In a nutshell
Often described as the “Venice of the East”, Suzhou is a beautiful city characterized by the many streams criss-crossing the neighbourhoods. It’s blessed with a deep history that is held dear by the local Suzhounese people, and there are plenty things to see, do and eat.
Suzhou’s waterways are a unique feature that you won’t find anywhere else in China. It’s very close to Shanghai, so it makes for a convenient one-night stay if you’re looking for something new. It’s also a special place because it’s smaller than other China’s other mega cities. People are friendlier, attractions aren’t as busy and the streets are not filled to the brim.
It’s a great city to visit for those interested in culture and history. For an all-encompassing cultural experience, we recommend visiting the Panmen Scenic area. You’ll get the full cultural experience when you visit the Ruigang pagoda (tallest in Suzhou), and don’t forget to snap a pic of the huge Panmen Gate.
A visit to Suzhou wouldn’t be complete without a visit to one of their famous water towns, so check out Tongli ancient town. We loved the bridges crossing over it’s many waterways, and the ancient white-washed houses which have been turned into neat cafes and restaurants.
Tiger Hill is one of Suzhou’s most important landmarks, so it’s a must-see. Go see the tomb of the king of the famous Wu clan- it’s rumoured a white tiger sat on his grave after he was buried, as though guarding him.
If you love shopping and tasty street food, head over to Guanqian Street at night for a great atmosphere and delicious barbequed treats!
When should I go?
Suzhou gets very hot and very cold, so the best times are spring (March-May) and autumn (October- November). Winter is cold and humid, and summer is hot. In spring, a light layer of clothing will suffice.
Where should I stay?
There are no specific “back packer” areas, but accommodation is generally a little more expensive in the downtown area (Gu Su district). The most popular kind of accommodation is mid-range hotels that are not only affordable (200-400 RMB), but they also offer excellent services. You’ll get airport pickups, gyms and good food, often with a choice of either western or Chinese. Since the price doesn’t vary greatly, just make sure you’re in a good location for what you want to do. The number of hotels increase around Suzhou’s most popular tourist attractions.
As far as budget accommodation, there are plenty of backpackers and youth hostels scattered throughout the city. You’ll get shared rooms and bathrooms, free WIFI and a lobby/lounge area to hang out in. There’s often an option to pay a little more for a private room and bathroom.
There are also luxury hotels available, where the service is excellent. They have world class spas, pools, gyms and food prepared by international chefs. Our pick is the Pan Pacific Suzhou.
What should I eat?
Suzhou was plenty options to suit even the fussiest of palates. There are western options ranging from fast food joints you’ll be familiar with like MacDonalds and Pizza Hut, through to upmarket Italian restaurants. However, we feel it’s best to eat local! This is not only the cheapest option, but Suzhou’s fish dishes are some of the finest in the country.
Their emphasis is on using fresh, local ingredients that usually follow seasonal trends to maximize freshness and quality. If you go to Suzhou, you have to taste their famous squirrel- shaped Mandarin fish. There are numerous classy Chinese restaurants where you can enjoy the local delicacies.
For cheap tasty street food, make sure you stop by at Guan Qian street. Go for an evening stroll along the smoky street and take in the atmosphere whilst enjoying some delicious barbequed snacks. You’ll pay no more than 50 RMB per person (bring some extra cash for beers).
If you’re craving some delicious French cuisine, we loved Paradox Restaurant, who prepare all the French classics excellently.
How do I get around Suzhou?
There are currently three lines operational. Line 1 runs between Mudu and Zhongnan street, with a total of 24 stations. Line 2 goes from Qiwu and Sangtiandao and passes Suzhou Railway Station and Suzhou South Railway station.
The bus lines run throughout the city, and are incredibly extensive, linking all the most important tourist attractions. You’ll pay 1 RMB for a normal bus, and 2 RMB for one with an AC. Make sure you have exact change.
There are an additional 5 lines that cater specifically for tourists. They’ll take you to all the most important attractions like Tiger Hill (line 1) Silk Museum and Suzhou Museum (line 2) and the Humble Administrator’s Garden (line 5).
With close to 5000 taxis, you’ll never have to wait too long for a taxi. The flag-down price starts at 10 RMB, and it’s an extra 3 for every 1 km after that.
Suzhou has thousands of bikes for rent all over the city. They’re very affordable, and eco friendly.
How do I get in and out of Suzhou?
Although it’s a big city, it does not have it’s own airport- you’ll have to us the one at Shanghai Hongqiao. It’s only 86 km away, and you can easily walk to the Hongqiao Railway Station inside the airport and take a 30 minute train to reach Suzhou Railway Station. You can also choose to land at Pudong airport (you won’t be able to catch a train). There are busses connecting Suzhou and Pudong that run all day long. The trip is 3 hours long and will cost you 84 RMB.
Long-haul flights usually connect from Hong Kong (2h50m from 800 RMB), or Beijing (2h25m from 700 RMB).
Train is usually the best option unless you’re travelling across the country. They’re fast and comfortable, and also cheaper than planes. Suzhou has two stations (Suzhou Railway Station, Suzhou North Railway Station). The main one is the Suzhou Railway Station, which will send and receive passengers to and from anywhere in the country.
A train from Hangzhou to Suzhou will take only 1 h 36 m, and cost 110 RMB.
The North Railway Station is equally extensive, and a train to Beijing will only take 5 hours, and Shanghai is only half an hour away.
The best place to catch a long-distance bus is from the North Station. The regular busses will take you to Anhui, Zhejiang, Fujian provinces and much more. Ticket prices start from about 26 RMB.
Is Suzhou safe?
Yes. There’s very little crime in China so there’s nothing to worry about. However, taxi drivers can drive recklessly, so to avoid this use the Didi app to call yourself a private cab.