Suzhou (map) is a city in *Jiangsu province, famed for its beautiful gardens and traditional waterside architecture. The town has many canals and has been called the Venice of the East. An older romanization was “Soochow”. Its city center being 100 km (62 mi) west of that of Shanghai – and outer suburbs of the two global hubs meet.
In Imperial China, Suzhou was a popular destination for retired scholars and officials, many of whom built classical Chinese gardens around their homes; even lesser houses and some commercial buildings often have lovely small gardens or courtyards. The Classical Gardens of Suzhou are on the UNESCO World Heritage List.
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Founded in 514 BC, Suzhou has had a long and productive history. Local museums host abundant displays of its relics and many sites of historical interest exist. By 100 CE Suzhou was one of the ten largest cities on Earth, and by the early 19th century it was the world’s largest non-capital city.
Heaven has paradise; Earth has Suzhou and Hangzhou — Chinese proverb.
Within the old center, Downtown Suzhou (Canglang, Pingjiang and part of Jinchang district) is completely surrounded by a large, rectangular canal known as the Hucheng River (Hucheng Hé), which is connected to China’s Grand Canal. Most of the major sights are within this area, about 6 by 3 km in size.
! To make sure you don’t get too lost, ask your hotel concierge to write out the name of your destinations, as well as how to get back. Make sure to add your own notes so you know what the translation is.
In 2015, both 800-year-old Pingjiang Road Historical Block (平江路, wiki, map) and 1,200-year-old Shantang Street Scenic Area (山塘街, wiki, map) were added to the list of China’s “National Historic and Cultural Streets”. (Historical streets in Jiangsu listed as national heritage / Top 10 Historical And Cultural Streets in China)
Pingjiang Road runs parallel to the Pingjiang River for 1.5 kilometers and is lined with homes and some teahouses. Shantang Street, over twice as long at 3.8 km, is described by the BBC as retaining “the alluring qualities of an old canal-side street: whitewashed buildings are completed by red-tasseled lanterns that swing softly in the breeze, adding to the charm of the river bank”.
Tiger Hill (wiki, map) is known for its natural environment and historical sites. The hill has been a tourist destination for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, as is evident from the poetry and calligraphy carved into rocks on the hill. The Song Dynasty poet, Su Shi said, “It is a lifelong pity if having visited Suzhou you did not visit Tiger Hill.”
Shiquan Street (十全街, map) is the main bar area downtown. A number of the bars on this street (not the ones listed above) are thinly-veiled fronts for the world’s oldest profession; numbers of very friendly young ladies sitting around the bar or standing in doorways.