History & Culture
Suzhou, “Venice of the East,” is one of the oldest cities in the Yangtze Basin dating back more than 2,500 years. The city was established in 514 BC as Helü in the Kingdom of Wu and it served as the administrative and commercial center for the rice trade. Suzhou benefited greatly from the construction of The Grand Canal, finding itself strategically positioned by the canal’s completion at the start of the 7th century. During the Song (960–1279 A.D.) and the Yuan (1206–1368) dynasties, Suzhou flourished.Explore Suzhou’s unique offerings for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
In the 13th century the Venetian traveler Marco Polo visited Suzhou and commented on its splendors offering a great and noble city of elegant canals and bridges, possessed of fine silks and populated by craftsmen, philosophers and merchants.
The city quickly became a center for scholars and the arts as well as an important source of commercial capital and a finance and banking center.
The cultivation of silk worms played no small role in Suzhou’s success story. Based on stone artifacts, historians have traced silk production in the region as early as the Bronze Age. As weaving skills and techniques developed in concert with expanded trade routes, Silk Roads were created to reach as far as Japan, Persia, Greece and Rome. Under the Ming (1368–1644) and early Qing (1644–1912) dynasties, Suzhou’s prominence grew among wealthy landowning families.
Symbols of that wealth can be seen today in Suzhou’s collection of classical gardens, well preserved since the Ming and Qing dynasties. Of the 50 gardens that survived from the original 200 dating back to the 11th century, nine are deemed so extraordinary to have been granted UNESCO World Heritage Site status. The Humble Administrator’s Garden, Lingering Garden, Master-of-Nets Garden and Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty, Blue Wave Pavilion, Lion Grove Garden, Couple’s Garden, Garden of Cultivation and Garden of Retreat and Reflection embody refined sophistication via symbolism designed by masters of landscape and waterscape.
In 1981, Suzhou City was listed by the State Council as one of the four cities with historical and cultural heritage protection. Accordingly, the city has developed into one of China’s most prosperous, gaining in popularity as a tourism destination. In the 1990s, two major industrial parks were developed: the Singapore Industrial Park (SIP) and the Suzhou New District, where 20 percent of the Fortune 500 corporations have established a base in Suzhou. In 2014, The Grand Canal was inscribed to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. Well-known museums include the Suzhou Silk Museum, Suzhou Museum of Opera and Theatre and the Suzhou Museum, designed by native architect of international repute, I.M. Pei.
Today, Suzhou’s population and economy is among China’s most rapidly expanding. Only 60 miles from Shanghai, the world’s largest metropolitan area, service by bullet train makes for a 25-minute commute.
Featured Tour Packages
18-Days : Ancient Empires—Beijing to Tokyo
Explore two ancient nations in 18 well-packed days on this unique journey that takes you from the epic lengths of the Great Wall to the poetic views of Mt Fuji. Hop aboard trains and ferries and face an army of Terracotta Warriors for an historical encounter you won't soon forget before proceeding to Suzhou. We will take you off the beaten track to reveal the cultural treasures of the region’s ancient sites.
Eastern China Explorer
"Explore the natural wonders, historic monuments, cultural heritage, and culinary delights"
Explore other facets of Suzhou’s ancient history as you stroll along Pingjiang Road, graced with fine examples of Song Dynasty architecture. Then experience a popular Chinese pastime as you join city residents to fly a kite at the historic Panmen Gate. Learn how silk is made at a local workshop before traveling to Shanghai where you’ll check in to the landmark Fairmont Peace Hotel. Meals B+L.
Humble Administrator’s Garden is one of China’s finest, the centerpiece of a UNESCO World Heritage Site that comprises nine classical Suzhou gardens. Visitors during spring and summer may attend the azalea or lotus festival. Adjacent, the Suzhou Museum is the latest masterpiece of China’s most famous architect, I.M. Pei. For transportation, take tourist buses No.1, 2 or 5.
Traveling with children? Don't miss the Suzhou Amusement Park at Junji Lake with zipline ride, a dancing water fountain show on weekends and one of the world's tallest Ferris Wheels. The 60 cabins carrying a total of 300 passengers take 20 minutes per rotation, providing great views of the lake and the Suzhou skyline.
Currency in Suzhou, and throughout China, is abbreviated as CNY for Chinese Yen or as RMB for Renminbi. Along with 13 other major currencies, US dollars can be exchanged at all the outlets of the state banks of China at the same rate. Bring a passport to make any transaction.
Known as the "Silk Capital of the World", those keen to see silkworms in action can be guided through the process from mulberry leaves to finished product at Suzhou No. 1 Silk Mill. The region's temperate, subtropical zone that's ideal for deciduous mulberry trees has supported 5,000 years of silk cultivation.
Picturesque canals, stone bridges, temples, gardens and pagodas make the ancient city of Suzhou one of China's top tourism destinations. Calligraphy carved onto Tiger Hill rocks indicate that it has attracted visitors for thousands of years. A Song Dynasty poet, Su Shi, said, "It is a lifelong pity if having visited Suzhou you did not visit Tiger Hill."
In Suzhou, the regional Chinese language is called Wu, the subgroup is called Taihu, and the local dialect, one of nine, is known as Suzhounese, considered one of the most elegant, flowing in all of China. Most people are bilingual in Mandarin used in schools, because Suzhounese is not mutually intelligible with either Mandarin or Cantonese.
Atop Tiger Hill, the Yunyan Pagoda, nicknamed the Leaning Tower of China, stands as a symbol of Suzhou. Completed during the Song Dynasty in the year 961, the 1,000-year-old pagoda is taller than the Leaning Tower of Pisa and has become a symbol of Suzhou. The 3-degree tilt means that since 2010, visitors are no longer permitted entry.
Visit an authentic Buddhist monastery and temple just 3 miles west Suzhou old town. The temple has been well-known since the Tang Dynasty of the 7th and 8th centuries. Take bus No. 3, 6, 9, 17, 21, 31, 301 or Y3 and get off at Fengqaio Station.
Suzhou Railway Station, one of China's busiest, dates back to 1906. Now throughly modernized, the fast train connection with a design speed of 217 miles per hour covers the 52 miles to Shanghai in a journey of only a 24 minutes.
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."