Shanghai is a great city to visit, but it can also be intense. Luckily, the city offers some great day trip options to get out of the hustle and bustle for a few hours. We took a day trip to Suzhou. According to Chinese standards a small town, but don’t let that fool you. It still has 5 million inhabitants. The Chinese call Suzhou ‘the heaven on earth’ (together with Hangzhou). This town is praised for its water, bridges, and classical gardens. In this blog post, I will tell you more about our day trip Suzhou, the best things to do, and how to get there.
Read next: Good morning Shanghai: exploring the city on pedals.
Follow the Grand Canal
Purchasing a train ticket from Shanghai Hongqiao Station to Suzhou (pronounced as Su-choow) was surprisingly easy. It helps to bring a small note or a screenshot of the Mandarin translation of Suzhou. That way you make sure that you are going to the right place. A few minutes before the departure time we entered the platform, walked to our modern high-speed train, and looked for our places. We didn’t get seats because the train was too full, so we had to stand. But it was okay because it was a short ride (only one hour).
Taking the wrong exit
After arriving in Suzhou, finding the old center turned out to be a challenge. In retrospect, I know where things went wrong. We took the wrong exit at the train station! In China, choosing the right exit is crucial. We noticed this with the metro exits in Shanghai that sometimes have more than ten exits. And in Suzhou, we took the wrong train station exit and headed in the wrong direction. After an hour of wandering, I thought I could forget about this day trip, until we decided to follow the canals. After all, Suzhou is a water town and the 1700 kilometer long Grand Canal (starting in Beijing and ending in Hangzhou) runs through the city. This worked and we finally ended up in the city center.
Gondolas in the old center
Suzhou is known in the travel guides as the “Venice of the East”. The old center of Suzhou has 24 canals. And on these canals, the gondoliers are the bosses. They offer tourist boat rides on their beautiful wooden boats. If you compare the prices to a Venice gondola, then you’re probably better off here. You pay around 80 – 100 CNY for a 20 – 30 minute ride. Still, for me, it felt a bit too touristy and not worth the money. Instead, I enjoyed watching the gondolas from a distance.
Charming city center
The old center is nicely set up with cool shops and eating stalls. One of the best streets to explore is Pingjiang Street. We came across an arts and crafts store here where you could make your own beads jewelry while enjoying some nice tea. We saw some teenagers doing this, but it wasn’t really our thing. Down on the street, we also saw some uniquely-shaped snacks. What about steamed buns in the shape of ducks or pig faces, who wouldn’t want to eat that?
Please note that our visit took place several years ago, so Suzhou center could be a lot more touristic and busier these days.
The classical gardens of Suzhou
Suzhou is not only known for the water, it is also a garden city. You can find here a couple of beautiful classical gardens with fairytale-like names. What about the Garden of the Humble Administrator (entrance fee: 70 CNY) and the Garden of the Master of the Nets (entrance fee: 40 CNY)? These are beautiful parks with little red pagodas, white dragon-like walls, and ponds filled with water lilies. You will definitely not be the only tourist in these gardens, because Suzhou is heavily visited by domestic tourists. The Chinese we saw seemed to be very interested in the rock formations in these gardens. We were not. Instead, we loved the romantic circle gates. This really reminded me of a film set about the old Chinese empire.
Practical tips for a day trip Suzhou
- Please be aware that there are two Chinese cities with the name Suzhou: one in the province of Anhui and one in the province Jiangsu. We are talking about this last one.
- We paid 39,5 CNY for a train ticket (single) from Shanghai Hongqiao to Suzhou.
- When you arrive at the train station of Suzhou, look for the north exit. Follow the Suzhan Lu and cross the water via Remnin Lu.
And there you have it: some useful information for a day trip Suzhou. Would you go to Suzhou?