Travelling through Suzhou in the 13th century, the great Dalmatian explorer Marco Polo declared that Suzhou was one of the most beautiful cities in China (although he did claim Hangzhou was better).
When Marco Polo travelled through here, Suzhou was a lovely merchant town, full of white-washed houses, canals lined with gorgeous trees and beautiful gardens to relax in. Today, Suzhou is a thoroughly modern city with a population of 6.03 million. Despite the fog of factory smoke, Suzhou still retains that charming atmosphere Marco Polo described, but you will have to look for it.
There are some wonderful attractions to see. Why not start your trip to Suzhou with a visit to the Garden of the Master of the Nets. This is a pocket-sized garden, the smallest in the city, but is the best preserved garden in Suzhou. It was created in the 12th century and then restored in the 18th century. The eastern section is the residential area; the central section is the main garden. The western area is an inner garden with a courtyard, home to the Spring Rear Cottage (Dianchun Yi). This is the master’s study and was copied and displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of art in New York in 1981.
Garden to Linger In is another beautiful garden to visit. It is one of the largest in Suzhou and was originally laid out in the Ming dynasty. The creator was a doctor who wished to create a relazing area where his patients could recover.
The twisting walkways are lined with calligraphy from other famous masters. The windows and doorways open up to some of the most beautiful ponds, rockeries and thick bamboo gardens.
If gardens are not your thing, then pay a visit to West Garden Temple. The temple, which had mustard-coloured walls and the graceful upturned eaves, was burnt completely to the ground during the Taiping Rebellion and then rebuilt. One amazing feature of the West Garden Temple is the 500 gilded statues of Buddhist saints in different significant poses.
Blue Wave Pavilion is another must-see attraction. It has a wild and overgrown beauty to it, but this one-hectare garden is one of the oldest in the city. The building themselves date from the 11th century but have been rebuilt and restored over the years.
Blue Wave Pavilion was once the home of a prince but was later given to the scholar Su Zimei, who renamed it after a poem created by Qu Yuan.
North Temple Pagoda is the tallest pagoda south of the Yangzi. You can climb the nine stories tall building as once you reach the top, you will experience the most incredible views. It is over 1,700 years old and was once a dwelling. You will find Nanmu Guanyin Hall to the side and a lovely little teahouse to the back.
If you like museums you will not be disappointed; Suzhou has several lovely museums to visit so you can learn the history of this wonderful city. Suzhou Silk Museum showcases Suzhou’s 4,000 year old silk industry. There is even a section of the museum where you can see live silkworms eating mulberry leaves and spinning cocoons.
You can also visit the Kunqu Opera Museum, located down a labyrinth of narrow lanes. This museum is dedicated to showcasing the region’s particular style of opera known as kunqu. You can learn about it here and there are also occasional performances of the opera.
Tourists flock to Suzhou in September when the city holds the Suzhou Silk Festival. Dedicated to showcasing the history of silk production, merchants are able to promote their silken wares. If you love high quality silk, come here in September – you will get lots of bargains.
Suzhou is a wonderful city with a long history. Although most people come here to wander in the exquisite gardens, Suzhou has much to offer to the traveller. You will find temples, gardens, pagodas, beautiful architecture and friendly people, but more than that, you will find yourself falling in love with Suzhou herself.