12 Epic Ancient Water Towns near Shanghai

The first time I visited one of the ancient water towns near Shanghai, I was fascinated by its timeless scene. The narrow lanes, old-styled houses, a scenic boat ride through the water canals were the things I did on that trip. Life in the water town was in slow motion. And the locals appeared happy with their traditional lifestyle. It was so different from the city of Shanghai.

Later, I discovered other underrated ancient water towns near Shanghai. Since then, whenever I was in Shanghai, I tried to arrange a day to visit one of them. However, to reach these water towns were not so easy at that time.

But in recent years, Shanghai has upgraded its public transportation network. Metro links Shanghai to several ancient water towns. Meanwhile, more public buses reach the outskirts of Shanghai. Local tourist infrastructure has improved to cope with both domestic and international tourists. Travel to these destinations become easier and takes less time.

Xitang ancient Water Town

The 12 ancient water towns

      • Nanxiang (南翔), Nanxiang Town, Jiading District, Shanghai, China
      • Zhujiajiao (朱家角), No.36 Meizhou Road, Zhujiajiao Town, Qingpu District, Shanghai 201713, China.
      • Zhouzhuang (周庄), Qing Ping Shanghai Highway, Kunshan 215300, Jiangsu Province, China
      • Xitang (西塘), No.258 Nanyuan Road, Jiashan County, Jiaxing City, Zhejiang Province
      • Tongli (同里), Tongli Town, Wujiang City, Sushou, Jiangsu 215217, China
      • Nanxun (南浔), No.38 Shiyuan Road, Nanxun Town, Nanxun District, Huzhou 313009, China
      • Wuzhen (乌镇), No.18 South Shifo Road, Wuzhen Town, Tongxiang 314501, China
      • Xinchang (新场古镇), China, Shanghai Shi, Pudong Xinqu, 201314
      • Qibao Ancient Water Town (七宝古镇), Minhang District, Shanghai 201101, China
      • Fengjing (枫泾古镇), Fengjing Ancient Water Town, Jinshan, Shanghai
      • Jinxi ancient water town (锦溪古镇), Jinxi Town, Kunshan 215324, China
      • Luzhi (甪直水乡), Luzhi Ancient Town Scenic Area, Wuzhong District, Suzhou

Common features of ancient water towns

The characteristic features of the ancient water towns are:

      • Houses are compact with small courtyards. The design style is to accommodate the high local population and to occupy less farmland in the past.
      • The exterior walls of residential houses are mostly white. The white color, especially in the summer, give a refreshing and pleasant feeling.
      • Houses line up along the rivers or water canals, and therefore residents can use water for their daily lives conveniently.
      • Water transportation is also a unique scene. Although nowadays boats more or less carry only tourists.
      • Elegant villas, bridges, pavilions, and temples are the main elements in these ancient water towns.

Other than the features listed above, each of these ancient water towns has its presence. The history of the Jiangnan ancient water towns can be traced back to the Hemudu era ( 河姆渡) dating back more than 7,000 years. The Chinese ancestors lived on this land and passed local culture onto generations after generations. The architectural layout and the local daily life scenes in Jiangnan ancient water towns are the main themes seen in many Chinese traditional landscape paintings.

Nanxiang (南翔)

Located in the north-western Jiading District of Shanghai, Nanxiang Ancient Water Town is a small town with a history of nearly 1500 years. It is also the birthplace of local snack Nanxiang Steam Soup Buns (南翔小笼包). You do not have to be in Nanxiang to taste this food. In Shanghai near Yu Garden, there is a shop famous for selling this Nanxiang Steam Soup Buns.

Main tourist attractions

      • Nanxiang Twin Pagodas (南翔双塔)
      • Old streets
      • The Yunxiang Temple (云翔寺)
      • Tan Garden (檀园)
      • Guyi Garden (古猗园)
      • Tasting Nanxiang Steamed Soup Buns (南翔小笼包)

Suggested Tours


Where to stay

How to get there

You may take Shanghai Metro Line 11 from Jiangsu Lu (江苏路) to Nanxiang directly (takes around 40 minutes). Then take a 15-minute walk along Huyi Gong Lu (沪宜公路 ) to reach Guyi Garden or carry on walking straight down Minzhu Jie (民主街). The garden is on the left hand of the road.

Or, you can take Bus 517, 562, 822, and get off at Nanxiang Gu Zhen Station.

Two Towers in Nanxiang Ancient Water Town

Zhujiajiao (朱家角)

Situated 48 kilometers away from Shanghai, Zhujiajiao (朱家角) is a typical ancient water town on the outskirts of Shanghai. Established in the Song dynasty, it only became a trading center in the region in Qing Dynasty.

Main tourist attractions

      • 36 stone bridges
      • North Street (Bei Da Jie, 北大街)
      • Kezhi Garden (Ke Zhi Yuan, 课植园)
      • Local tea Houses
      • A post office built in Qing dynasty
      • Old narrow lanes

Suggested Tours

Where to stay

How to get there

      • The buses from Shanghai to Zhujiajiao leave from Gate 5 of Shanghai Stadium. 
      • At Pu’an Road near Shanghai People’s Square, at the west of the Concert Hall, the buses of Shanghai-Zhujiajiao Express Line depart from here every half an hour. It takes about one hour to get to the town. After getting off the bus, it is 10 minutes of walk to the town.
      • From Shanghai West Bus Station (555 Wuzhongdong Road, Xuhui District, Shanghai) travelers can take Shanghai-Zhujiajiao Special Bus Line to get to Zhujiajiao Water Town.

Zhujiajiao Ancient Water Town

Zhouzhuang (周庄)

With a history of more than 900 years, Zhouzhuang has many houses built in the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Circled by rivers and lakes, It sits between Shanghai and Suzhou. There are about 100 dwellings, each with courtyards. Among them, 60 houses have arch gateways made of carved bricks. It is nominated by CNN’s as one of world’s most beautiful towns.

Main tourist attractions

      • The Double Bridge (双桥)
      • The Shen’s House (沈厅)
      • The Zhang’s House (张厅)
      • The former residence of Chen Yifei (逸飞之家)
      • Taking a boat trip
      • Watch a show “Zhouzhuang in All Seasons” (四季周庄) (only in summer time)

Suggested Tours

Where to stay

How to get there

      • Buses start (every 20-30 min) from Suzhou North Station and Suzhou Railway Station to Zhouzhuang. The journey takes about one hour. 
      • You can also take a high-speed train (many times a day) from Suzhou to Kunshan and then take a taxi to get to Zhouzhuang (36 km).
      • Or take a bus (starting every 30 min) from Shanghai Long-Distance Bus Terminal or other bus stations to reach Zhouzhuang in about 1.5 hours. 
      • High-speed trains run very frequently every day from Shanghai to Kunshan, and it takes about 20 minutes and another 50 minutes (36 km) to the tourist attraction by taxi.

Nanxiang

Xitang (西塘)

Xitang is an ancient scenic town in Jiashan County, Zhejiang Province, China. It is a water town divided into nine rivers. The town stretches across eight sections which are linked by many old stone bridges. Every family lives near water.

Main tourist attractions

      • A covered long walkways (烟雨长廊)
      • 122 ancient lanes
      • Xitang’s narrowest alley, Shipi Lane
      • Ancient Bridges
      • Button Museum
      • Enjoy the movie Scene of Mission Impossible III
      • The architectural showcase of West Garden (西园)
      • The sunrise views from the Chinese paintings
      • Local food specialties

Suggested Tours

Where to stay

How to get there

The best way to get to Xitang from Shanghai is to take a long distance bus. Tourists can take scheduled buses from two bus stations to reach Xitang:

Sunset in Xitang ancient Water Town

Tongli (同里)

Tongli is one of the many ancient water towns in the south of the Yangtze River Delta. It is separated by 15 rivers into seven islets, which are connected through 49 ancient stone bridges in variety of styles. Tongli ancient water town is 80 kilometers from Shanghai and 18 km from Suzhou. It is also an UNESCO heritage and historical Town.

Main tourist attractions

      •  Mingqing Street (明清街), houses in Ming and Qing architectural style
      • Jiayin Mansion (嘉荫堂), known for its fine carvings structure
      • Congben Mansion (崇本堂), known for its fine carvings structure
      • Tuisiyuan Garden (退思园)
      • Three Bridges, Taiping Bridge (太平桥), Jili Bridge (吉利桥) and Changqing Bridges (长庆桥),

Suggested tour

Where to stay

How to get there

      • From Shanghai, take a bus from Shanghai Hongqiao Airport or Shanghai Bus Station. Or take a train to Suzhou first, then transfer to Tongli from there.
      • From Suzhou, take a bus from Suzhou North Gate Long Distance Bus Station or directly from Suzhou Train Station. 
      • Or take subway line 4 from Suzhou Railway Station and get off at the last station of Tongli. The subway ride takes about 50 minutes.

Xitang ancient Water Town

Nanxun (南浔)

The ancient town looks like a cross when viewed from above. Two waterways intersect at the town, the Shihe River from north to south and the ancient Grand Canal from east to west. The architecture in Nanxun Ancient Water Town exhibits a mix of Chinese and Western styles.

Main tourist attractions

      • Hundred Residential Houses (百间楼), one or two-story dwellings for locals
      • Former Residence of Zhang Shiming (张石铭故居), a combination of traditional Chinese and western architectural styles.
      • Little Lotus Garden (小莲庄), the former private garden of Nanxun’s richest man Liu Yong
      • The Spanish-Style Former Residence of the Liu Family (刘氏梯号)
      • Take a boat ride along the canal to appreciate the beauty of the ancient water town
      • Wedding Show on Water

Suggested tour

Where to stay

How to get there

      • From Shanghai, take a bus from Shanghai Long-Distance Bus Station, Shanghai South Long-Distance Bus Station or Pudong East Bus Station.
      • From Suzhou, take a bus from Suzhou South Bus Station or Suzhou West Bus Station.

Wuzhen Ancient Water Town

Wuzhen (乌镇)

The town has numerous bridges, old wooden houses and waterside pavilions. The main tourist area has twosections about one kilometres apart, the West Scenic Area (西栅, Xizha) and the East Scenic Area (东栅, Dongzha). The following highlights are the selections of many sites. They represent the main interests of this ancient water town.

Main tourist attractions (East Scenic Area)

      • Ancient Bed Museum (江南百床馆),  devoted to the collection and display of antique beds
      • Indigo Fabric Workshop (宏源泰染坊), an environmentally-friendly, print and dye workshop
      • Watch Shadow Play, the cartoon of traditional Chinese culture
      • Wine Distillery Workshop (三白酒坊),  a distillery to display wine-brewing culture in Wuzhen

Main tourist attractions (West Scenic Area)

      • Wuzhen Grand Theater
      • Water Market
      • Chinese Foot-binding Culture Museum (三寸金莲馆)
      • Yadi Silk Workshop (益大丝号作坊), learn the history of Chinese silk culture as well as the entire silk production process

Suggested Tours

Where to stay

How to get there

      • Take bus From Shanghai South Bus Station to get to Wuzhen Bus Station first. Then take local Bus K350 to arrive at Wuzhen West Scenic Area.
      • Take a High-speed train from Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Statio to Tongxiang Railway Station. After getting out of the railway station, take Bus K282 to Wuzhen Bus Station.

Wuzhen ancient Water Town

Xinchang (新场古镇)

The Xinchang ancient water town used to a salt production place. Thus, it attracted many merchants and salt traders gathering there during its heydays.

There aren’t as many waterways as in other water towns. Narrow old streets, several water lanes, and small alleys are all of the ancient water towns. However, it is much more authentic since it is less commercialized and has no hoards of tourists.

Main tourist attractions

      • A-Hundred-Year-Old Tea house (第一楼茶园)
      • Many Ming and Qing Dynasty houses
      • Saddle-shaped water bridges (马鞍水桥)
      • Stinky Toufu

Suggested Tours

Where to stay

How to get there

Take metro line 16 to Xinchang station. Go out exit #2 to catch bus number 1108 to 仁义路沪商公路 (Rényì lù hù shāng gōnglù). The town is about 3 1/2 km from the metro station.

Wuzhen Ancient Water Town at Dawn

Qibao Ancient Water Town(七宝古镇)

Qibao (七宝) is one of the closest ancient water towns to Shanghai city centre. Situated in southwest Shanghai at the center of Minhang District, Qibao Ancient Water Town is a town within the city of Shanghai. It is famous for its Shanghainese snacks.

Main tourist attractions

      • The Qibao Temple
      • Three stone bridges, Kangle Bridge, Puhui River Bridge, and Anping Bridge.
      • Museums such as Shadowgraph Museum, Cotton Textile Mill, Old Trades Museum, and the Pawn Shop Museum
      • Qibao Old Street (七宝老街, Qi Bao Lao Jie), also a famous food street
      • Variety of delicious local food among Shanghainese

Suggested Tours

Where to stay

How to get there

      • Take Shanghai metro line 9 and get off at Qibao (七宝) station. The station is in a modern shopping mall. Take exit 2 to get out of the mall, and it takes about 5 to 10 minutes to walk to Qibao Ancient Water Town.
      • Take bus 87, 91, 92, 186, 189, 196, 198, 709, 735, 748, 803, Hongqiao Hub Line 4 (虹桥枢纽4路), Husong Line (沪松线) or Minhang Line 33 (闵行线33) and get off at Qibao Station.

Salty quail eggs, a local snack in Qibao

Fengjing (枫泾古镇)

Fengjing ancient town has a very long history of 1500 years. It is located at Jinshan District in the southwest of Shanghai. Being a typical water town in the southern Yangtze, it is mainly famous for many bridges and rivers. The houses are quite old. And, the balconies are simple and primitive. You could have a glimpse of how the locals live.

Main tourist attractions

      • Peasant’s Painting Village (Nóngmín Huàcūn; 农民画村)
      • Steamed dumplings and Zongzi (rice and pork mashed together and served in bamboo leaves)

Suggested Tours


Where to stay

How to get there

Take Metro Line 1 to Jinjiang Park Station (锦江乐园站). Then walk towards the south for 20m to the New Southwest Bus Station (新西南汽车站). There you take the Fengmei Line (枫梅线) directly to Fengjing. The bus journey should take about 45 minutes.

Nanxiang Guyi Garden

Jinxi ancient water town (锦溪古镇)

Between Shanghai and Suzhou, there is a beautiful Jinxi ancient water town. Compared to the others, Jinxi has fewer tourists. The water town got its name from the Jinxi River that meanders through the water town from north to south. The water town is less crowded, but it offers more of a scenic atmosphere for tourists compared to Zhouzhuang.

Main tourist attractions

      • An ancient town with a history of over 2,000 years
      • A water town surrounded by rivers and lakes
      • A town with 36 bridges built during various dynasties in different styles
      • A few museums displaying private art galleries, handicrafts, furniture, calligraphy

Suggested Tours

Where to stay

How to get there

Several daily buses go directly to Jinxi from the Shanghai Long-Distance Bus Station. On weekends and during the holidays, tourist buses from the Shanghai Hongkou Football Stadium and Shanghai Stadium go to Jinxi.

Mudu ancient water town

Luzhi (甪直水乡)

Jinxi is an unsophisticated and tranquil ancient water town. It impresses visitors with clear water, a peaceful environment, idyllic scenery, and historical sites. Luzhi is famous for its beautiful waterways and ancient bridges, and some of the bridges even dated back to the Song Dynasty.

Main tourist attractions

      • The old town, its lanes and its canals
      • Nine main streets all paved with cobble and granite
      • Baosheng Temple with a history of over 1500 years
      • 41 arched stone bridges
      • A museum of ancient bridges
      • 7 Ancient Ginkgoes, a symbol of Luzhi Ancient Water Town
      • The former residence of Shen Bohan (沈柏寒), a famous Chinese educator
      • Wansheng Rice Shop
      • Local women’s traditional clothes
      • The memorial hall of the first reformer Wang Tao (王韬)
      • Taste local food, Puli trotters (甫里蹄), Puli duck (甫里鸭) and Luzhi Radish (甪直萝卜), a pickled radish prepared according to a Qing Dynasty recipe

Suggested Tours

Where to stay

How to get there

      • From Shanghai, take bus 806 from Shanghai Zhongshan Bus Station. The bus runs every half an hour, and it takes about two and a half hours.
      • From Suzhou, take bus 18, 52, 518, 521, 525, 526, or 563.

One comment

  1. I had no idea Shanghai had so many water towns! They all look so magical, especially Fengjing with its beautiful bridges! I want to visit all of these now.

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