The beautiful waterside city of Suzhou is a delight, a welcome antidote to the frenetic modern sprawl of Shanghai. Known as the “Venice of China” and famed for its gardens and silks, Suzhou is less than an hour from Shanghai by fast train but if feels like it’s a whole world away.
The ethereally beautiful Garden of the Humble Administrator is the biggest of Suzhou’s nine classical gardens. Covering an enormous 50 thousand square feet, it’s also the largest private garden in China, and it’s rated alongside Beijing’s Summer Palace as one of China’s top four gardens. It’s a must-do trip from Shanghai!
History of the Garden of the Humble Administrator (Zhuo Zheng Yuan)
While not as ancient as the Master of the Nets garden, the Humble Administrator’s garden was designed over 500 years ago (during the Ming Dynasty) by a high-ranking Chinese official. It’s been sold and redesigned many times since and it’s now a UNESCO World Heritage Cultural site.
‘As for paradise, above there is heaven, below there are Suzhou and Hangzhou.’Chinese proverb
Suzhou is considered one of the world’s greatest garden cities, with it’s serene and classical style still influencing garden design today.
Recommended reading: Ron Henderson’s The Gardens of Suzhou explains the full history and design of these ancient gardens, with chapters dedicated to the Humble Administrator’s Garden and the more ancient Master of the Nets Garden.
When to visit the Humble Administrator’s Garden?
Visiting the gardens in Suzhou is easy, as they are open daily.
- High Season ( March 1 to November 15): 07:30 to 17:30
- Low Season (November 16 to the end of February) 07:30 to 17:00
When you arrive at the garden, head for the left-hand side to the front section (it’s where you pick up reserved tickets, then head for the “foreigners” window to buy your tickets. You must have your passport with you to buy tickets, but you’ll miss the huge queue of local visitors waiting at the other ticket booths.
Whatever you do arrive early! This garden is famous throughout China and it gets very busy, so try to arrive as the gates open at 7.30 am. That way you can have a leisurely visit and the best chance to take great photos before the hoardes descend from 8.30 am onwards.
Getting to the Garden of the Humble Administrator
The easiest way to get to Suzhou is by bullet train from Shanghai. It’s a short 25-minute journey, but be sure to take the 7am train, so you arrive early in Suzhou. The garden gets very busy with coachloads of Chinese visitors from 8.30am onwards.
Directions: From Shanghai to Suzhou, take the bullet train from Shanghai Hongqiao Station to Suzhou Railway Station. Then you have two options
- BUS: take Bus Line 40 to Beiyuan Road and walk southwest for about 250m to the Humble Administrator’s Garden.
- TAXI: Have the name of the places you want to visit written in Chinese to show to taxi drivers.
By Private Car
If you prefer to travel in a private car with a guide who will take you direct to the garden then onto other Suzhou attractions, the journey will take about 2 hours, but you’ll arrive in airconditioned comfort. One of the best private trips takes you to the Humble Administrators Gardens, then onto the beautiful Liu Lingering Garden before a trip to the famous Suzhou Silk Musuem. Find out more here.
How long should you spend at the Humble Administrator’s Garden?
You’ll probably want to spend at least 2 to 3 hours in the garden, to visit all of the different areas and to enjoy the garden fully.
What Should You See at the Humble Administrator’s Garden?
The garden is full of attractive little “hobbit holes”. OK we know that’s not really what they are, but it’s what they look like. They were designed to provide a visual link between different areas of the garden. Just like little framed windows, these holes tempt the visitor to keep on exploring and discovering more treasures.
Favourite Places in the Garden
Everywhere you look there’s water in the garden, linking beautiful features that include small forests, hills and rock formations. The reflection of trees and buildings in the water makes the garden a very serene and restful place.
There are so many charming little buildings to explore, each one designed to make to most of the views available. Not matter what the season is, you’ll find many places to see the garden at its glorious best.
The old theatre is simply stunning, with handcrafted blue glass windows overlooking the lotus flowers in the lake. What could be more beautiful?
Even on a busy day you’ll find lots of opportunities for stunning photos of the garden and the architecture. If you’re a little patient, it’s easy to find moments when there are no people in your shots!
One of the great joys of the garden is discovering little pathways and bridges crossing the water and connecting the buildings.
There’s beautiful, intricate detail everywhere. Even the footpaths are stunning, decorated with creatures from Chinese culture like bats which are symbols of happiness and joy.
As the Chinese word for bat sounds exactly like the word for good fortune, bats are often seen in decorations. A group of five bats together represents the “Five Blessings” which are long life, health, wealth, love of virtue and a peaceful death.
What You Won’t See at The Garden
This is a classical Chinese garden, not a botanical garden. You won’t see the huge variety of blooms and plants you might expect to see in a Western style garden, but that’s not the point here. Everything is about style and design and how nature has been harnessed to provide a place of deep serenity.
After Your Visit
It’s a short, easy walk to the Suzhou Museum and Lion Grove Garden from the Humble Administrator’s Garden, and the Suzhou Silk Museum and Suzhou Art Gallery are within walking distance too (just a 15-minute walk).
If you want to see the ancient Master of Nets Garden, it’s about a 30 minute walk, but you can get there by bus (number 55 or 202).
There are too many gardens in Suzhou to get around them all in one day, so choose which ones you want to see before you go!
One of the loveliest ways to explore Suzhou is by bike. It’s a great way to skip the crowds and to get to see more of the waterways the city is famous for. You’ll also see beautiful stone bridges, stunning pagodas and can away from the usual tourist track to see tiny craft shops, art galleries, narrow alleys, and coffee shops in the historic Piangjiang district. Find your Suzhou bike tour here.
The Garden of the Humble Administrator is a magical place. We hope you love it as much as we do.
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