After spending only one day in Suzhou, China, we had definitely succumbed to the charms of the canals, incredible bridges, ancient streets and gardens. Actually, Suzhou is famous for its classical Chinese gardens, which are collectively a UNESCO world heritage site. But there really is a lot more to Suzhou than gardens, as beautiful as they are. Here we will share some of the best things to do in Suzhou, how to get to Suzhou from Shanghai, how to get around and all the things you need to know before you visit.
- One Day In Suzhou + Tongli Video
- How To Get To Suzhou From Shanghai
- How To Get Around
- Things To Do In Suzhou
- What To Eat
- Is One Day In Suzhou Long Enough?
- When To Visit
One Day In Suzhou + Tongli Water Town Video
How To Get To Suzhou From Shanghai
Getting to Suzhou from Shanghai couldn’t be easier, which is why it makes for such a great day trip from Shanghai.
Make your way on the metro from wherever you are staying in Shanghai to Shanghai Railway Station. Take a fast train from Shanghai to Suzhou, which usually only takes between 30 and 40 minutes. This was our journey:
Metro | Xujiahui to Shanghai Railway Station (no transfers, 18 minutes)
Fast Train | Shanghai Railway Station To Suzhou (33 minutes) G7002 at 6.47 am. Arrived at Suzhou railway station at 7.21 am.
Depending on where you are staying in Shanghai, you can also take the train from Shanghai Hongqiao Station, however, most of these trains will take you to Suzhou North Railway Station which is further away from Suzhou city centre, so make sure to select the train to Suzhou.
How To Book A Fast Train From Shanghai To Suzhou
We booked online the day before at trip.com and collected our tickets at the train station (technically, it was the building diagonal to the train station). You can also buy tickets at the train station, however, you will need to allow more time and you may risk not getting seats. Online booking adds a $5 booking fee to each ticket but it means avoiding lines and securing seats. We paid $26 AUD for two one-way tickets. On the way back we purchased tickets at Suzhou train station for $16 AUD for two tickets, however, as expected there was quite a line and this took about 45 minutes.
How To Get Around Suzhou
There are a few options for travelling around Suzhou. Once you are in the city centre, we mostly walked but also got a couple of taxies as we had limited time. Although we did a lot of walking, it is quite a large city centre and sites are spread out, so we were pretty exhausted by the end of the day.
There is also a metro system to help you get around, and this is particularly useful for getting from Suzhou Railway Station to the city centre. At the time of our visit, there were three metro lines, but there are plans for this to expand, so it will only become easier to get around in the future. There are also many buses you can take to get to places like Tiger Hill.
Things To Do In Suzhou
Day Trip To Tongli Water Town
One of the first things we did was actually in a nearby ancient water town on the outskirts of Suzhou. We arrived in Suzhou and took the metro straight to the incredible Tongli Water Town in the morning and then spent the afternoon and evening in Suzhou. In hindsight, we definitely should have done separate day trips to each place. But if you are short on time, it is possible to see both in one day. If you have more time, we would recommend staying a few nights in Suzhou and doing a day trip to Tongli from there.
Read More: Things To Do In Tongli Water Town, China
Entry Fee: 100 RMB
Opening Hours: 7.30 AM to 5.30 PM is the opening hours for most of the sites in Tongli Water Town, although some sites are open after this time.
The Humble Administrator’s Garden
The Humble Administrator’s Garden is the largest garden in Suzhou and a UNESCO world heritage site. If you only have one day in Suzhou, you may only have time to see one or two gardens. Being that we had such limited time, we obviously chose the largest garden to explore. Perhaps not a wise choice timewise in hindsight, but it was magical and we loved exploring the Humble Administrators Garden. We were concerned it would be too busy, but even though there were a lot of people there, it was still an incredible experience.
Keep in mind that most of the gardens and sites will stop selling tickets 30 minutes before closing.
Address: 178 Dongbei Street
Entry Fee: 90 RMB (peak period: April, May, July, August, Sept, Oct) | 70 RMB (off-season: Jan, Feb, March, June, Nov, Dec)
Opening hours: March 1st to November 15th: 7.30 AM to 5.30 PM | November 16th to Feb 29th: 7.30 AM to 5 PM
Master Of The Nets Garden
The Master Of The Nets Garden is the smallest garden in Suzhou and another UNESCO world heritage site. This would make it a great choice if you only have one day in Suzhou. We attempted to squeeze this one in too but unfortunately arrived too late to get tickets, which was probably a blessing as there is so much more to see in Suzhou than just gardens. Although if you have the time, the gardens are beautiful.
Address: 1 Kuo Jia Tou Lane
Entry Fee: 30 Yuan (Jan – March, June, Nov – Dec) | 40 Yuan (April – May, July – October) | 100 Yuan Night Show (Mid March – Mid November)
Opening Hours: 7:30 AM – 5.30 PM (April 16 – October 30) | 7:30 AM – 5 PM (October 31 – April 15) | 7:30 PM – 10 PM (Mid-March – Mid-November)
Walk Around Suzhou’s City Moat Ring Trail
Suzhou’s Moat Ring Trail is a walking path that takes you around the Old City Moat along the Waicheng River. This trail was opened in 2016 and is a 15.5 km trail that will take you past incredible ancient bridges and old town gates. We think walking along the canal is one of the best things to do in Suzhou. If we had time, I could have spent so much longer doing this. It truly takes you to another time. Such a beautiful way to explore the Old Town.
After leaving the Master Of The Nets Garden, I must admit, we were starting to realise just how little time we had in Suzhou and we were a little stressed. We walked from the Master Of The Nets Garden, down Renmin Road and then turned right at the river. As soon as we made it to the city moat and the walking trail, all our cares went away, we stopped looking at the time, and we were content with what we had seen. This is definitely one of the best things to do in Suzhou for free.
Entry Fee: Free
Panmen Gate + Panmen Scenic Area
We walked along the canal past the Panmen Gate, or Pan Gate, which is part of the Old City Walls of Suzhou. This area was absolutely stunning. You can enter Panmen Scenic Area to see a little more but it was closed at the time we passed. Even if you don’t visit Panmen Scenic Area, the canal, the bridges and the gate are very worthwhile seeing. Another old city gate worth visiting is Xiangmen Gate, which you can find near Xiangmen metro station in Suzhou Old Town.
Address: Near Xinshi Road and East Street
Entry Fee: You can see Pan Gate for free, entry to Panmen Scenic Area is 40 RMB
Guanqian Street is a historical street in Suzhou that is over 150 years old. It is actually a pedestrian shopping street, where you can find century-old traditional shops and restaurants, along with modern shops. It is also a great place to come for street food and traditional Suzhou snacks. Guanqian Street is not too far from Pingjiang Road, so it makes sense to combine the two when you are in the area.
We made our way from Guanqian shopping street to Pingjiang Road via Xiaojia Xiang lane. The lane itself was so interesting and exploring Pingjiang Road was perhaps one of the best things to do in Suzhou at night.
Pingjiang Road (Pingjiang Lu) is an 800-year-old ancient street. This cobblestoned pedestrian street follows a small canal and is full of ancient buildings, shops, snack stalls, tea houses, cafes, and guesthouses. It was so beautiful walking along here at night with lanterns lit up and everyone out enjoying themselves. And if you love photography, you will be mesmerised here.
After exploring Pingjiang Lu, we had officially run out of time in Suzhou, so jumped on the metro and made our way back to Suzhou Railway Station. Honestly, there were so many more things that we wanted to see and do in Suzhou, so if you have more time, below are some more great options.
More Suzhou Gardens
The classical gardens in Suzhou are collectively a UNESCO world heritage site. Here are some more to visit if you have time:
Lingering Garden – the second largest garden in Suzhou from the Ming Dynasty, although it developed throughout the Qing Dynasty so it’s style reflects the gardens of the Qing Dynasty era.
The Canglang Pavillion – the oldest garden in Suzhou from the Song Dynasty.
The Lion Grove Garden – known for its stone caves and rock formations.
The Couples Retreat – originally built in the Qing Dynasty and once owned by a husband and wife who developed the garden as a place to enjoy life together.
The Garden Of Cultivation – a classical garden from the Ming Dynasty with a simple layout.
The Mountain Villa With Embracing Beauty – this garden is also the site of The Suzhou Embroidery Research Institute.
Tiger Hill Scenic Area And Yunyan Pagoda
Tiger Hill is the resting place of the King of Wu (He Lu), where it is believed that three days after he was buried, a white tiger came and sat on his grave to guard it. At Tiger Hill, you will find 1000-year old leaning Yunyan Pagoda, villas, sword pool, bonsai garden and pathways through nature. I believe you can actually reach Tiger Hill via a boat from Shantang Old Street, otherwise, you can get a bus there.
Address: 585 Huqiu Hill
Entry Fee: 60 RMB (January – March, June, November – December) | 80 RMB (April, May, July – October)
Opening Hours: 7.30 AM to 5.30 PM
Shangtang Street is an ancient street by the river famous for its bridges, ancestral halls and temples. It is known as the ‘first street in Suzhou’ as it has a history of nearly 1200 years. Today you can see the ancient architecture, but it is also lined with snack stalls and other shops and can be particularly lively at night.
Entry Fee: Free entry to Shangtang Street, however, if you want to go into some of the sites on the street, there may be an entry fee.
Grand Canal Boat Tour
We would have loved to go on a boat tour down the Suzhou section of the Grand Canal, but, alas, we will have to save this one for next time. Let us know in the comments below if you have done this and what you thought.
The museum was designed by Chinese architect I.M Pei, who you may know as he also designed the glass pyramids of the Louvre in Paris. Here you will see exhibits of ancient Chinese artefacts, although the building itself makes Suzhou Muesum worth the visit. Entry is free although you can book online in advance on their website.
Address: 204 Dongbei Jie
Entry Fee: Free
Opening Hours: 9 AM to 5 PM from Tuesday to Sunday (no admission after 4 PM)
Suzhou is not only famous for its classical gardens, but also its history of silk production and embroidery. Here you can visit Suzhou Silk Muesum to see and learn about the history of silk. You can also visit Suzhou Silk Factory No.1 to see silk production in a working factory and see silk items.
Suzhou Silk Museum: 2001 Renmin Road
Silk Factory No. 1 Address: 94 Nanmen Road
Entry Fee: Both are free
Beisi Ta (North Temple Pagoda)
North Temple Pagoda is a Buddhist place of worship also surrounded by a peaceful garden. The octagonal, nine-storey pagoda is thought to be originally built during the Three Kingdoms Period, but the existing pagoda was built by the Song Dynasty then later rebuilt during the Ming Dynasty.
Address: Renmin Road
Entry Fee: 25 RMB
Shuang Ta – Twin Pagodas
Located on Dinghui Lane, now called Shuang Ta Lane, is Shuang Ta or the Twin Pagodas. The almost identical pagodas were built in 982 during the Song dynasty. You can enter the small garden area surrounding the pagodas, where you will also find a stone carving museum. However, you cannot enter or go up the towers. Nearby is the Shuangta Market, which use to be a traditional farmers market but has since been renovated and is now a place to not only buy fresh produce but also devour delicious food.
Address: Dinghuisi Lane
Entry Fee: 10 RMB
Jinji Lake + Suzhou Industrial Park
Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP) is built near Jinji Lake. You can come to this area to ride bikes around the lake, rent boats, take in the views from the huge Ferris wheel, shop at the massive Suzhou Centre Mall or watch the Saturday night fountain show.
Pingtan And Kunqu Opera On Pingjiang Road
Some of the teahouses on Pingjiang Road will have Pingtan Opera or Kunqu Opera performances. It’s affordable, sometimes free when you buy green tea, and much more of a casual thing to do when compared to Western opera.
Address: Pingjiang Road
What To Eat In Suzhou
We had such a hectic day in Suzhou that we basically just snacked our way through the day grabbing something when we could. Not exactly how we had hoped the day would turn out, especially considering trying the local food is one of our favourite things about travel. We were hoping to have a delicious noodle lunch at Yu Mian Zhai Noodle Restaurant (50 Jiayufang, Gusu District) and dinner at Song He Lou Restaurant (72 Taijian Lane, Gusu District). Nevertheless, here is a list of local Suzhou food specialities that you can try:
- Sweet and Sour Mandarin Fish, otherwise known as Squirrelfish
- Eel In Sizzling Oil
- Bilou Shelled Shrimps – shelled shrimps cooked in green tea and eaten with soy sauce
- Stir-fried shrimp
- Meat mooncakes (pastry filled with meat available from bakeries)
- Glutinous Rice Balls
- Variety of noodle dishes, predominantly with seafood elements
- Pea shoots
- Taihu Lake Three Whites – white fish, whitebait and white shrimp
- Cherry Pork – pork in cherry-sized pieces with a sweet, sour and salty red sauce
There is also plenty of street food on Guanqian Street, Pingjiang Street and Taijian Lane.
Is One Day In Suzhou Long Enough?
Our Shanghai to Suzhou day trip was actually combined with nearby Tongli Water Town. One day to visit both Suzhou and Tongli is honestly not long enough unless you only have a few things that you want to see, or if you are short on time and are happy to have a fast-paced hectic day. We walked out of our apartment in Shanghai at 5.50 am and arrived home just before 10 pm with some takeaway from our local noodle shop next door.
One day in Suzhou only is definitely worthwhile, but if you have the time, we would definitely recommend spending a few days in Suzhou and also visit Tongli Water Town from there. If you had more time in Suzhou, you could also use it as your base to visit another ancient town, Zhouzhuang Water Town.
When To Visit Suzhou
We visited Suzhou in mid-March and we thought it was a great time to visit. It wasn’t too busy, the weather was crisp but nice. Spring and Autumn would be the most pleasant times to visit Suzhou, although it really is a year-round destination. If possible, try to avoid weekends and public holidays as these times will be busier.
For more information about planning a Suzhou day trip, take a look at the official Suzhou tourism website.