In 1997 UNESCO awarded Suzhou’s classical Chinese gardens World Heritage Site status, calling them “masterpieces of the genre” that “reflect the profound metaphysical importance of natural beauty in Chinese culture.” The designation encompasses nine separate gardens—see them all if you can, but if you only have time to visit a few, make it these five.
Humble Administrator’s Garden: Arguably the crowning jewel of Suzhou’s sublime gardens, this meticulously planned green space features pretty ponds and lakes, canals, and nearly 50 pavilions, bridges, and other structures. There’s a collection of more than 700 Chinese bonsai trees, as well.
Lingering Garden: The serene Lingering Garden, first conceived more than 400 years ago during the Ming Dynasty, comprises four separate gardens, the oldest and most important of which is the central area. Each of them is linked by 700-metre walkway with Chinese calligraphy inscribed in the stone wall.
Lion Grove Garden: Originally built within a Buddhist monastery in the mid-14th century, Lion Grove is perhaps most notable for its twisting, multi-level stone grotto winding through 21 different caves.
Master of Nets Garden: Constructed in the mid-12th century, during the Southern Song Dynasty, the splendid Master of Nets is the smallest of Suzhou’s primary classical gardens. It’s divided into an eastern and western garden, the latter of which is centred by the reflective Rosy Clouds Pool.
Mountain Villa with Embracing Beauty: A showcase of interplay between rock and water, this relatively compact garden is located within The Suzhou Embroidery Research Institute, an ideal place to explore the city’s history as a centre of silk production.