While Suzhou’s beguiling landscape is a living example of the city’s history, culture and heritage, some of Suzhou’s most significant relics remain behind closed doors. From ancient artifacts to modern architecture, and from Kunqu opera to fine-spun silks, uncover the wonder that makes Suzhou a treasured destination. Visit also the Top 10 Attractions for more Things to Do.
History and Culture
Suzhou’s own I.M. Pei, an internationally recognized and award-winning architect, traveled back to his hometown to design and build one of Suzhou’s most popular attractions. Located deep in the historic district adjacent to Humble Administrator’s Garden, the Suzhou Museum appeals to lovers of art, architecture and culture. Free to visitors, the museum showcases a vast collection of ancient ceramics, cultural relics and woodcarvings, not to mention the handsome lotus pool at the museum’s center. View I.M. Pei: Building China Modern
Just around the corner from the Suzhou Museum is the Suzhou Garden Museum. Located inside Humble Administrator’s Garden in the Gusu District, discover the reasoning, history, techniques and styles behind Suzhou’s abounding classical garden culture. The Suzhou Arts & Crafts Museum, housed in the historic Shangzhi Tang building dating back to the Qing dynasty, boasts an impressive assortment of modern art and crafts created by skilled Suzhou artisans. From delicately carved jade to sinuous Ming-style furniture, the collection is both brilliant and diverse. Stop into the gift shop and bring a piece of handcrafted Suzhou home with you.
Along a maze of tapered roads is the Kunqu Opera Museum, dedicated to the area’s distinct style of opera. The antique theater houses a collection of musical instruments, costumes and photos to help tell the story of Kunqu — believed to be the ancestor of all forms of opera. Adjacent to the opera museum is the Pingtan Museum, a place to learn, listen and watch this ancient form of storytelling. Don’t miss an elegant performance sung in the traditional Suzhou dialect — shows happen daily at 1:30 p.m.
Overlooking Jinji Lake in Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP), find the Suzhou Arts and Culture Centre, billed as Suzhou’s premier performing arts venue. More than just a few Kunqu performances atop a grandiose stage, the Arts and Culture Centre boasts a Cineplex with an IMAX theater (the only national five-star cinema in Suzhou), an art museum, a cultural center and more.
Silk and Embroidery
Silk production is a delicate and painstaking process the people of Suzhou have unequivocally perfected — in fact, Suzhou is known as the silk capital of China. One visit to the Suzhou Silk Museum and you’ll know why. A series of galleries guide you through the silk-making lifecycle, from silkworm cocoon to thread spinning, while a workshop reminiscent of days past reenacts the golden era of Suzhou silk making. Visit the Top 10 Attractions page for more information.
Suzhou embroidery is among the oldest and most renowned in the world. The Museum of Suzhou Embroidery Art showcases an impressive collection, from Emperor Qianlong's intricate imperial robe to tapestries so advanced the works resemble three-dimensional paintings. In the workshop, watch craftsmen demonstrate their skills as they create stunning masterpieces using the finest silk threads — some can even execute the incredibly complex double-sided embroidery technique, producing a different image on either side.
One of the best ways to tour the "Venice of the East" is from a front row seat on a hand-steered canal boat. Afterwards, stop into 130-year-old Pin Von Teahouse for exotic teas served in private booths on the second floor. It overlooks Pingjiang Lu, an 800-year-old lively pedestrian street, one of China's "National Historic and Cultural Streets." next tip>