8 Water Towns to visit near Shanghai

Shanghai Living


Zhouzhuang tends to feel a little commercialized, filled with street sellers hawking their wares any chance they get. It is pretty, though Ming and Qing Dynasty dwellings line the canals, and when dusk sets in, they glow bright red with paper lanterns. The town gets quiet in the evenings, so if you have time to spare, definitely spend a night here.

Getting There: Buses leave from Shanghai South Long-Distance Bus Station, Shanghai Long- Distance Bus Station and the Shanghai Hongqiao Long-Distance Bus Station daily.


Zhujiajiao is the water town that most tourists visiting Shanghai go to. It’s about an hour away from downtown, filled with traditional Chinese-style residences, winding alleyways and 36 ancient bridges crisscrossing water- ways. It’s a popular destination on the weekends, so if you can, try and sneak off during the week.

Getting There: Buses leave from the Shanghai Stadium (Gate Five), as well as from the Pu’an Lu Bus Station or the Shanghai Sports Stadium Station.


The closest water town to downtown Shanghai and one of the smallest. Qibao is located in Minhang. It was built during the Five Dynasties Period and played witness to the Song, Ming and Qing Dynasties. It boasts an area of roughly two square kilometers and only two canals. It’s still a good option though, if you’re short of time and don’t want to travel too far from the the city centre, accessible via metro line nine.

Getting There: Take metro line 9 and get off at Qibao Station. From there, it’s a short walk to Qibao Old Town.


Xitang is the midpoint be- tween Shanghai, Hangzhou and Suzhou. It’s popular for being the only water town with the unique langpeng— sheltered streets hugging the waterside. It is also known for its maze of ancient lanes—122 in total—the most famous being the Shipi Lane, with a width of only 80cm at its narrowest section.

Getting There: Direct buses are avail- able from the Shanghai South Bus Ter- minal or the Shanghai Bus Terminal.


Located on the southern outskirts of Suzhou, Tongli Water Town’s system of canals is reminiscent
of Venice’s. It features 49 stone bridges in various styles, the three most famous of which are the Taiping (peace), Jili (luck) and Changqing (celebration) bridges. During special occasions like weddings, it’s a common custom for locals to walk across these bridges in hopes of happiness, peace and fortune.

Getting There: Take a bullet train to Suzhou, then either hop on a taxi or take one of the local buses to Tongli.


The least known, and possibly the quietest by China’s standards at least on this list of water towns is Nanxun. It’s one of our favorites. Located about two hours away from Shanghai, it was one of the wealthi- est towns in China during the Ming Dynasty due to silk production. The trade brought them into frequent contact with overseas merchants. As a result the town’s architecture features a unique mix of Eastern and Western styles.

Getting There: Long distance buses leave from Shanghai Long-Distance Bus Staion, Hutai Road Bus Station, Hongqiao West Bus Station, Pudong East Bus Station and Shanghai South Long- Distance Bus Station daily.


Luzhi is located in the Taihu Lake Basin and is also close to Suzhou. It sees far fewer tourists, so it’s much quieter and feels more atmospheric. Many of the dwellings here were built during the Ming and Qing dy- nasties, and unlike many other water towns, are untouched by reconstruction. It also boasts a whopping 41 ancient bridges, earning it the nickname “The Museum of Chinese Bridges.” This water town is also known for its ginkgo trees, the oldest of which is over 1,300 years old and still stands today, at a height of 164ft. Come autumn, the foliage turns a brilliant yellow hue.

Getting There: Buses leave from Shanghai Zhongshan Bus Station, Hongkou Gymnasium Station, Shanghai Stadium Station and Shanghai Yangpu Sports Center Station.


Wuzhen boasts a history of over 1,000 years, established back in the year 872. The east area comprises restaurants, shops and museums, while the west area is dotted with guest houses, restaurants, bars, arts and crafts shops, and is a little less crowded during the day. While you’re there, catch a bamboo pole climbing performance or a Huagu Opera, both unique to the area.

Getting There: A long-distance bus from Shanghai South Bus Station to Wuzhen will take you two hours.

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