Temples in Suzhou

Hanshan Temple in Suzhou China
Hanshan Temple

From active monasteries to ancient remains, Suzhou is home to a colorful collection of China’s most cherished temples. Whether you’re on a religious pilgrimage or just interested in seeing some of the best (and oldest) examples of Buddhist architecture and culture, here are a few favorites to add to your itinerary.

Beloved Landmarks

At the summit of Tiger Hill stands the oldest pagoda in Suzhou, Yunyan Pagoda. Also called Huqiu Tower, this thousand-year-old, eight-sided stone temple rises seven stories high and has become the unofficial symbol of Suzhou. Be among the thousands that flock to see the temple’s notorious tilt — almost as drastic as Italy’s Leaning Tower of Pisa. For more information, visit the Top 10 Attractions page.

Located along bustling Guanqian Street, Xuanmiao Temple, or Temple of Mystery, is believed to be Suzhou’s only surviving example of Song dynasty architecture and now functions as the city’s premier Taoist temple. Crowned by dramatic eaves, Three Purities Hall (the temple’s main attraction) boasts a collection of colossal pillars delicately inlaid with Taoist deities. Considered the epicenter for Taoist music in Suzhou, visitors are often lured in by the temple monks’ entrancing melodies.

Dubbed one of the ten great temples in China, Hanshan Temple, or Cold Mountain Temple, has a history of more than 1,500 years and is famed for its bell-ringing ceremony on New Year’s Eve, as well as its inclusion in the poem “Mooring for the Night at Fengqiao Bridge” (see the poem inscribed on a stone tablet near Maple Bridge). Also among the temple’s top attractions are its Grand Prayer Hall, Sutra Library and one of the city’s best outlooks, Puming Pagoda. For more information, visit the Top 10 Attractions page.

Hidden Gems

At nearly 2.5 acres, Xiyuan Temple is the largest Buddhist monastery in Suzhou. Also called West Garden Temple, the 700-year-old masterpiece exhibits a flawless balance of architecture, sculpture and gardens. The temple’s yellow walls and curled eaves lead visitors to Arhat Hall’s collection of 500 life-sized statues of gilded Buddhist saints. Within its flourishing garden, find the peaceful Life-Releasing Pond. It is believed that for the last 300 years, the pool’s primary residents — turtles — have been released from captivity and now live amongst the temple’s ancient trees and fragrant flora.

Dating back 1,700 years and measuring in at nearly 250 feet tall (76 meters), Suzhou’s North Temple Pagoda — also known as Beisi Pagoda or Gratitude-Paying Temple — is the oldest and tallest pagoda south of the Yangtze River. Sometimes shrouded in mist, the nine-story pagoda dominates the skyline with its octagonal frame and mesmerizing brick-and-wooden façade. On a clear day, climb the spiral staircase to the top for sweeping views of Suzhou and beyond.

Now the Suzhou Stone Inscription Museum, Confucian Temple was the first temple school in China, but is most notable for housing the four greatest steles of the Song dynasty (1137–1279). Uncover a stele that details the city’s old canal systems, roads and walls from the year 1229, or set your sights on one of the oldest astronomy charts in the world. The temple’s vast collection also includes 3,000 inscriptions and 10,000 rubbings, so there’s plenty to see at this prized temple.

Featured Tour Packages

13-Days : Gardens, Culture, History, People, and Nature

13-Days : Gardens, Culture, History, People, and Nature

Day 11 - 13 : You will visit the Urban Planning Exhibition and Shanghai Museum, a world-class museum with a collection of bronze, jade, pottery, ceramics, paintings, calligraphy, old coins, and furniture. Tour the Lingering Garden (Liuyuan) and Tiger Hill Pagoda (Huqiu Shan) including the Bonsai (Panji) Nursery on the grounds of Wanjing Villa. After lunch visit the Master of the Nets Garden (Wangshi Yuan) and Blue Wave Pavilion (Canlang Ting).

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10-Days : Idyllic Water Towns

10-Days : Idyllic Water Towns

Day 7 - 8 : Garden art is one of the region’s most famous cultural expressions, and Suzhou is home to its greatest gardens. Here the Chinese literatis have integrated architecture, water and rock, and painting into a unified spiritual expression.

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11-Days : Enchanting China

11-Days : Enchanting China

Day 9 - 10: Suzhou, which dates back to 514 BC, is sometimes called the "Venice of the East". And visit Shan Tang Street, which has always been regarded as the first name of Suzhou ancient streets. It has a long history of about 1,100 years, its layout and architecture are the best to represent the characteristics of Suzhou's old alleys, and it has connections to many ancient Chinese celebrities and anecdotes.

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Expert Tips:

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."