Marco Polo once declared that Sūzhōu was one of the most beautiful cities in China (though Hángzhōu was better). While Polo’s Sūzhōu was a charming merchant town of whitewashed houses, tree-lined canals and sumptuous gardens, modern Sūzhōu is a bustling city surrounded by factories and high rises. It takes some work to find the charm under the city’s glossy veneer, but it’s there.
Sūzhōu’s main draw is its gardens. There were originally over a hundred but now only a handful exist, some over a thousand years old. The gardens, a symphonic combination of rocks, water, trees and buildings, reflect the Chinese appreciation of balance and harmony. You could easily spend an enjoyable several days exploring the gardens, paying a visit to the excellent Silk Museum and exploring some of Sūzhōu’s surviving canals, pagodas and humpbacked bridges.