Close to Shanghai, Suzhou presents a beguiling scene of canals, bridges, pagodas and gardens. With a history stretching back 2,500 years, Suzhou became the centre of silk production and was in its heyday a beautiful town brimming with artists and scholars, with a rarefied ambience that has inspired oriental comparisons with Bruge and Venice.


In common with many sights in China, what was once a marvellously pretty place, although still very beautiful at its inner core, has been diminished by the effects of the Cultural Revolution and modern development, which resulted in the loss of many of its former features and the addition of infinitely less harmonious structures. Nevertheless, this remarkable town has retained enough of its original character to still charm its many visitors with its lovely highlights.

The Humble Administrators Garden was originally built in 1509 AD and is a beautiful collection of planting, zigzag bridges, lotus ponds and pavilions, just one of eight of the town's sixty nine delightful Heritage Gardens which have been bestowed UNESCO World Heritage Status, which also include the highly revered Garden of the Master of the Nets and the Garden of Lingering.

For a flavour of how Suzhou would have formerly looked, the Pingjiang Lu canal walkway illustrates the original form of the town before many of its canals were filled to make way for roads.

The Grand Canal in Suzhou is part of a surviving section of the once mighty man-made waterway connecting the Yellow River with the Yangtze, begun in 495 BC and eventually completed in 609 AD. A boat trip of the Grand Canal and the other remaining waterways is a delightful way to experience Suzhou and visualise the echoes of its past.

Other remarkable examples of the town’s original features are the Pan Gate, dating from 1355 AD, and attached to a stretch of original town wall, Wumen Bridge, North Temple Pagoda and Cloud Rock Pagoda. Suzhou Silk Museum beautifully unfolds Suzhou’s historic silk making.


In the myriad of waterways to the south and east of Suzhou, there are several other examples of very charming water towns worthy of a visit if you are staying either in Suzhou itself or even in Shanghai.

The most famous of these is Wuzhen, a highly picturesque ancient town with over a millennia of history, combined with tastefully modern facilities and high quality services, which nevertheless has a uniquely beguiling appeal.

Perhaps the most charming of all the water towns is Xi Tang, on account of its many lovely bridges, pretty lanes and covered canal walkways, an aura that found the town featuring to beautiful effect in the film Mission Impossible III.  Its artful night time lighting will likely find you wishing to linger awhile to enjoy a meal and imbibe its remarkable ambience.