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How to Plan A Shanghai Suzhou Hangzhou Tour

Written by Celine Schneider|Updated: 2024-06-04

Planning a trip to Shanghai Suzhou and Hangzhou, also known as China's Yangtze River Delta, offers an incredible opportunity to explore the rich culture, history, and beauty of Eastern China. In Shanghai, you can witness the blend of the traditional and modern, from the Bund's colonial architecture to the futuristic skyline of Pudong. Suzhou, the 'Venice of the East', is famous for its classic gardens and traditional water towns. Hangzhou, known for its natural beauty and historical relics, is home to the serene West Lake.

In this SHANGHAI, Suzhou, Hangzhou PLANNING GUIDE, we will provide you with essential tips to help you plan your tour through these three cities: 1) Top Attractions; 2) Recommended Duration and Itinerary; 3) Transportation between Shanghai, Suzhou, and Hangzhou; 4) Best Time to Visit; 4) Tips for Accommodation; 5) Food Guide; 6) 144-hour Visa Policy; 7) Extending Your Trip.

Content Preview

  • triangleTop Attractions & Things to Do in Shanghai Suzhou Hangzhou
  • triangleHow Long to Stay - Suggest Travel Length & Itineraries
  • triangleHow to Travel Between Shanghai Suzhou Hangzhou
  • triangleBest Time to Visit Shanghai Suzhou Hangzhou
  • triangleWhere to Stay During Shanghai, Suzhou and Hangzhou Tour?
  • triangleWhat to Eat in Shanghai, Suzhou and Hangzhou?
  • triangle144-hour Visa-free Transit Policy for Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou Tour
  • triangleWith a Short-Time Tour is Hangzhou or Suzhou better?
  • triangleExtend Your Shanghai Suzhou Hangzhou Tour
  • triangleExplore Yangtze River Delta with Asia Odyssey Travel

Top Attractions & Things to Do in Shanghai Suzhou Hangzhou

No.1 Stroll along the Bund and iconic skyline vistas in Shanghai

Located on the west bank of the Huangpu River in Shanghai, the Bund, known as "Wai Tan (外滩)" in Chinese, is undoubtedly one of the city's most iconic attractions. The striking contrast between tradition and modernity makes the Bund a unique and must-visit destination in Shanghai.

Taking a leisurely stroll along the 1.5-kilometer-long Bund is the highly recommended way to explore this area. As you walk along the scenic waterfront promenade, you'll encounter 52 buildings representing various architectural styles from the colonial era. Notable structures such as the Peace Hotel, the former HSBC Building, and the Customs House are worth a stop.

Across the river, towering futuristic skyscrapers dominate Pudong. The Oriental Pearl Tower, Shanghai World Financial Center, Jin Mao Tower, and the awe-inspiring Shanghai Tower, the second tallest building in the world, create a surreal and impressive skyline.

In addition to walking, you can also opt for a Huangpu River cruise or ferry, especially at night. Viewing the illuminated skyline from the river is truly captivating.

The Bund
The Bund in Shanghai showcases various architectural styles from around the world
The Bund
Enjoy the iconic skyline view from the Bund in Shanghai

No.2 Ascend to the Top of Shanghai for City Views

Reaching the summit of skyline in Shanghai is undoubtedly a must-do activity when exploring this city. The Shanghai Tower, the world's third-tallest building, offers a bird's-eye view of the sprawling metropolis. Standing at an impressive height of 632 meters.

To admire the magnificent cityscape, visitors can take one of the world's fastest elevators to reach the 118th floor. With a speed of 18 meters per second, the elevator takes less than 55 seconds to reach the observation deck. Here, you'll find the highest observation deck in the world, situated at an elevation of 546 meters. From this platform, you can enjoy breathtaking panoramic views of Shanghai, including landmarks such as the Oriental Pearl Tower, Jin Mao Tower, Huangpu River, and the historic Bund.

In addition to the iconic Shanghai Tower, other high-rise buildings like the Shanghai World Financial Center and the Oriental Pearl TV Tower also offer excellent vantage points. Each strategically positioned viewpoint provides a unique perspective of Shanghai, making every visit truly one-of-a-kind.

Shanghai Tower
Overlooking the panoramic view of Shanghai city from a high vantage point
Shanghai Tower
Shanghai Tower is the third tallest building in the world

No.3 Wander amidst the Poetic Beauty of Hangzhou West Lake

Nestled in the center of Hangzhou city, West Lake is renowned for its ethereal beauty, a harmonious fusion of water, mountains, and sky. Throughout history, it has ignited the imaginations of countless poets, painters, and scholars.

As you stroll along the Su Causeway on West Lake, tranquility seeps into your soul. The gentle lapping of waves against the stone embankment, the rustling of willow leaves, and the soft whispers of the breeze create a symphony of serenity. In spring, this beauty reaches its pinnacle as peach blossoms bloom on both banks, and the willow branches gracefully sway, as if walking within a living painting.

Embarking on a boat, you immerse yourself in the poetic essence of West Lake, where every vista resembles a captivating artwork. The iconic image of "Three Pools Mirroring the Moon," depicted on the one yuan note, awaits your visit as you glide through the waters.

For those who embrace the romance of West Lake, the famous Broken Bridge becomes a stage for legendary love stories, making it a cherished destination for couples and a beacon of romanticism.

Hangzhou West Lake
West Lake is the iconic landmark of Hangzhou
Hangzhou West Lake
Broken Bridge at West Lake

No.4 Explore Exquisite Suzhou Gardens

Suzhou is renowned for its exquisite garden art, where architectural marvels blend harmoniously with nature. The delicate aesthetics and cultural significance of these gardens are truly worth exploring. Today, Suzhou's Gardens have been recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

For visitors seeking a deep dive into Suzhou's garden heritage, the most famous choice would be the Humble Administrator's Garden. It is the largest and arguably the most impressive garden in Suzhou, known as one of China's four great gardens. The charm of this garden lies in its meticulous layout, enchanting ponds, picturesque islands, and intricately crafted artificial hills, surpassing the ordinary notion of a garden. Strolling along its charming pathways, every step reveals a new enchanting vista.

If you have limited time, a visit to the Master of the Nets Garden in Suzhou, renowned for its "small yet exquisite" design, would be ideal. This compact garden features well-placed pavilions, tranquil courtyards, and serene water features, creating an illusion of spaciousness despite its small size.

The Lion Grove Garden stands out with its unique rock formations resembling lions. This garden is a captivating maze, with winding paths that traverse through rocks, pavilions, and ponds, providing an immersive experience of the world of rock garden landscapes.

Humble Administrator's Garden
Humble Administrator's Garden is one of the four famous gardens in China
The Lion Grove Garden
Lion Grove Garden is famous for its artificial rockeries

No.5 Experience the Enchanting Charm of China Water Towns

China's water towns are renowned for their unique charm, predominantly located near Shanghai, Suzhou, and Hangzhou. Ancient houses line tranquil canals, connected by stone bridges that lead to narrow winding alleys. These towns' timeless beauty offers a peaceful escape from the hustle and bustle of modern cities.

If you crave an authentic water town experience, Tongli is a must-visit destination in Suzhou. This thousand-year-old town is a paradise of ancient bridges, shimmering waterways, and traditional dwellings. Highlights include the UNESCO World Heritage site Tuisi Garden and the ancient Retreat & Reflection Garden, perfectly embodying the philosophy of harmonious coexistence between humans and nature.

For enthusiasts of classic China water towns, Wuzhen is your best choice. Here, you'll find not only the typical features of water towns—small bridges, flowing water, and quaint houses—but also a living cultural relic where you can observe local ways of life and centuries-old craftsmanship, such as indigo fabric dyeing. With its well-developed tourist facilities, Wuzhen promises delightful evenings filled with enjoyment.

Zhouzhuang, on the other hand, is one of most popular water towns in China, known for its well-preserved water town layout and buildings adorned with pink walls and gray tiles. It has inspired countless architects and painters, and you'll easily recognize prototypes of famous paintings and architectural designs here. The most beautiful time to visit Zhouzhuang is in the early morning, so don't miss the captivating beauty of the water town at that time.

Tongli Water Town
Tongli Water Town is known as the "Venice of the East" for its picturesque waterways
Wuzhen Water Town
Wuzhen is a model of water towns in China

How Long to Stay - Suggest Travel Length & Itineraries

The duration of your visit to Shanghai, Suzhou, and Hangzhou depends on your interests. We recommend allocating at least 4-6 days to fully experience the highlights of these popular destinations in China's Yangtze River Delta region. If you have around 5 days for your itinerary, you can plan to spend 2 days in Shanghai and 1-2 days each in Suzhou and Hangzhou to cover the key attractions without missing out.

Shanghai (1-2 days):

As China's most modern and international city, Shanghai offers numerous iconic attractions that can be experienced in just a short stay of 2 days. Allocate at least a day for classic sights like the Shanghai Museum, the Bund, Yu Garden, and the skyline.

If you're interested in experiencing the latest modern lifestyle in Shanghai, you can spend a day exploring Xintiandi, the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall, the world's largest Starbucks, or even experience the world's fastest magnetic levitation train. Alternatively, you can use this day to explore Zhujiajiao Water Town, a picturesque ancient town near Shanghai.

Suzhou (1-2 days):

Suzhou in Jiangsu province is renowned for its classical gardens and canals. Spend a day exploring the UNESCO World Heritage-listed gardens in the city, such as the Humble Administrator's Garden, the Master of the Nets Garden, and the Lion Grove Garden, which embody the essence of Chinese garden design.

Don't miss the charming water towns near Suzhou. One day is sufficient to explore either Zhouzhuang or Tongli, both known for their well-preserved ancient houses, stone bridges, and tranquil canals. These towns offer a stark contrast to the bustling cityscape, allowing you to witness traditional Chinese ways of life.

Hangzhou (1-2 days):

For the exploration of the "Heaven on Earth," Hangzhou, it's best to allocate 1-2 days. The eternal beauty of West Lake, classic tea culture experiences like the China National Tea Museum and Meijiawu, and renowned temples like Lingyin Temple can all be visited in a day.

Additionally, plan a day to explore Wuzhen, the epitome of Chinese water towns. Take a leisurely stroll along the canals, visit traditional workshops, and soak in the tranquility that nourishes the soul.

Shanghai Starbucks Reserve Roastery
Shanghai Starbucks Reserve Roastery
Meijiawu Tea Village
Experience the joy of tea picking

Recommended 5-days Shanghai Hangzhou Suzhou Itinerary

This 5-day itinerary allows you to fully experience the modernity of Shanghai, the classic beauty of Hangzhou, and the world-renowned gardens of Suzhou. Each destination offers a unique perspective on China's rich history and vibrant present, ensuring an unforgettable and diverse travel experience.

Shanghai Tour (Day 1-2): Shanghai Tower, Yu Garden, Xintiandi, Nanjing Road, The Bund

After a well-rested arrival in Shanghai, embark on a day of exploration in this cosmopolitan metropolis. Begin by visiting the iconic Shanghai Tower, the tallest building in China, and marvel at the breathtaking cityscape it offers. Experience the serene beauty of Yu Garden and immerse yourself in the bustling atmosphere of the surrounding Yuyuan Bazaar. Continue to Xintiandi, where you can witness the perfect fusion of modern urban fashion and unique architectural styles. Take a leisurely walk from Nanjing Road to the Bund, passing through the 52 distinct architectural styles of the Bund and enjoying the classic skyline of Lujiazui.

Hangzhou Tour (Day 3): China National Tea Museum, West Lake, Lingyin Temple

Embark on an unforgettable day trip to Hangzhou by taking a high-speed train from Shanghai. Let the classic tea culture awaken your morning as you visit the China National Tea Museum or Meijiawu to learn about Longjing tea culture or savor a cup of locally produced green tea. Explore the timeless gem of Hangzhou, West Lake, by taking a boat ride or strolling along its iconic spots such as Su Causeway, Three Pools Mirroring the Moon, and Broken Bridge. The serene Lingyin Temple and the historically rich Qinghefang Pedestrian Street are also included in the day's itinerary, offering a peaceful and culturally immersive experience.

Suzhou Tour (Day 4-5): Humble Administrator’s Garden, Lion Grove Garden, Suzhou Museum,Tiger Hill, Tongli Water Town

Upon arrival in Suzhou, dedicate one day to exploring the iconic gardens of the city. Start by visiting the largest garden in Suzhou, the Humble Administrator's Garden, considered one of the greatest examples of classical Chinese landscape design. Next, explore the Suzhou Museum, which boasts extraordinary architecture and impressive collections. The Lion Grove Garden, with its lifelike rock formations and over 500 lion-shaped stone sculptures, awaits your visit as well. Conclude the delightful garden experience with a leisurely stroll along Shantang Street, an ancient street lined with traditional buildings and charming canals.

Allocate another day in Suzhou to visit Tiger Hill, famous for its "Leaning Tower of China" and a symbol of the city. Just 28 kilometers away from Tiger Hill, you'll find Tongli Water Town, a picturesque town divided by 15 canals into seven small islands, often referred to as "Mini Venice." Here, you can witness the lifestyle of the residents in the water towns of the Jiangnan region. Tongli Water Town also houses the Retreat and Reflection Garden, a UNESCO World Heritage site, adding to the cultural richness of your visit.

Nanjing Road
Enjoy shopping on Nanjing Road
Suzhou Tiger Hill
Discover the "Chinese Leaning Tower" in Suzhou

How to Travel Between Shanghai Suzhou Hangzhou

Shanghai, Suzhou, and Hangzhou are the main cities in China's Jiangnan region, located within a distance of 100 to 200 kilometers from each other. These cities have an efficient and convenient transportation network, including high-speed trains and buses.

The high-speed trains between Shanghai, Suzhou and Hangzhou take only about 30 minutes to 2 hours, making them the most popular choice among travelers. The train frequency is very high, with departures every 10 to 20 minutes during peak hours.

If you are looking to explore the famous water towns such as Zhouzhuang, Wuzhen, and Tongli between Shanghai, Suzhou, and Hangzhou, public transportation options may not be very convenient. In that case, we recommend opting for our private tour services. We can provide you with a 100% customized tour based on your preferences, and our experienced English-speaking guides will offer insider tips to help you truly experience the essence of these water towns.

Best Time to Visit Shanghai Suzhou Hangzhou

The best time to visit the Jiangnan trio of Shanghai, Suzhou, and Hangzhou is during the spring (April to June) and autumn (September to November) seasons. These periods offer mild and comfortable temperatures ideal for exploring the bustling cityscapes of Shanghai, the classical gardens of Suzhou, and the tranquil West Lake in Hangzhou.

Spring sees the region in full bloom, particularly in Suzhou where the gardens are adorned with colorful flowers. Meanwhile, autumn is marked by clear skies and comfortable temperatures, providing perfect conditions for boat rides on Hangzhou's West Lake or leisurely strolls along Shanghai's Bund.

Avoid the summer months (July and August) when Shanghai, Suzhou and Hangzhou can become hot and humid, and the peak domestic tourist season during national holidays such as the Labor Day week in early May and National Day week in early October.

Winter can be chilly, but the crowds thin out, and there's a chance to see Hangzhou's West Lake shrouded in mist, creating a beautiful and ethereal landscape. In conclusion, plan your trip to Shanghai, Suzhou, and Hangzhou in the spring or autumn for the most pleasant experiences.

Hangzhou West Lake
Spring is the best season to appreciate West Lake
Lion Grove Garden
Visiting Suzhou gardens in autumn

Where to Stay During Shanghai, Suzhou and Hangzhou Tour?


Consider staying near the Bund or in the Xintiandi area. Hotels near the Bund offer stunning views of the city's skyline and easy access to the Huangpu River promenade, while Xintiandi is a fashionable and lively area filled with shopping malls, restaurants, and bars. Both areas provide quick access to public transportation, including the metro, which can take you to other attractions such as the Shanghai Museum or Jing'an Temple.


Look for accommodation in the Old Town area, where you'll be steps away from Suzhou's renowned classical gardens, such as the Humble Administrator's Garden and Lion Grove Garden. The Old Town is also home to Pingjiang Road, a historic street lined with traditional houses, teahouses, and small shops. Alternatively, the Suzhou Industrial Park area offers more modern accommodations, with easy access to Jinji Lake and its surrounding parks and shopping centers.


The West Lake area is the best place to stay in Hangzhou. This area is home to many of the city's top attractions, including the stunning West Lake itself, the historic Leifeng Pagoda, and the bustling Hefang Street. Staying near West Lake allows you easy access to these attractions and the opportunity to enjoy the lake's serenity at any time of the day. For a more modern experience, consider staying in the Qianjiang New Town area, where you'll find contemporary hotels, shopping malls, and the impressive Hangzhou Grand Theater.

What to Eat in Shanghai, Suzhou and Hangzhou?

Shanghai's Xiaolongbao - In Shanghai, you can easily find a variety of flavors from all around the world. However, the local culinary highlight is the Steamed Soup Dumplings, also known as Xiaolongbao. These delicate dumplings are filled with hot soup and tender meat, making them a must-try. Head to renowned establishments like Nanxiang Mantou Dian or Din Tai Fung to savor these freshly steamed delicacies.

Suzhou's Squirrel-Shaped Mandarin Fish - Suzhou is known for its fresh and slightly sweet cuisine, and a representative dish is the Squirrel-Shaped Mandarin Fish. This dish features a sweet and sour sauce and unique plating. Visit Songhelou Restaurant to taste this traditional delicacy.

Hangzhou's Hangbang Cuisine - Hangbang cuisine emphasizes fresh ingredients and delicate flavors. One must-try dish is West Lake Vinegar Fish, featuring tender fish in a sweet and sour sauce. If you want to taste Hangzhou's famous Longjing tea, try the Stir-Fried Shrimp with Longjing Tea Leaves. It combines fresh shrimp with the fragrant aroma of tea leaves. Both of these dishes can be found at Louwailou, one of the oldest restaurants in Hangzhou.


Shanghai's Xiaolongbao is worth a try
Stir-Fried Shrimp with Longjing Tea Leaves
Stir-Fried Shrimp with Longjing Tea Leaves

144-hour Visa-free Transit Policy for Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou Tour

China's 144-hour visa-free transit policy is a boon for travelers who want to explore Shanghai, Suzhou, and Hangzhou without the hassle of obtaining a full visa. This policy allows citizens from 53 countries, including the US, UK, Australia, Canada, and many European nations, to transit in certain regions of China for up to 144 hours (6 days) without a visa.

It's an excellent opportunity for travelers to explore the modern skyline of Shanghai, the classical gardens of Suzhou, and the natural beauty of Hangzhou without the need for a visa in advance. However, it's always advisable to check the latest travel advisories and regulations before planning your trip.

With a Short-Time Tour is Hangzhou or Suzhou better?

Choosing between Hangzhou and Suzhou for a short-time tour really depends on what you're most interested in.

Hangzhou, known for its stunning natural beauty, is perfect for those who love tranquil landscapes. The city's centerpiece, West Lake, offers serene water views, beautifully crafted bridges, and charming pagodas. The lush green tea plantations nearby are also worth a visit. If you're a tea enthusiast, don't miss the chance to taste the famous Longjing tea.

On the other hand, Suzhou is a paradise for those passionate about classical architecture and gardens. Suzhou's meticulously designed gardens, such as the Humble Administrator's Garden and the Lion Grove Garden, reflect the profound philosophy of Chinese gardening. The city's old town area, with its canals and traditional houses, offers a glimpse into China's past.

Longjing Tea
The traditional craftsmanship of Longjing tea production
The Grand Canal
The longest canal in China is the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal

Extend Your Shanghai Suzhou Hangzhou Tour

If you have a longer vacation to explore more popular destinations in China after your trip to the Yangtze River Delta (Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou), Beijing and Xi'an should be your top choices for an extended itinerary. In Beijing, you can take a stroll along the Great Wall, explore the ancient Forbidden City, and immerse yourself in the vibrant hutong culture. Xi'an, the starting point of the Silk Road, boasts awe-inspiring Terracotta Warriors and an ancient city wall. With a total of around 11-13 days, you can comfortably visit Beijing and Xi'an after exploring the Yangtze River Delta and create an unforgettable journey in China.

Furthermore, thanks to the convenient transportation links between Shanghai, Suzhou, Hangzhou, and other cities in China, especially Shanghai's strategic location, you can extend your Yangtze River Delta trip to destinations like Huangshan, Chengdu, Zhangjiajie, and Guilin which would require about two weeks of planning. If you have a yearning for the rooftop of the world, Tibet, a vacation of 2-3 weeks would allow you to fulfill your dream.

Explore Yangtze River Delta with Asia Odyssey Travel

With our office conveniently located in Shanghai, Jiangsu, Zhejiang province, the dedicated local team at Asia Odyssey Travel is committed to providing exceptional service, ensuring an unforgettable experience for visitors to this bustling metropolis. We specialize in a variety of meticulously crafted Yangtze River Delta tours, including Shanghai Tours , Suzhou Tours, Hangzhou Tours, Suzhou Hangzhou Tours, and Shanghai Suzhou Hangzhou Tours, all tailored to meet your specific needs and desires. Whether you prefer a private tour with a flexible itinerary or a small group tour that doesn't compromise on quality, Asia Odyssey Travel has the perfect tour to make your journey through the Yangtze River Delta a worry-free and enjoyable vacation.

If you're looking to extend your stay in Shanghai and its surrounding areas for a longer vacation, Asia Odyssey Travel also offers an array of inspiring ideas through our China Tour Packages from Shanghai. Our professional travel consultants are ready to assist you in customizing a tailor-made tour at the best local price, ensuring that every aspect of your trip is personalized to your preferences. Don't hesitate to contact us today to start planning your dream trip!

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