you can also get downtown either by bus or on foot. Many city buses start from a terminus just across the street from the station. Most services will head towards the Guanqian Street/Ganjiang Lu area of downtown (15-20 minutes), although it's advisable to check. Buses 6, 26, 29, 178 go to the SIP. It is possible to buy a tourist map (English-Chinese, ¥10) indicating the bus routes in one of the tourism offices on the lefthand side of the walkway leading up to the North exit. Once outside the station, the bus stops can be found on the righthand side. Bus You1 and You4 (both heading towards Renmin Lu) leave from platform 4.
On foot, it takes about 20-30 minutes to walk to most of the sights - simply go outside the station and head right. At the first intersection, make an immediate right into either one of two tunnels heading under the train tracks. A pedestrian path is available that will take you to the old part of town. Once you cross the river, the 8-story pagoda called Beisi Ta (North Temple Pagoda) should be in plain sight.
If you are adventurous you can try to unofficial e-bike taxi - guys standing right to the station outside, you can negotiate to about ¥20 to the city center.
Both Suzhou metro line 11 and Shanghai metro line Kunshan, so it is possible to travel between Shanghai and Suzhou by metro.go to
Suzhou has three main bus stations:
- 10 Suzhou South Gate Bus Station (Sūzhōu Nán Zhàn) (Where the Ring Road crosses Yingchun Rd), ☏ . The largest station, a modern, clean terminal serving regular shuttles to Shanghai, Nanjing and Hangzhou as well as most other major destinations around eastern China. It is just south of the city centre and is connected by many local buses and taxis. You can arrive at the bus station by taking buses 29, 30, 31 and 101.
- 11 Suzhou North Bus Station (Sūzhōu Běi Zhàn), 29 Xihui Rd, ☏ . Immediately adjacent to the train station. It mainly serves nearby cities such as Wuxi, Zhangjiagang, Changzhou and Kunshan as well as less-frequent services to other cities including Nanjing. The station has been completely rebuilt and is much cleaner and more spacious than before, and is now a smoke-free zone. The ticket office and departure gates are on the 1st floor whilst arrivals are in the basement. All buses serving the train station also stop at the North Bus Station, and you can walk into the city center in 20-30 minutes, see Get in/By train for details.
- 12 Suzhou West Bus Station (Sūzhōu Xī Zhàn) (Jinshan Road Changjiang Road New District Suzhou (Suzhou Xinqu)). On the far edge of the Suzhou New District (north of Suzhou Amusement Park) and mostly serves nearby towns of little interest to travellers.
The China Eastern Airlines City Air Terminal near the intersection of Renmin Lu and Ganjiang Xilu also has a small terminal for shuttle buses to Shanghai Hongqiao and Pudong airports, see Get In/By plane for details.
If you are feeling adventurous, it is possible to cycle from Shanghai to Suzhou in 2-3 hours (70 km). From Shanghai city centre, head west towards Hongqiao Airport (following the route of Metro line 2) and follow the S343 Provincial Highway. This road can be quite busy but there's a segregated cycle path along its entire length and the route is entirely flat. The road passes through the attractive water town of Luzhi (20 km east of Suzhou) making a nice stopping off point and the road will bring you into the Suzhou Industrial Park and ends at Donghuan Lu (the east part of the inner ring road).
Riverboats on the Yangtze stop at Suzhou. See Along the Yangtze river.
The Suzhou Metro[dead link] or SRT (Suzhou Rail Transit) has 5 lines and is rapidly growing. Lines 1 and 4 are most useful to visitors, as they form a cross shape in the middle of downtown. Line 1 runs east–west, while lines 2 and 4 run north–south.
Fares start at ¥2 for up to 6 km, then ¥3 for 6-11 km, ¥4 for 11–16, ¥5 16–23, ¥6 23–30; going the whole length of Line 1 is ¥6.
Downtown Suzhou, where most attractions are, is a rectangle about 6 by 3 km in size. Depending on your stamina and the weather (summers can be up to 40 degrees), it may be possible to walk between the various sites. Be warned that walking in downtown is not relaxing: most sidewalks are narrow and clogged with parked scooters meaning that you'll end up walking in the bike lane or in the road. Also, around the subway construction sites the sidewalk and bike lane disappear altogether. Keep your eyes and ears open.
Walking in the SIP is more pleasant as roads and sidewalks are wider, and traffic is less heavy.
To make sure you don't get too lost, ask your hotel concierge to write out the name of your destinations, as well as how to get back. Make sure to add your own notes so you know what the translation is.
Suzhou's rattling old silver-and-teal VW Santana taxis are a very reasonably priced way of getting around and are easily available outside of rush hour. Fares start at ¥10 for 3 km and tick up at ¥3.2 per km, so most trips within the city are cheap. That said, Suzhou's cabbies are infamous for their lack of local knowledge (most of them are migrants from poorer provinces) so having an address or phone contact to your destination will save you a lot of hassle. Driving style is best described as aggressive, although serious accidents involving taxis are rare. Taxi touts work near tourist destinations and the train station - always use the taxi queue or flag one down from the street (available taxis have a green light on the front dash). Always get a receipt from the taxi driver at the end of the ride, so you may call the taxi company if you have left anything behind or need to dispute a fare.
Few, if any taxi drivers speak English or any other foreign languages, so be sure to get your hotel's business card, and have the names addresses of your destinations written in Chinese to show your taxi driver.
Taxi reservation hotline +86 13004597814 (1~3day notice preferred)
Taking a bus in Suzhou is relatively easy if you have a basic grasp of Chinese, or horribly bewildering if you don't. Buses cover the whole city, run at 10-20 minute frequencies from 05:00-21:00 on most routes and are a cheap way of getting around. All bus information boards and onboard announcements are in Chinese only, however, bus route information can also be found on Google Maps.
Fares are based upon the distance between where you board and the last stop of the bus - most times you will pay ¥1-2, although some longer routes such as the #69 to Xishan charge up to ¥5; the fare will be displayed on the bus schedule as well as on a digital display above the driver's seat. Exact change is required, so keep plenty of ¥1 coins handy. Buses displaying a green or blue 'snow-flake' symbol next to the route number have air-conditioning and a ¥1 surcharge is paid on top of the regular fare (regardless of whether the A/C is switched on or not).
There are five handy tourist buses numbered Y1-5: all serve the railway station and connect most of the tourist sights within the city proper, so if you are unfamiliar with the city, they are a good way to familiarize yourself.
Buses are often crowded, and it's good custom to offer your seat to elderly, disabled or mothers with children.
If you are in town for a while, it's advisable to get a Suzhou-Tong card (available from several outlets around town); it's a prepaid smart-card that gives you a 10% discount on bus travel.
As Suzhou city is relatively small and there are many places in the city where subways are being built. So there are often traffic jams. So if you need to drive, taking a cab or bus may take a lot of time. It is recommended to allow sufficient time to travel.
- See also: Cycling in China
Cycling is an interesting but sometimes hair-raising way of exploring Suzhou. But cycling is much safer here than in, say London or New York, as Suzhou has an excellent network of cycle paths running alongside most major roads, however, these also double up as scooter paths, sidewalks and parking lots; and some are rather potholed, so stay alert. See Driving in China for general information on traffic conditions.
Conveniently for both walkers and bicyclists, Suzhou and the surrounding countryside are almost entirely flat. There are no mountains anywhere nearby and few hills.
Bikes can be rented from most youth hostels or small bike shops at around ¥30 per day for a slow, heavy 1-speed city bike. If you are staying a while, it may be cheaper to buy since bikes start under ¥200 in supermarkets. The Bicycle Kingdom rental agency on Pingjiang Lu has road bikes and mountain bikes to rent for around ¥150-300 per day depending on the model.
Remember to always keep your bike locked when not in use: bike theft is a major problem, particularly downtown. Always leave your bike somewhere brightly lit and crowded. In some places (particularly around Guanqian Jie), attendants will keep an eye on your bike for a small payment (typically ¥0.50).
See #Bicycles below for bicycle shops.
Pedicabs (rickshaws) are available on most main streets and always near tourist attractions. Negotiate the price before you get in and don't allow the driver to change it once you arrive at your destination, for example, saying ¥15 and demanding ¥50. This is a slow means of travel but it allows you to actually see the city while you go somewhere. Despite what you might expect, pedicabs are often more expensive than taxis - and be warned that 99% of Suzhou pedicab drivers are notorious price-gougers, so bargain hard with these guys. Expect to pay a little more in the summer months since the driver is working hard in the heat to take you there.
Suzhou motorcycle taxis are found in the same places as pedicabs, and should be approached with similar caution. They are usually filthy, dangerously driven, and relentlessly uncomfortable (the seats are about 12 cm above the floor), so traumatic to your spine that it would usually be best to consider another form of transport.
Suzhou has a number of attractions, including at least two that are absolutely world-class: its famous classical Chinese gardens, and the Suzhou Museum designed by a world-renowned architect.
Suzhou's gardens and architecture have had influence worldwide. Suzhou Street in Beijing's Summer Palace is a copy of Suzhou's Shangtang Street, and the Chinese Garden Court in New York's Metropolitan Museum is a copy of part of the Master of the Nets garden. Both Vancouver's Sun-Yat-Sen Garden and Portland's Lan Su Chinese Garden were built by craftsmen imported from Suzhou.
- 1 The Humble Administrator's Garden (Zhuo Zheng Yuan 拙政园), Dongbei St (in the NE corner of the old city), ☏ . 07:30-17:30. Said to have cost a boatload of silver and taken sixteen years to build. Free tours through the garden start every 5-10 minutes, though these tours are conducted only in Mandarin. Included in the tour is a "Chinese marriage", a look at carved tree roots, followed by a boat ride through the garden canals. The incredible collection of bonsai trees ('pen cai' or 'pen jing' in Chinese) at the end of the garden furthest from the main entrance is worth a trip all by itself. ¥70, ¥50 off-season.
- 2 The Garden of the Master of the Nets (Wang Shi Yuan 网师园) (down a small alley off of Fenghuang Rd, just south of Shiquan Jie), ☏ . 07:30-17:00. Founded in 1140, and rebuilt in 1770 by the bureaucrat Song Zongyuan. The enclosed complex of house and garden is one of the smallest, most beautiful, and most perfectly proportioned in Suzhou. Don't let the small size deceive you, this garden has enough to occupy you for half a day or more. On certain evenings there are demonstrations of many traditional performing arts. ¥30.
- 3 The Lingering Garden (Liu Yuan 留园). One of the largest classical gardens in Suzhou.
- 4 Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty (Huanxiu Shanzhuang 环秀山庄) (at the Embroidery Museum). Mainly a rock and water garden.
- 5 Lion Grove Garden (Lion Forest Garden, Shi Zi Lin 狮子林) (just off Lindun Rd, near the Humble Administrator's Garden). 07:30-17:30. Has an incredible collection of pitted, eroded rocks that were greatly appreciated by classical Chinese scholars. It was originally part of a Buddhist monastery. The gardens are a reminder of the Buddhist story of the lions. The layout of the garden follows many twists and turns. It is easy to get quite lost in these winding paths. ¥40.
- 6 The Surging Wave Pavilion (Canglang Pavilion, Canglang Ting 沧浪亭) (just off Renmin Rd on the S side of the old town, near the Confucian Temple), ☏ . One of the oldest of Suzhou's wonderful collection of private or "scholar's" gardens. More densely forested than other gardens, so ideal for hot days when you want to escape the sun. This garden is best viewed from within its many pavilions, with windows framing different views. ¥20.
- 7 The Retreat and Reflection Garden (Tui Si Yuan 退思园). In the township of TongLi (同里) in Wujiang district, about 30 km south of central Suzhou.
- 8 The Garden of Cultivation (YiPu Garden) (in the northwest corner of the old city, inside the encircling canal; ask local shopkeepers for help since it is in an ancient block with small alleys/streets). Make sure to go all the way towards the back inside the garden to see the best part. ¥10.
- 9 The Couple's Garden Retreat (Ou Yuan 耦园) (quietly hidden in a small lane off of Pingjiang Rd, not easy to find; look for the gate at the south end of the zoo's carpark, or, since three sides of the garden face canals, try getting there by boat). Built in early 20th century by a couple. Many small garden rooms lead you from view to view. Each window or hall perfectly frames a set of plants, rocks or trees. Every inch of the garden has been carefully thought out. Most of the garden consists of covered walkways, so even though it may rain you will be able to enjoy this garden without getting wet. ¥20.
For more details, see the Suzhou Tourist Bureau site [formerly dead link], and each garden's Wikipedia page (linked above).
The four great gardens of Suzhou are four of those, each of which represents the gardening style of a different Chinese dynasty:
- Humble Administrator, Song Dynasty (960-1279)
- Lingering Garden, Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368)
- Great wave Pavilion, Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
- Lion Grove Garden, Qing Dynasty (1644-1911)
Of course Suzhou has many other gardens as well. At one point there were over 200 classical gardens in the city, and the Chinese government lists 69 which survive today as protected heritage sites.
Large and famous gardens are fine, but smaller or less-known gardens can also be interesting; they can be good for a quick look or relaxing with a cup of tea in relative quiet. Often local folks are seen enjoying their tea and chatting. The small garden is a living part of the local, yet ancient, culture. Some of the other gardens are:
- 10 Tarrying Garden (Wufeng Xianguan). Built in the Ming Dynasty, but many parts of it were rebuilt in the Qing Dynasty. Part of the garden is the Nanmu Hall with a collection of furniture made of nanmu, a wood that is fairly common in China and prized because it looks good and resists both humidity and decay. Mandarin Duck Hall is divided into two parts by a meticulously carved partition. ¥10.
- 11 Garden of Pleasure (Pleasence) (Yi Yuan 怡园). Very small garden in the heart of downtown. Good place to have a cup of green tea. Usually visited by lots of local elderly people.
- 12 Former Residence of Poet and Scholar Yu Yue (in the ancient Liuhuafang Block, central part of the old city near Guanqian St. Cross Renmin Rd to the southwest corner, go south maybe 100 m along the west side of Renmin Rd, turn west at the KFC and you will see it on the north side of the alley). Make sure to go all the way towards the back inside the garden to see the best part. This tucked away place is a little tough to find but totally worth the effort if you want to find a quiet, unpretentious place visited mainly by locals. ¥1.5, ¥3-7 for entrance and tea.
- 13 Five Peaks Garden, 47 Changmen Xi Street (on the road to Changmen Gate), ☏ .
- 14 North Temple Pagoda (Beisi Ta), Renmin Lu (bus #4 from train station, second stop). Viewable from the train station, the peak of the pagoda is Suzhou's most famous. A garden and temples are on the grounds. ¥25.
- 15 Ding Hui Temple (Dinghui Si), DingHui Temple Ln (Off Fenghuang St). A temple on the site of a Tang Dynasty temple. Little more than two huge 300-year-old Ginkgo trees and some stone pillar bases remain from the original complex after it was demolished and a factory built atop in 1949. Free.
- 16 Twin Pagodas (双塔), DingHui Temple Ln. 08:00-17:00. A pair of brick Northern Song Dynasty pagodas stand sentinel over the stark remains of an Arhat Temple from the same era. Mostly intact stone pillars, gracefully carved with floral designs, at the corners of the foundation, give a sense the invisible halls size and a stone etching at the rear of the garden helps you fill in the rest. The temple was damaged in the Qing dynasty and abandoned totally at the onset of China's republic. The grounds are peaceful but feel like a stone graveyard with fragments of carvings displayed around the outer wall or used as stands for bonsai plants. ¥8.
- 17 Cold Mountain Temple (寒山寺 Hanshan Si) (south of the Grand Canal). Established in the Liang dynasty (502-557 AD), most of the buildings date from the Tang Dynasty except for the five-storey pagoda which was built later.
- 18 Temple of Mystery (玄妙观 Xuán Miào Guān), east end of the pedestrian shopping area on Guanqian Jie. 07:30-17:00. A large Taoist hall perpetually obscured by a curtain of joss smoke of devotes eager to placate the gods inside. It has a large market area, many small shops with a range of goods aimed mainly at either devotees or tourists. The temple was established in the 3rd century and broadened to its present size in the Song Dynasty, where it became a popular spot for travelling magicians and acrobats. The erstwhile performers have given way to a multitude of stalls selling meretricious worldly goods on which you can easily make your money disappear. The main Sanxing Dian hall was rebuilt in 1811 to hold Song Dynasty deity statues, later destroyed by Red Guards they occupied the hall during the cultural revolution. The present sculptures are modern reproductions. Of greater antiquity is a stone impressed with the footprints of a Taoist god, found in the Ming dynasty. The stone is genuine, but the origins of the feet less certain. ¥10.
- 19 Confucian Temple (孔庙) (in the southwest of the old town, on the street of the Surging Wave Pavilion). Established in the Northern Song Dynasty (1035 CE), the Confucian Temple has continually been one of the most important institutes for higher studies in the country. Much of its ground today is still occupied by Suzhou Middle School. Flanked by trees of hundreds of years of age, the main hall includes an impressive portrait of Confucius made of lacquer, and various ceremonial instruments. Ask the guard for the four Song Dynasty Steles (四大宋碑), each standing more than 15 feet tall, which include a Song dynasty map of the city (much of it still works today), a map of China, a sky map, and a lineage of all Chinese emperors till the 13th century when these steles were carved. Free.
- 20 Suzhou Museum (Sūzhōu Bówùguǎn), 204 DongBei St (near the entrance to the Humble Administrator's Garden), ☏ . Tu-Su 09:00-17:00. Designed by I.M. Pei, whose family came from Suzhou. Pei lived most of his life in the US and was a very successful architect there, known for the glass pyramid outside the Louvre in Paris, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, and other landmarks. He came out of retirement in his 80s to return to Suzhou to create a museum that married his modernist sensibility with his sense of the region; as a teenager he lived in Shanghai and often visited family in Suzhou. Do not miss the recreation of the Ming Dynasty scholar's study. You'll need to make a reservation in the museum's website. Free.
- Suzhou Embroidery Research Institute (see Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty above for location). Suzhou is famous for embroidery work, with silk as the main material. The Suzhou style has a history going back 2000 years and is considered one of China's four great types of embroidery. (The others are centered in Changsha, Chaozhou and Chengdu.) The Institute functions as a museum, as a workshop for modern craftspeople, and as an outlet for their products. Prices may be somewhat higher than elsewhere, but quality is high.
- 21 Suzhou Art Gallery (苏州美术馆), No. 4 Canglangting Houjie, 沧浪亭后街4号 (on the street of the Surging Wave Pavilion), ☏ . Exhibits of painting and calligraphy, especially modern Chinese art and local Suzhou artists.
- 22 Suzhou Opera Museum (苏州戏曲博物馆). around 14:00 on Sundays. The Suzhou Opera Museum has performances of three traditional local arts — Kunqu opera, which is on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list, Suqu opera, and Pingtan storytelling with ballads. All use the Wu language. There are stages for the opera and a teahouse in Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) style for the storytelling. The museum part has exhibition rooms for each of those three arts, a collection of musical instruments, and other items including block-printed editions of Kunqu opera from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), original rubbings of local opera scripts, rare handwritten copies of operas and Pingtan from the Qing Dynasty, and items that belonged to well-known deceased singers such as Ma Rufei, Wu Mei, Yu Sulu and Wang Jili. ¥30.
- 23 Suzhou Silk Museum (Sūzhōu Sīchǒw Bówùguǎn), 2001 Renmin Rd. 09:00-17:00. Most of the artifacts are faded and rather plain looking, but the live silk worms are quite a sight. A great place to bring the kids. ¥15.
- 24 [formerly dead link] Suzhou Arts and Crafts Museum (Sūzhōu Gōngyì Měishù Bówùguǎn 苏州工艺美术博物馆), No. 88 Northwest Street, ☏ , email@example.com. This is a relatively new museum, opened in 2003, but the building it is in dates back to the reign of Emperor Qianlong, 1735-1796. The museum's collection numbers nearly one-thousand pieces and includes modern Suzhou embroidery, sandalwood, tapestry, wood carving, stone carving, Ming-style furniture, ethnic musical instruments, antique bronze, lacquerwork and metal crafts.
The Opera, Silk and Handicrafts museums are all right in the same area and can conveniently be visited together.
Some pagodas and towers are covered above since they are within temples. The others are here.
- 25 Panmen city gate (盘门), DongDa Jie (Southwest corner of the old walled city). 07:30-17:30. This gate is renowned for its unique structure as a combined water and land gate. It was built as a gate in a city wall built in 514 BCE, but the present structure is from a 14th century rebuild. The remaining wall is 300 m long and 5 m high. Visiting Pan Men includes access to a large and rather lovely garden with ponds and pavilions (feed the koi for ¥2), a boat ride, the city water and land gate, and an original foot bridge over the grand canal. ¥25.
- Auspicious Light Pagoda (Rui guang ta). This pagoda, built in 247 CE and rebuilt during the Song Dynasty about 1000 CE, is part of the Panmen complex. It has seven storeys and is 53 m (about 174 feet) high. Visitors may climb it, and the view is worthwhile. ¥12.
- 26 Changmen city gate (阊门) (northwest corner of the old walled city). This gate is well preserved and still used.
- 27 Shantang Street (山塘). A restored canal street running from Changmen to Tiger Hill. The southeast end of the street may be mobbed with tourists, but as you walk further north the souvenir shops and restaurants disappear, and you can take a leisurely stroll along the canal through a quiet residential neighborhood.
- 28 Tiger Hill Pagoda (虎丘塔; Hǔqiūtǎ). This is also called the "Yunyan Pagoda", after the Buddhist temple it was once part of; the temple was burned during the cultural revolution. Some buildings have been reconstructed and a 48-m tall brick pagoda with seven stories and eight sides remains, though now missing its wooden outer skin. It is one of the few remaining examples of pagodas of this type and is sometimes called the "Leaning Tower of China" because it has tilted a bit since it was built in the 900s. Tiger Hill is of enormous importance historically and culturally, but much of its significance will likely be lost on foreign visitors. ¥60, tours from ¥60-100 are negotiable. Also for those less able to climb the hill, electric carts make the journey for ¥20 per person.
- Baita Road (BáiTǎ Lù). Starting from the Northern Pagoda, this street has been sympathetically developed and retains many old-style store fronts. On the east end huge gnarled trees arch over the street.
- 29 Ping Jiang Road. A beautiful walk along an ancient road paved with hand-cut stones over a thousand years old and lined with shops maintaining traditional architectural styles. It runs from near the Humble Administrator's Garden and Suzhou Museum south into the center of town. There are a surprising number of western-style coffee shops with full English menus, Internet and English books. If you get further north on this road, but south of the museum area, the shops eventually run out and it just becomes a quiet neighbourhood again. This may be the best part of all.
- 30 Ligongdi (李公堤). Li Gong Di is a 1400-meter causeway across Jinji Lake, the largest inner-city lake in China; it was built during the reign of Emperor Guangxu (1874-1908). Some areas near it are being heavily developed. There are metro stations: Ligongdi South on line 5 near the middle of the lake, and Ligondi West on line 3 on the SIP side.
- Take a boat ride through the city's canals, Renmin Bridge. An interesting way to see the city low down in the network of canals.
- Explore Guanqian Street (观前街). The street is a rather uninspiring shopping street, however the back streets off it harbor many small shops selling local crafts and some interesting restaurants serving local cuisine.
- 1 Yangshan Hot Springs. A hotel resort with hot spring facilities - you can buy a ticket to soak in hot tubs outdoors. It's quite fancy, has plenty of different baths, illuminations and spas. It's in the outskirts to the west of the city, a 30-minute taxi ride away. By public transportation, take Metro Line 1 to a western station, then take a bus - consult Google Maps for details. ¥188.
- Cycle. Suzhou is relatively flat, and once past the ring-road, traffic is light and easy-going enough to enable a pleasant ride about town. Jinji Lake, Dushu Lake and a few outlying temples are within casual cycling distance. Many hostels rent bikes for around ¥25 a day.
- Weekend cycle rides. Two local cycle shops — Specialized Bicycles and Trek Cycles; see below for contact information — organise one or two day rides to nearby attractions such as Lake Tai (30 km one way), Yangcheng Lake (40 km around the lake), Tongli (20 km one way) and Zhouzhuang (40 km one way). Pace is normally relaxed with regular stops for photos and taking a rest. Joining the tour is free, although you have to bring your own bike or rent a bike from the store for a deposit and small charge. Costs such as meals and accommodation are split between group members. Although most of the riders are locals, foreigners are always welcomed and most members will speak English, and will ride in a safe manner.
- 2 Suzhou Amusement Land (Metro 1, Suzhou Amusement Land stop). Amusement park in the SND west of downtown.
Shi Quan Jie is the main area downtown for tourist shopping, with everything from cheap tacky souvenirs and ¥10 allegedly silk ties to fine antiques, silks and jewellery. There are also many such stores around the Mystery Temple and along other back streets north of Guanqian Jie, and some near various tourist attractions. Guangqian Jie itself is mainly a general-purpose shopping street similar to what one might find in any city, but does have some upmarket shops for silks and other tourist items. The same could be said of shops in the SIP, most of which are concentrated in a few enormous malls.
As anywhere in China, bargaining is the norm. Since Suzhou is a domestic tourist destination, though, prices will start off at surprisingly reasonable values. As anywhere, help from a knowledgeable local can save you both hassle and money, but you should not accept "help" from unknown locals; that may just mean you get a higher price and the "helper" gets a commission.
As a city famed through the ages for its silk embroidery, Suzhou is one of the best places to pick up silk handicrafts. Suzhou double-sided embroidery, in which the same picture is rendered in great detail on both sides of a silk screen and the knots are tied in the middle, is a traditional Suzhou speciality and is absolutely amazing. The needles used for this work are finer than a human hair.
Much of lower-priced embroidery work sold to tourists is now made using sewing machines which provide embroidery stitches. The fine handwork is still available, and often at better prices in Suzhou than elsewhere, but it is not cheap.
- Su Embroidery Studio, 1902 Senso International Plaza, 98 North Dongwu Road, ☏ . This is a Suzhou-based company whose main business is exporting embroidery; the address is for their Suzhou distributor. Their web site is in English and has a lot of good background information on the history and techniques.
The Embroidery Institute is a lively enterprise producing high quality work which you can see on a tour of the facility. The gift shop has prices a little higher than at the street stalls but they will bargain and the quality is much better.
Silk fans, musical instruments, paintings and calligraphy, lanterns, mahogany furniture and jade carvings are all made in the city and all readily available. Prices can be very good, though you generally have to bargain to get a good price.
Freshwater pearls – the Suzhou area is part of the largest freshwater pearl-producing region in the world. Pearls can be bought in every conceivable price and quality range, either singly or as strings or jewellery.
Sandalwood fans – folding fans made from thin ornately-stamped sheets of sandalwood- are another very old Suzhou craft and widely sold around the city. The scent of the breeze they generate while fanning is heavenly. Cheap versions are probably more mundane wood dipped in sandalwood oil, and will lose their scent rather quickly.
Tea is produced in Suzhou; the most famous locally produced green tea is called 'Biluochun'. Large shops with endless varieties of tea can be found all around the city, and some have seating where you will be encouraged to come sit and sample a pot. See China#Tea for background.
Snuff bottles are a long-standing Suzhou craft that remains popular today. Tiny glass bottles are delicately painted on the inside with elaborate and beautiful pictures. The best ones are truly incredible works of art.
Supermarkets & department stores
- InCity Plaza (Ying Xiang Cheng), Xiandai Dadao/Sujiahang Xian. One of Suzhou's most popular shopping malls, with a WalMart, chain fashion stores such as Next, H&M and Uniqlo.
- Times Square & Modern Plaza. A suburban shopping area on the east side of Jinji Lake. Times Square is an open pedestrian area situated alongside a canal with many restaurants and shops, whilst Modern Plaza is a large mall selling many luxury brands. There is a Times Square stop on metro line 1. Alternately, buses 2 and 47 will get you close - get off at the International Expo Centre and walk 10 minutes to the east. Buses 219 and 168 will also stop by Times Square & Modern Plaza.
For the resident expatriate or the traveller planning some bicycle touring, Suzhou is an excellent place to buy a bicycle. Bikes are common anywhere in China (see China#By bicycle), the flat terrain around Suzhou encourages their use, and several major makers of bikes and parts have factories in the area; Shimano and Giant are both in Kunshan.
The commonest bikes in China are still heavy and single speed, but a wide range are available, including multi-speed road bikes, mountain bikes with various suspension types, ultra-aerodynamic triathlon bikes and electric scooters. As anywhere in China there are many hole-in-the-wall bike shops, some of them surprisingly good, and most department stores carry bikes at prices from about ¥200.
In Suzhou, two popular choices for low-to-midrange bikes are:
- The French sports store Decathlon has a branch in the SIP (Auchan Shopping Mall 1F, 55 Jinjihu Lu, SIP) with reasonable selection and prices. Staff speak a little English.
- The aptly named Taiwanese company Giant has a large store in Suzhou. (1607 Renmin Lu, Pingjiang-qu) Prices are somewhat cheaper than in the west, making them a popular choice. Staff don't speak much English.
There are also stores specialising in more upmarket equipment, including Silver Storm (city branch on Shizi Jie, Canglang-qu; SIP Branch on Xinggui Jie, SIP), Specialized Bicycles (Harmony Plaza, Ganjiang Dong Lu, Pingjiang-qu, next to the China Merchants Bank) and Trek Cycles (Xincheng Dasha, Xiandai Dadao, SIP, behind the Starbucks).
Suzhou has its own unique, slightly sweet cuisine that tends to have very light and delicate flavors. Locals are very fond of freshwater fish and shellfish. Sweets made from glutinous rice paste are an old tradition here; these will generally baffle most Western palates, but try them anyway. A Suzhou speciality popular with many visitors is Song Shu Gui Yu (松鼠桂鱼 sōng shǔ guì yú), often rendered in English as "Squirrel-Shaped Mandarin Fish": the meat of a large fish is delicately cut into strips, breaded in flour, fried, and served covered with pine nuts and a sweet-and-sour sauce. It looks a little like a squirrel's tail... if you've drunk enough of the local rice wine. Another famous local dish is the slightly sweet braised cold duck (酱鸭 jiàng yā).
- A Bing Cangshu Mutton Soup, 332 Pi Shi St. People in Suzhou like the soup very much. ¥20.
- Harbin Dumplings, Shizi Jie. The dumplings are much cheaper than the better-known Yang Yang Dumplings, and just as good.
- Let's Rock Hong Kong Restaurant (Hǎo Yuè), 403 Shi Quan St. A fun, modern little restaurant with great Hong Kong/Cantonese food. Good dim sum- these folks make a serious Barbecued Pork Bun (Cha Shao Bao). The menu offers lots of quick, inexpensive dishes.
- Nanjing Duck Noodle, 95 GongXiang. Traditional duck noodle where the more you pay, the more body parts you get. Some of the non-duck part dishes are worth a bite too. ¥7-12.
- Sicily, Guanqian Lu (near Renmin Rd and Ganjing Rd). Very good Italian food at near Chinese prices.
- Xi Sheng Yuan, 43, Fenghuang Jie (on the west side of the street, approx halfway along - wooden facade, next to a spicy meat snack shop). 10:00-19:00. Bowls of wontons in soup (kai yang huntun) for ¥6 or wontons in a sweet sauce (ban huntun) for ¥9. Both delicious. This place is more widely known for its Xiao Long Bao (on sale to eat in or take away) in the steamed baskets to the right of the entrance. At lunch/dinner time it gets very crowded but tables are vacated quickly. A popular light meal with locals. ¥6-9. ¥10.
- Da Mario (Global 188 Building in SIP). Good Italian food. There really is a Mario, and he really is Italian. The pasta dish "Rosetta Della Mamma" is an original.
- Yun-Gei (Ren Ji) Cantonese Restaurant, Intersection of Fenghuang Street and Shi Quan Street. A sometimes-raucous local favorite for great Cantonese food.
- Tomato Kitchen Cafe (番茄主意) (李公提, near Haagen Dazs). Fantastic ambience and international cuisine. Make reservations if you want a window seat.
- DainTi Hill (代官山) (At 李公提 and 观前街,). Fusion food, very interesting dishes at affordable prices.
- Rendezvous Restaurant & Lounge (人得福综合软西餐), No. 102 Zhong Hui Lu 钟慧路, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. East of Jinji Hu lake, on Jin Hu Wan business street, Rendezvous brings Western food, comfort and service to Eastern Suzhou. You can enjoy their cold beers, cocktails and snacks on their outdoor patio.
- 1 Dusanzhen (杜三珍 dùsānzhēn), No. 807 Changxu Road, Gusu District. One of the most famous purveyors of Suzhou-style cold braised duck. Takeaways only.
- The Southern Cross Restaurant (Lin Dun Road a bit south of Guanqian Jie). Respectable Tex-Mex food, steaks, and a wide range of Belgian ales as well as some Belgian food specialties.
- Song He Lou (松鶴楼), 141 Guanqian Jie, ☏ , email@example.com. The "Pine and Crane" is not just the most famous restaurant in town, but reputedly the oldest in all of China (about 250 years old). expect over ¥100 a person.
Shiquan Street (十全街) is the main bar area downtown. Among the popular places are:
- The Pub Bar (酒吧), ShiQuan St. Supports a large crowd of 'expat locals' and 'repeat visitors' in it's small but friendly interior with more than ten years of photographs and business-cards pasted on the roof and walls. It's a good point to catch up on local gossip and enjoy a drink with 'expat locals'. WiFi Internet, snacks and clean toilets keep the patrons happy.
- Pulp Fiction Bar (纸浆小说吧), Li Gong Di bar street. Happy hour till 8PM. This Australian bar is a great place to meet Westerners and English-speaking Chinese, shoot some American pool and play a game of darts. It is fairly quiet until 10PM, then it comes to life.
A number of the bars on this street (not the ones listed above) are thinly-veiled fronts for the world's oldest profession; numbers of very friendly young ladies sitting around the bar or standing in doorways to tempt in passers-by are easily recognized. Those wishing to avail themselves of such diversions are encouraged to exercise extreme caution, not overdo the drinking, ask the cost of everything (including the room you are taken to) before accepting it, and never pay anything in advance. Prostitution is illegal in China and disease rates among sex workers, while reportedly quite low, are definitely not zero.
Some of the better known bars of this sort (safer?) are the Moon Bar aka 'The Danish Embassy", known for its regular crowd of locals, the Blue Lady and the Red Lion - all within the block between FengHuangJie and Suzhou Hotel. All offer drinks without other services and they won't bother you if you are not partaking further! It is fairly common for groups of Suzhou expats, usually of mixed gender, to visit these places because they are open late and have cheap beer.
There are also a number of bars in the SIP, mostly along the lake:
- Zapata's, Rainbowalk, Jinji Lake. Margaritas and view over the lake. Western DJ plays happy tunes from last 4 decades and free tequila pouring on the bar every night.
- Blue Marlin, 168 Xinghai St, Wuzhong, ☏ . A chain of upmarket restaurant/bars with locations in several cities, with western food, live music and a largely expat crowd.Sky Sports on multiple TV screens, comfortable seating and good WIFI.
- Ligongdi (李公堤). Li Gong Di area has plenty of night clubs, bars and one expat-friendly club Pravda (could easily be the only one with a dance floor)
Coffee shops and book bars
- 1 [dead link] The Bookworm, just off ShiQuan St (find the C Store on Shiquan Jie, west of most of the bars; from there, cross Shiquan Jie and the canal; it is then on your right). Good coffee and food. Free wireless Internet. Good selection of English books to read in the shop or to borrow if you get a membership. A very nice alternative to relaxing at a bar. This place has become a major focal point for the resident expat community.
- [dead link] The Bookworm, 2nd location, Pingjiang Road. Much smaller than the original Bookworm and with a more limited menu. In an interesting old building.
- [dead link] The Minghantang Cafe, Santang St, ☏ . In an old traditional house that is more than 400 years old. Good coffee and food. Free wireless Internet.
- SoloCafe, ShiQuan St (cross the bridge over the canal across the street from the Suzhou Hotel and it is next to the north side of the bridge on your left), ☏ . 10:00-23:00. Good coffee and food with a Lotus theme running right through to the shape of the milk in a mocha.
- Fein Coffee, Remrin Lu (Directly across the road from Suzhou Library.). Nice little coffee shop that serves an excellent Americano, (best I've had in Suzhou.) Outside and inside menu in both English and Chinese. Nice staff, some speak English. Very good selection of drinks including Ethiopian Yirga and oat milk lattes. Small but decent selection of food. Croissants salads and cakes. Good Wi-Fi but no toilet.
- Dongwu Hotel Wuyachang (新东吴珍珠大酒店), 200 Shi Quan St, ☏ .
- Mingtown-Suzhou Youth Hostel, No.28 Pingjiang Rd, ☏ . In the most ancient block in Suzhou downtown area. Ping Jiang Rd keeps the old pattern of road paralleling to canal on its original site Town giving you aboriginal water town feeling, which makes it the most attractive ancient block in old Suzhou Town. Hostel is rebuilt based on an old building and have a nice garden with fish in the pool. 10-min walk to Humble Administrator's Garden, Suzhou Museum, Lion Forest Garden, Shan Xi Assembly Hall, Couple Garden, Guan Qian St and there are also many buses to other sight-seeing spots in Suzhou city from here. Weirdly enough, their lounge (Mingtown cafe) is not inside nor adjacent to the hostel - you'd have to go out and walk 10 meters to go to the lounge. Perhaps as a result, you won't meet as many travelers as in most other hostels. The staff were friendly, but did not know bus routes to even the most popular destinations. They also have a lot of bicycles at their courtyard, but do not rent them out. All ten-something were "broken", and they refer you to go to some other hostels to rent bikes. Other hostels would rather rent out their bicycles to their own guests. If you want to bike around the city, book with another hostel.Hot water available only between 7-10AM, and 7-10PM. Bed ¥40-200.
- Suzhou Hostel, 186 Zhuhui Rd, ☏ . Beds from ¥45.
- [dead link] Suzhou Minghantang Youth Hostel (广济路新民桥,山塘街口), 61 Tongguiqiao, Xiatang, Shantang St Guangji Rd, ☏ . Centrally located, in a traditional Suzhou block-house more than 400 years old in Shantang St, Internet access, WiFi, coffee shop. From ¥40.
- 1 [formerly dead link] Suzhou Watertown Youth Hostel, 27 Dashitou Ln 大石头巷27号 (1 block from Renmin Rd), ☏ . Check-in: 14:00, check-out: 12:00. Centrally located in a traditional Suzhou block-house with all the modern conveniences, including free Internet access & WiFi, DVDs, bicycle renting (¥25/15 full/half day). From ¥40.
- Suzhou Youth Hostel, 178 Xiangwang Ln (next to Shiquan St and the Dong Wu & 100 Happy Hotels), ☏ , . Beds from ¥40-50.
- Suzhou Blue Gate Youth Hostel[dead link],NO.259 Fenghuang Street, Gusu DistrictSuzhou, Jiangsu,+86 18151111680, From ¥3050.
- 2 Citadines Xinghai Suzhou (苏州馨乐庭星海服务公寓), Block 27, Jiacheng Gardens, 58 Xinghai Street, SIP, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. The residence in Suzhou Industrial Park offers apartments that each has a living/dining area, home entertainment system with cable TV and kitchen. Broadband is available in each room and wireless internet Wi-Fi) zones are available in the lobby and business areas.
- 3 [dead link] Bamboo Grove Hotel, 168 Zhuhui Rd, ☏ . Comfortable rooms, lots of smokers. Rates are reasonable. The internet connection is serviceable. Bamboo Grove is an older and more 'Chinese hotel' than other places. It is still very clean and comfortable and has plenty of character. English is spoken well by staff. It is within easy walking distance from Shi Quan St, Guihua Park, 'Master of Nets' garden and 'Jack's Place' Italian restaurant.
- 4 Gloria Plaza Hotel, 535 Ganjiang E Rd, ☏ . Nice hotel. Decent restaurant, clean rooms. Close to the center of the city and a short walk to the pedestrian mall area. Good Internet connections. Over ¥1000 at rack rate, discounts often.
- Guibinlou Hotel, No. 888 East Ganjiang Rd, Pingjiang District, ☏ . In the Guanqian Commercial Area, 3 km from railway station. Rooms have en-suite bathrooms, cable TV and free Internet. ¥400.
- Mercure Suzhou Park Hotel (苏州商旅美居酒店), 336 Feng Li St (in Suzhou Industrial Park), ☏ .
- 5 Somerset Emerald City Suzhou, No 436 Changjiang Road, Suzhou New District (SND), ☏ , email@example.com. On top of the Emerald City shopping mall, the residence offers travellers instant access to international fashion, dining and entertainment. Each serviced apartment is stylishly furnished and contemporary with a modern fully-equipped kitchen, home entertainment system, broadband internet service, and a private telephone number with IDD service upon request.
- Suzhou Nanlin Hotel, No. 20 Gunxiufang, Shiquan St, Canglang District, ☏ . In the Shiquan St bar strip. 210 rooms with safe, toilet and TV. Gym, pool, sauna and, alas, karaoke. ¥500.
- Wealth Center Hotel, 938 Ganjiang E Rd, Pingjiang District, ☏ . A 4-star-quality hotel inside the Guanqian Business Center.
- [formerly dead link] Regalia Resort & Spa, 2 Li Gong Di, ☏ , toll-free: 400 115 3388 (non-geographic number), fax: , firstname.lastname@example.org. Regalia Resort and Spa includes lush tropical gardens abounding with exotic foliage and secluded lotus ponds. Regalia Resort & Spa is a boutique resort offering 44 rooms and suites that blend into the serene ambiance of Jinji Lake. Also on the premises is Lotus Restaurant, which offers a combination of Thai, Chinese and Western cuisine.
- Noahs Hotel Suzhou, No. 58 Shishan Road, Suzhou New District, ☏ . Air-conditioned rooms with satellite TV, IDD phone, safe, and a choice of Chinese or Western breakfast. Amenities include massage service, gym/health club, and beauty salon. Best rates on official website start at ¥290.
- Aster Hotel Suzho, 156 Sanxiang Rd, ☏ . Nice hotel, but a bit out of the way of the old town. Claims to be either 4- or 5-star depending where you look. The in-room internet connection is only 10Mbps. There is an outside swimming pool that is not heated so is closed in the colder months. The ground floor restaurant 'Venice Cafe', serves really good breakfasts. Good level of English.
- 6 Holiday Inn Jasmine, 345 Changxu Rd, ☏ . Western-style hotel with excellent amenities in-room that rival amenities in other countries (of any price). While somewhat out of the way of nightlife, the Holiday Inn would probably suit business travelers well. Free Internet in-room.
- 7 Renaissance Suzhou Hotel, 229 Suhua Rd, Suzhou Industrial Park, ☏ , fax: . Check-in: 2PM, check-out: noon.
- 8 Pan Pacific Suzhou (Suzhou Wu Gong), 2259 Xin Shi Rd, ☏ , email@example.com. With a backdrop of traditional gardens, this property offers rooms and suites equipped with amenities along with a fitness center, a swimming pool and a spa.
- 9 Ascott Midtown Suzhou, No 229, Zhongxin West Av, Suzhou Industrial Park, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. This property is equipped with studio apartments as well as 1, 2 and 3 bedroom apartments. It offers free broadband and Wi-Fi access.
Suzhou is a safe place on the whole but there are a few things to watch out for. Pickpocketing is common on crowded buses, and around the north bus station and the train station. Pan-handlers and beggars around the old town can become a real nuisance although they are not dangerous. Watch out for incredibly pushy hawkers operating on Guanqian Jie shopping street - they generally charge ridiculous prices for counterfeit goods.
Taxis are generally safe although it's advisable not to follow touts operating around tourist sights or the train station. Also be aware that pedicab and 3-wheel tuk-tuk drivers are known to overcharge.
Probably the biggest safety risk in Suzhou are the electric scooters. These cheap, plastic, battery powered 2-wheel vehicles swarm around the city like ninjas and are renowned for driving anywhere possible - the wrong side of the road, the pavement, tiny alleyways and across crowded pedestrian crossings. They are almost silent and riders generally don't use headlights at night to save battery power - the only giveaway is their squeaky electric horns. Don't be surprised when you're walking down a busy pavement and one of these pocket-rockets whizzes past at 50 km/h without warning so always keep an eye and an ear out for them, particularly at night and at rush hour when the designated bike lanes become too crowded so the riders take alternate means.
Remember that in China it's legal for car drivers to make a right turn against a red light - albeit they ignore the latter part of the rule 'turn with caution' - it's all too common for cars, and more notoriously, trucks, to fly round an intersection too fast and unfortunately accidents involving pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists are too common. Always keep an eye out in both directions when crossing the street.
Some travelers may need to worry about the air quality in Suzhou, although the problem is not as bad as in nearby Shanghai or Nanjing.
As is the case for most of China, the tap water is not recommended for drinking but OK for washing. Filtered and boiled tap water is considered safer for drinking.
As Suzhou is a water town, there is a high presence of mosquitoes in the summer; luckily, repellant can be found in every convenience store, and they don't carry any known diseases in this area, so they're more of an annoyance than a hazard.
Suzhou has many free Wi-Fi access points as well as pay (¥2.5 per hour) Internet cafes.
The biggest concentration of Internet cafes are along Moye Road just east of Shiquan Street. Most are about ¥2.50 per hour and have fast internet, headphones, webcam, etc., and also serve hot and cold drinks and sell cigarettes (smoking is permitted inside). Chinese customers will use their ID card to access the computer; foreigners should either bring their passport to register onto the computer, although if this facility is not provided the cashier will use his/her card to sign you in. However, police will occasionally check, in which case it may be harder for you to use.
The large coffee chains like New Island Cafe, Starbucks and Costa Coffee all have several branches in Suzhou, all offering free Wi-Fi. Most of the other coffee shops in town have free Wi-Fi, certainly all the expat hangouts like the Bookworm.
Quite a few bars and restaurants, especially ones that cater to expats or well-off Chinese, offer free Wi-Fi as well.
Suzhou has a central position in East China and anywhere in the region is accessible. The other major cities of the area — Shanghai, Nanjing and Hangzhou — are all both economically important and major tourist destinations. Some of the lesser cities may also be of interest:
- Wuxi is so close that people from either city often shop or dine in the other
- Yixing is famous for pottery, especially teapots
- Yangzhou is historically important and Zhengjiang, just across the river, was the girlhood home of Nobel Prize writer Pearl Buck
See East China#Go next for some possibilities beyond the region.
Suzhou is close to Lake Tai, which is a major recreational area. Day trips to the lake are possible going straight west from Suzhou or going via towns which are right on the lake, Wuxi to the north or the Suzhou suburb Wujiang to the south. Longer trips are also possible; see the Lake Tai article.
The whole region around Suzhou is flat Yangtze Delta terrain and has water towns, once the market towns for agricultural areas. All have picturesque canals with old houses along them and many bridges, and many are set up to accommodate tourists. Suzhou itself is very much a water town, and some travellers will find that enough. However, smaller places may be more picturesque or better preserved. Many agencies in Suzhou offer tours to some of these — especially to ones within Suzhou such as Zhouzhuang, Tongli and Zhen Ze. All are within an hour's travel of central Suzhou, and these tours are quite popular.
Another water town, Mudu, can easily be visited without taking a tour since it is the last stop going west on Metro Line 1. It is reportedly a bit shabby, not as pretty or developed as some of the others, but this may change now that it is more accessible.