A zip – and an entire world – away from Shanghai, well-irrigated Jiangsu (江苏, Jiāngsū) spills over with as much charm and history as the waters that flow through its shimmering canals. The province, which owed its historical wealth to silk and salt production, boasts the Grand Canal as well as elaborate waterways that thread through this Yangzi River (Cháng Jiāng) region. It’s known throughout China for its cute canal towns, enchanting gardens and sophisticated opera and folk arts.

Tourists descend on Suzhou all four seasons of the year, but kick-start your day early, go slightly off the main streets, and you’ll have the place to yourself. In the lovely provincial capital and university town of Nanjing there’s a lot that remains relatively under the radar: Ming dynasty heritage, leafy boulevards, superb museums and some fantastic restaurants.

Top attractions

These are our favorite local haunts, touristy spots, and hidden gems throughout Jiangsu.