Close to 4,000 years ago—when nearby Shanghai was a small town—Suzhou was a bustling cultural center buffeted by its lucrative silk trade.
Artists and politicians were drawn to the city, where they built homes with elaborate traditional Chinese gardens, many of which are still preserved.
Suzhou is still a major hub, but is booming now because of its high-tech sector, which produces laptops and other electronics southwest of the ancient city’s original walls.
Because of Suzhou’s close proximity to Shanghai—40 minutes by train—the city is a popular destination for both domestic and international tourists.
During the Spring and on most weekends, Suzhou’s gardens, narrow lanes and more than 150 bridges can become quite crowded. But even if traveling then, there is much beauty and history awaiting patient couples.
Suzhou Sightseeing for RomanticsSuzhou’s gardens—almost 70 remain of the original 200-plus—are the main event in town.
Wander arm in arm down meandering paths and rest for a spell on ornamental bridges and benches overlooking ponds and rock displays. The gardens were designed following strict feng shui specifications, so time spent soaking them in is sure to bring good luck and fortune to your new beginning.
Steal kisses under a bridge: Couples can barter with gondoliers to paddle them for either short or long distances along the city’s many canals. Hotels can also book boat tours for those looking to travel farther, such as to Tiger Hill, where emporer Helu was buried with 3,000 swords.
Revel in the beautiful art of silk harvesting, production and embroidery at the Suzhou Silk Museum. Then climb the North Temple Pagoda across the street for a view of the city from above.
Shopping in SuzhouAs a popular tourist spot, Suzhou teams with shops and stalls, selling everything from hand-embroidered artwork to kitschy Mao matchbooks.
For high end silk crafts and clothing, hit up the Suzhou Embroidery Factory. Quality items—shoes, artwork, stone carvings—can also be found in the storefronts along the “ancient streets,” or the few remaining canal-side roads which have been restored for foot traffic.
Bargain hunters seeking trinkets will find stalls lined up outside the garden entrances, where entrepreneurial locals take advantage of heavy foot traffic.
Dining in SuzhouBuy a sweet for your sweetie in one of the snacks shops in the old city. We suggest sampling a range of the soft candies—nutty pastes, green-tea cookies, sesame baked goods—for which Suzhou is famous. [p For a romantic dinner, hotel restaurants are the best bet. Ding Feng Ge in the Sofitel specializes in Cantonese cuisine, while Restaurant Suntory in the Shangri-La serves Japanese bites in a cozy-yet-contemporary space.
Explorers should head downtown to Songhelou, which purports to have been serving food since the 1700s.
Nightlife in SuzhouSince there isn’t a booming club scene in Suzhou, we’d suggest spending your time here canoodling in the room—or your hotel’s swimming pool. But nightowls do have an option in Club Red, the Shangri-La’s blood-red lounge, replete with dance floor, which hosts locals and visitors on the weekends.
Whether looking for a day trip from Shanghai, or for somewhere romantic to settle into for a few days, Suzhou’s serene gardens, arched bridges and lolling canals are the perfect scenic backdrop for a love scene.