Suzhou is well known for its traditional Chinese gardens that emanate decadence and tranquility; they are considered some of the best in the world, and rightly so. The histories of the classical gardens, which are scattered throughout the city, are long and can be traced back to 6BC. However, it is said that only a small number of the original 200 gardens remain perfectly intact. Alongside three of such gardens, we look at the top spots in Suzhou to visit in 24 hours.
Listed as a World Cultural Heritage Site, this is the largest garden in Suzhou, as it spans an estimated 50,000 square meters. This garden was originally built around 1509 to supplement the retirement of Wang Xianchen — a government employee — who yearned to dabble in gardening during his final years.
The garden comprises Eastern, Central, and Western sections that boast beautiful landscapes; ancient Chinese residences that serve as museums to showcase elaborate furniture and artwork; water features and lotus-filled ponds; small bamboo forests, hills, courtyards and pavilions. All of these features add to the tranquil nature of the garden, even when you’re surrounded by a number of other sightseers.
Though this garden is modest in size, it is utterly unique and, again, represents tranquility in horticulture. Don’t let the name of the garden fool you; it derives from the mere shape of the rocks that, supposedly, look like lions. The garden is divided into two main parts: a housing complex and a rockery around a central pond. It is a ‘forest’ of incredible rock formations that have been arranged to allow you to trail through, under, and over, as the trail snakes through the garden in a labyrinthine manner, making this an incredibly creative and entertaining visit as the stone complex encourages you to take in every aspect of the garden from a variety of different vantages.
This is another World Heritage Site that is a must-see, although it doesn’t differ a huge amount from the first two gardens. The Lingering Garden is not in the main tourist strip and requires a short bus trip to its location, so it is often not as crowded as The Humble Administrator’s Garden or The Lion Forest Garden. Perhaps it is because of this that this garden seems all the more remarkable. Of course, this does depend on the time of year you are planning to visit.
It takes some time to cover the grounds that, as per traditional Chinese gardens, features picturesque scenes filled with pavilions, ponds, aged trees, small bamboo forests, winding pathways, and grottos.
Tiger Hill pagoda is notorious for having similar characteristics to that of the Leaning Tower of Pisa in Italy. Unfortunately, the pagoda is currently under conservation repair, so it is not currently an attraction that should take precedence in your trip to Suzhou in the near future.
The bonsai garden surrounding the pagoda provides a lovely scenic area to walk around in as you gaze upon the Sword Pond, which is said to be the home to 1,000 buried swords, and the carved words of ancient Chinese poets. You can even enjoy a beautiful view of the city from the nearby terraces. However, there is no comparison to the main classical gardens in the city.
Head out of Suzhou city center and you’ll come across Zhouzhuang: a town that epitomizes beauty in a traditional Chinese manner, as it serves as a reminder of the Chinese water towns of the 14th Century. It is said that there are over 800 households still living within the area who keep the profound history and culture alive through the preservation of ancient residential houses, local customs, and traditions.
There are some truly breathtaking sights to behold as you wander through the streets and across elegant canals that weave their way through the town, giving Zhouzhuang its reputation for being the ‘Venice of the East.’ In addition to the canals, there are many other scenic attractions to visit: The Twin Bridges, which cut across the rivers to form the appearance of an old Chinese key; Shen House and Zhang House, which provide an astonishing insight into the life in ancient China through the collection of artifacts and exquisite artwork; and last, but not least, Zhengfen Street which is full of tea shops, eateries, and shops selling traditional Chinese souvenirs including silk, embroidery, woven bamboo, and other handicraft items.