Suzhou may be under an hour from Shanghai, but it’s a world apart from the latter’s neon bustle. Instead, this ancient city is known for its canals, tranquil gardens, and peaceful way of life—and two days offers the perfect amount of time to immerse yourself in its unmistakable ambiance. Here’s how to plan your stay.
Day 1: Sightseeing in Style
Morning: Millennia-old Suzhou has accumulated a number of must-see landmarks over its long history—and your first day in town is the perfect time to get acquainted with them. Begin your trip with a sightseeing excursion: See the famed Panmen Gate, impressive Hanshan Temple, lofty Tiger Hill, and bustling Shantang Street.
Afternoon: After a busy morning of sightseeing, enjoy Suzhou’s tranquil side when you venture to its UNESCO-designated classical gardens, many of which are over 500 years old. The Humble Administrator’s Garden is considered one of the finest in China, while the Master of the Nets Garden is another scenic highlight.
Evening: As the sun goes down, wind down your first day in Suzhou with a relaxing journey along the water—the Venice of the East, as it’s known, is best explored by boat. As you float along the Grand Canal, spy the heritage architecture for which the city is celebrated. Upon disembarking, indulge in a hearty seafood meal before hitting the hay.
Day 2: Cultural Excursions
Morning: During your second day in town, discover Suzhou’s cultural highlights, from the musical to the culinary. If your belly is rumbling, get the morning off to a traditional start with a cooking master class. Learn how to prepare an array of dumplings and other local delicacies before chowing down.
Afternoon: Suzhou has long been a center of Chinese silk production, and it still operates working factories today. In the afternoon, step behind the scenes and see how the prized material is made, from the care and cultivation of silkworms up to the dying and weaving of their precious threads.
Evening: Kunqu opera—native to Suzhou and several other cities—isn’t just the “mother” of Chinese opera: It’s also on the UNESCO Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity list. Wind down your cultural day out with an evening at the opera, then, and admire the elaborately costumed performers as they sing and act out centuries-old dramas.