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5 free things to do in serene, scenic cultural Suzhou

By Xie Fangyuan (Shanghai Daily)

09:55, January 26, 2013

A Chinese proverb says: "Paradise in heaven, Suzhou and Hangzhou on Earth." As one half of this famed pair of cities, Suzhou is renowned for its long history, cultural artifacts and beautiful gardens. The numerous narrow waterways criss-crossing the city led to it being called "Venice of the Orient."

While many of Suzhou's most famous sites - such as its famed gardens - charge admission, the city also offers attractions where visitors can sample its charms without having to dip into their pocket.Pingjiang Road

If you want to escape the big city noise, Pingjiang Road is an ideal place. You can't say you know Suzhou without first dawdling by the banks of the Pingjiang River. Featuring little shops selling traditional Chinese handicrafts, ancient houses and flagstone pavements, Pingjiang Road is one of the best preserved old-style streets in Suzhou. Listening to the guqin (a seven-stringed plucked Chinese instrument similar to zither) and pingtan (an art combining storytelling and ballad singing in Suzhou dialect), you'll soon be lost in the tranquil and simple atmosphere. To get a traditional taste of the ancient water towns of the Southern Yangtze Delta, Pingjiang Road is a destination that will never let you down.Suzhou Confucian Temple

For fans of curios, the area around Suzhou Confucian Temple is a must-visit spot. Every weekend, wood and jade carvings, calligraphy, paintings, chinaware, stamps, coins and cards are sold in the curios market next to the temple, attracting visitors from all over the world. In the temple itself is the Museum of Inscribed Steles, with free admission. There, Suzhou-style tablet rubbings show ancient profiles, relics and calligraphy. The most significant event for many visitors is praying to the statue of Confucius for good luck, wealth and a blissful marriage. And it is also a place where Confucian scholarship can be appreciated.Jiaying Huiguan Art Gallery

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