Millennia-old Suzhou may well be one of China’s most romantic cities. Renowned for its waterways (which have earned the city its Venice of the East moniker), Suzhou also boasts heritage architecture, historical gardens, and culture in spades. Three days is the right amount of time to explore—and even plan a day trip. Here’s what to do.
Day 1: A Sightseeing Whirlwind
Dedicate your first day in town to zipping between vibrant Suzhou’s many top attractions. Begin on a scenic note with one of its UNESCO-designated classical gardens: The Humble Administrator’s Garden, the largest of the bunch, is said to be one of the finest gardens in the country. Then head up Tiger Hill for panoramic city views, spy the ancient Panmen Gate, stroll down bustling Shantang Street, and drop by the Suzhou Museum for a cultural immersion (and to admire its I.M. Pei–designed building). As darkness descends, enjoy a local dinner before heading to the opera for one final cultural foray—Kunqu-style Chinese opera has been performed here for centuries.
Day 2: Tranquil Suzhou
On your second day in town, make the quick trip to Taihu Lake, part of the Dongshan Scenic Area and one of the largest freshwater lakes in China. Depending on the itinerary you select, you can visit a local tea plantation, the ancient Luxiang Village, and Xishan Island (the largest island in the lake). Upon returning to Suzhou, continue your aquatic-themed sightseeing with a gentle boat tour along the Grand Canal as the sun starts to set. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, venture to a top-rated local restaurant to indulge in an array of local seafood specialties, slow-cooked pork, dumplings, and other treats.
Day 3: Day-Trip Excursions
Devote your third day to a day trip, heading to Shanghai if it’s bustle that you crave, though Hangzhou—less than two hours away by bullet train—is another worthy, captivating choice. The city is famed for its gorgeous West Lake, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and its 4th-century Lingyin Temple, complete with rock-carved buddhas and pagodas. Don’t forget to try staple dishes such as West Lake fish in a sweet vinegar sauce while you’re here. Alternatively, stick closer to Suzhou and explore one of the area’s heritage water towns, named for their historical canal networks. Tongli draws visitors thanks to its picturesque bridges and unspoiled beauty, while Zhouzhuang is bursting with centuries-old buildings and cinematic beauty.