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Suzhou has long been known as a center of culture, beauty, and sophistication. The "Venice of the East" produced scores of artists, writers, and politicians over the centuries, developing a local culture based on refinement and taste. Famous around the world for its meticulously landscaped classical gardens and crisscrossing waterways, Suzhou's elegance extends even to its local dialect—a Chinese saying purports that two people arguing in the Suzhou dialect sound more pleasant than lovers talking in standard Chinese.

Unlike in other cities in Eastern China, glass-and-steel office parks have been barred from the Old City, and this preservation makes Suzhou a pleasant place to explore. There is excellent English signage on the roads, and the local tourism board has even set up a convenient information center to get you on the right track.

Only an hour outside of Shanghai, the tourist trail here is well worn, and during the high season you will find yourself sharing Suzhou’s gardens with packs of foreign and domestic tour groups. It's worth getting up early to hit the most popular places before the crowds descend.

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