Located on Lake Tai, Suzhou was once the Yangtze river delta region’s wealthiest, most culturally diverse city. Eulogized as a “paradise on earth” by an old Chinese proverb, it is best known for its UNESCO-listed Chinese gardens, ancient temples, and historic silk industry. Weekdays are the quietest time to visit, offering the chance to explore this characterful city in relative tranquillity.
Most striking architecturally are its whitewashed “scholar houses,” with gray slate roofs, upturned eaves, and carved gateposts. In various states of disrepair and restoration, the finest old examples line the city’s canals, remnants of a once-extensive network of waterways that criss-crossed Suzhou. Its finest new building is the Suzhou Museum, designed by Guangzhou-born architect I. M. Pei, who spent time here as a child. Though often bypassed by visitors in favor of the city’s classical gardens, it masterfully deconstructs and updates the classic scholar house and garden, blending a deep affinity for classical architectural styles with the modernist streak that influenced Pei’s controversial glass pyramid outside the museum of the Louvre in Paris.
Getting There and Around Catch a CRH bullet train from Shanghai Station (35 mins). Local buses, rickshaws, and taxis make it easy to get around Suzhou.
Where to Eat De Yue Lou is a good place to sample Suzhou’s specialty, seafood.
Where to Stay Pingjiang Lodge combines 4-star facilities with classic Suzhou architecture, designed around traditional landscaped courtyards.
When to Go Spring (Apr–May) and fall (Sep–Oct) are best.
Budget per Day for Two US$80–110