Historically, Sūzhōu (苏州) was synonymous with high culture and elegance, and generations of artists, scholars, writers and high society in China were drawn by its exquisite art forms and the delicate beauty of its gardens. Like all modern Chinese towns, Sūzhōu has unfortunately endured much destruction of its heritage and its replacement with largely arbitrary chunks of modern architecture.
Having said that, the city still retains enough pockets of charm to warrant two to three days’ exploration on foot or by bike. And the gardens, Sūzhōu’s main attraction, are a symphonic combination of rocks, water, trees and pavilions that reflects the Chinese appreciation of balance and harmony. Adding to the charm are some excellent museums, surviving canal scenes, pagodas and humpbacked bridges. The gardens in particular can get busy, so avoid visiting at the weekend or during public holidays, if possible.