How to Explore Suzhou, China

How to Explore Suzhou, China

A guide to making the most out of a stay in 'the Venice of the East' By: Natalie Chudnovsky
<p>Travelers can sample adorable fare from the various food stalls on Pingjiang Road. // © 2016 iStock</p><p>Feature image (above): Instead of walking...

Travelers can sample adorable fare from the various food stalls on Pingjiang Road. // © 2016 iStock

Feature image (above): Instead of walking down Pingjiang Road, visitors can take a ride along the canal. // © 2016 iStock

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Commonly referred to as the “Venice of the East,” Suzhou, China, offers tourists more than 2,500 years of history, gardens and architecture. The city is a variegated patchwork of historic neighborhoods and canals that sit alongside urban hubs.

Here’s how travelers can see the best of the old and the new in Suzhou.

Tourists with grumbling stomachs can head to Shiquan Street, where they’ll find plenty of bars, as well as the famous Yangyang Dumpling restaurant. English menus, large portions and late hours make this a great spot for travelers to fill up on both local and diverse dishes such as crab, taro with chives and, of course, pan-fried, hand-wrapped dumplings.

A bowl of noodles in a delicate, savory broth is another essential on Suzhou’s gastronomic bucket list. TongDe Xing Noodle Shop is known for its authentic fare, where lines trail out the door (but the turnaround is quick) and travelers can choose between white or red soup.

A classic Suzhou dish to look out for in any restaurant is “Squirrel-shaped Mandarin Fish,” a deep-fried creation coated in sweet-and-sour sauce.

Additionally, visitors can wander down various vendor-crammed streets such as Taijian Long, Bifeng Fang or Guanqian Jie to sample street food such as wontons, fried steamed buns and sticky rice balls with red-bean paste.

For travelers looking for a modern experience surrounded by nightlife and great shopping, the district of Suzhou Industrial Park offers various high-end accommodations such as Crowne Plaza Hotel Suzhou; Shangri-La Hotel, Suzhou; and Hyatt Regency Suzhou.

Clients who want to be in proximity of Suzhou’s ancient temples and best museums should stay in the Gusu District, where they can choose between local, traditional-style accommodations, such as Scholars Hotel Suzhou Pingjiangfu or Garden Hotel Suzhou.

For a more hip experience, guests can check out Hotel Soul, which touts itself as the first boutique hotel in Suzhou and currently features 3-D artwork by local artists.

The Classical Gardens of Suzhou are among the best in the world, which is why they have a spot on the UNESCO World Heritage List. If clients don’t have time to hit all nine gardens in Suzhou, they can swing by the cream of the crop: the beloved Master of Nets Garden, Humble Administrator’s Garden and Lingering Garden, all of which showcase classical Chinese design with balanced landscaping, beautiful rivers and various pagodas and pavilions.

No visit to Suzhou would be complete without a stroll down its historic Pingjiang Road, a cultural center with teahouses, museums, opera theaters and bookshops selling old and new reads. Be sure to also visit the older parts of Suzhou that have remained fairly unchanged since the Song Dynasty.

Another destination rife with history is Tiger Hill Pagoda, where visitors can wander the garden, gaze up at the seven-story leaning Pagoda of the Yunyan Temple and walk among bonsai. Afterward, clients can go to nearby Hanshan Temple, a Buddhist monastery, to explore the grounds and hear the ringing of its bells.