Suzhou may boast a high-profile new museum, but this city of canals and walled gardens still feels ages removed from the bustle of nearby Shanghai.
The I.M. Pei-designed Suzhou Museum (204 Dong Bei St.; 86-512/6757-5666; szmuseum.com), an angular masterpiece of skylights and white polygons, is the city's newest draw. Completed last October, it houses a collection of 30,000 Chinese artifacts, including 18th-century porcelain vases, silk tapestries, and Ming dynasty landscape paintings. Take a break from art viewing in the museum's teahouse, then stroll through the garden, a contemporary take on the manicured oases for which Suzhou has long been known.
Take a 90-minute train ride from Shanghai. Nanjing-bound trains depart every hourómore frequently during rush hour.
The 16th-century Garden for Lingering In (near Changmen Gate; 86-512/6510-6462; suzhou.gov.cn) lives up to its name: a covered walkway meanders through ginkgo groves, bursts of wisteria, and traditional pavilions surrounding a pond that has inspired some of China's most famous poets. Silk production has defined Suzhou since before Marco Polo's day; English-language guided tours at Suzhou Kaidi Silk Co. ( 1965 Renmin Rd.; 86-512/6753-2809 ) demonstrate how the fabric goes from silkworm cocoon to the thick duvets ($45) on sale in the factory's gift shop.
As many as 2,000 people a day pack the eight dining halls of Songhelou Restaurant (18 Taijian Lane, Guanqiang St.; 86-512/6523-3270; lunch for two $20) for dishes such as Squirrel Mandarin Fish, a fancifully filleted fried carp in sweet sauce that is a hallmark of the local cuisine. For a smaller-scale venue, try Deyuelou Restaurant (27 Taijian Lane, Guanqiang St.; 86-512/6522-6969; lunch for two $20), a 400-year-old institution on the same pedestrian thoroughfare, where the specialty is a rich braised ham with honey glaze.