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The Most Famous 9 Water Towns in China

When speaking of China water towns, people will associate with the poetic scenery of old buildings with white walls and black-tiled roofs, delicate bridges over flowing waters, and winding flagstone-paved alleys. Jiangnan area (Shanghai, Zhejiang, and Jiangsu) is home to some of China’s best water towns, including Zhouzhuang, Wuzhen, and Zhujiajiao.

In this article, we will explore China’s most famous 9 water towns. For those who are seeking for one-day leisure travel in China, these old towns are the best destinations and will offer a joyful sightseeing experience for your China tours.

 

1. Zhouzhuang Water Town: China’s No.1 Water Town

Zhouzhuang enjoys a long history of over 930 years and has been selected by CNN as one of the “world’s top 10 most beautiful small towns”. It is surrounded by water on all sides, with a crisscross network of water alleys linking up all parts of the town, hence the nickname “Venice of the East”.

Zhouzhuang used to be the most flourishing town in the Jiangnan area, thanks to the convenient transportation. Today, it has become a wonderful example of a Chinese ancient water town, with nearly 100 classical courtyards and traditional residences flanking the rippling water lanes, as well as 14 ancient stone bridges hanging over the green water.

It is highly suggested you stay overnight at Zhouzhuang. Lit up by warm lights and red lanterns, the water town is breathtakingly beautiful at night. Wandering along the flagstone alley, you will feel like being brought back to the old times. You can also embark on a black-awning boat to capture dazzling reflections of buildings and bridges on the sparkling water alleys.

Zhouzhuang Water Town
Zhouzhuang Water Town

Highlights: Double Bridge, Zhang House, Shen House, Quanfu Temple, Fu’an Bridge…

Best Time to Visit: All year round

Recommended Visiting Length: 1-2 days

Location: No. 43 Quanfu Road, Zhouzhuang Town, Kunshan City, Suzhou City, Jiangsu Province (30km to downtown Suzhou, 100km to Shanghai)

Recommended Trips:

 

2. Xitang Water Town: A Step Back in Time

Xitang is a serene water town located at the junction of Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang. Most architectures in the town were built during Ming and Qing dynasties (1368-1911), fully displaying features of a typical Chinese water town as well as local cultural elements. Taking a bird’s-eye-view, you will see green ripples everywhere and almost all the complexes built of white walls, dark tiles and stepped roofs standing by the water.

Highlights:

  • Xitang Water Town boasts 27 bridges, 122 narrow lanes and 2,000-meter-long covered corridors.
  • The distinctive Corridor of Misty Rain makes Xitang unique from other water towns in China. The covered corridors are actually waterside streets with tiled-roofs, offering a sheltered passageway for visitors to take a rest and enjoy the views.
  • Shipi Lane is another characteristic sight in Xitang. This flagstone lane is about 1.1 meters wide at its widest point, just like a mysterious time tunnel leading to the most secret place of Xitang.
Hangzhou Xitang Water Town
Xitang Water Town

Best Time to Visit: Spring (March to May) and Autumn (September to November)

Recommended Visit Duration: 1-2 days

Location: No. 258 Nanyuan Road, Xitang Town, Jiashan County, Jiaxing City, Zhejiang Province (85km to Suzhou, 90km to Shanghai, 110km to Hangzhou)

Recommended Trip: One-Day Xitang Water Town Tour from Hangzhou

 

3. Wuzhen Water Town: An Old Town of Rich Cultural Ambience

With a history of 1,300 years, Wuzhen perfectly preserves the water town landscape during the late Qing Dynasty and the period of the Republic of China (1912-1949). The cross-shaped canals divide Wuzhen into four sections, among which Dongzha (East Scenic Area) and Xizha (West Scenic Area) are the most beautiful, offering diverse sightseeing experiences to visitors.

Highlights:

  • Dongzha features a strong sense of life and is filled with traditional manual workshops, handicraft stores, and food booths. Visitors can view the primitive water town landscape while enjoying a special shopping and dining trip.
  • Xizha offers a cultural exploration of Wuzhen Water Town. Covering a larger area, Xizha is separated into 12 isles by the crisscrossing water lanes with 72 old bridges linking them up. Here, visitors can appreciate countless ancient courtyards, visit historical sites like the Temple of Guan Yu and Zhaoming Academy, and stop by traditional workshops including a dyeing house and a pickle shop.
  • Distinctive activities: taking in splendid night views at Xizha, roaming around by black-awning boat, enjoying diverse folk performances like flower-drum opera, shadow puppet play…
Haznghou Wuzhen Water Town Night View
Night View of Wuzhen Water Town

Best Time to Visit: Spring (March to May) and Autumn (September to November)

Recommended Visit Duration: 1-2 days

Location: No. 18 Shifo South Road, Tongxiang City, Jiaxing City, Zhejiang Province (80km to Hangzhou or Suzhou, 140km to Shanghai)

Recommended Trips:

 

4. Tongli Water Town: A Quaint Retreat with A Classical Garden

Tongli is an ancient town with over 1,000 years of history. It is less crowded with visitors, creating a tranquil and peaceful atmosphere. The unique charm of Tongli lies in its small size but well-preserved ancient residences, classical gardens and distinctive display halls. “One garden, two halls, three bridges” are the must-see sights of the town.

Highlights:

  • One garden” refers to the Retreat and Reflection Garden. It is a typical Suzhou classical garden, although not large in scale but with an intricate layout.
  • The “two halls” – Jiayin Hall and Chongben Hall– also showcase exquisite design and both display lifelike wood carvings of anecdotes of celebrities, folk stories and natural landscapes.
  • There are in total 49 ancient bridges in Tongli Water Town, but Taiping Bridge, Jili Bridge and Changqing Bridge are the most characteristic ones. Seated at the junction of 3 water lanes, together they form a circled passage which has been regarded as the symbol of happiness and good fortune.
Suzhou Tongli Water Town
Tongli Water Town

Best Time to Visit: Spring (April to May) and Autumn (September to October)

Recommended Visit Duration: Half to 1 day

Location: No.1 Zhongchuan South Road, Tongligu Town, Wujiang District, Suzhou City, Jiangsu Province (18km to Suzhou, 80km to Shanghai)

Recommended Trip: One Day Tongli Water Tour Experience Tour from Hangzhou by High-speed Train

 

5. Nanxun Water Town: Once the Richest Town in Jiangnan Area

As one of the best water towns in China, Nanxun was founded in 1252 and was once one of the richest towns in the Jiangnan area because of the rise of the silk industry. Many wealthy elites and celebrities built their mansions and private gardens in this poetic town, most of which show an elaborate combination of Chinese and Western architectural styles.

While touring around, tourists can have a glimpse into the lives of these legendary figures and the glorious past of Nanxun. If you are interested in local silk culture, the Hall of Silk from Jili is a good destination, where you can not only appreciate fine silk products, but also obtain a hands-on experience by making silk by yourself.

Nanxun Water Town
Nanxun Water Town

Highlights: Little Lotus Garden, Zhang Shiming’s Former Residence, One-Hundred Residential Houses, Jia Ye Tang Library…

Best Time to Visit: Spring (April to May) and Autumn (September to October)

Recommended Visit Duration: 1-2 days

Location: No. 51 Renrui Road, Nanxun District, Huzhou City, Zhejiang Province (100km to Shanghai, Hangzhou, or Suzhou)

 

6. Luzhi Water Town: A 2,500-Year-Old Town with Primitive Beauty

Luzhi Ancient Town is divided into several parts by 3 vertical and 3 horizontal canals and there is the Wusong River flowing by the town. “Lu” in Chinese is written like “甪”, whose strokers precisely present the layout of waterways in the town.

Luzhi Town enjoys a profound history of 2,500 years, which has endowed the town with many historical relics and residences of celebrities. What makes Luzhi Town more distinctive is that buildings, bridges, and lanes are less renovated. The primitive-looking makes Luzhi one of the best water towns in China and will offer you a special journey through time to experience the simple lifestyle.

Luzhi Water Town
Luzhi Water Town

Highlight Attractions: Baosheng Temple, Ye Shengtao Memorial Hall, Shen House Wansheng Rice Shop…

Best Time to Visit: Spring (April to May) and Autumn (September to October)

Recommended Visit Duration: Half to 1 day

Location: No. 21 Xiaoshi Road, Wuzhong District, Suzhou City (18km to downtown Suzhou, 58km to Shanghai)

 

7. Zhujiajiao Water Town: Venice in Shanghai

Zhujiajiao Water Town, on the outskirts of Shanghai, can be easily accessed by metro line 17, which makes it always the first choice for visitors who want to take a one-day leisure tour in Shanghai. It is one of the best-preserved and most beautiful water towns in China. With a network of waterways running through, Zhujiajiao is also reputed as “Venice in Shanghai”.

Zhujiajiao is not very large in scale. It usually takes half a day touring around the town. Besides traditional buildings, there is a great variety of food booths along the prosperous North Street, providing authentic local snacks such as sticky rice dumplings, glutinous rice balls, braised porks… It could be a memorable culinary experience enjoying delicious food while taking in poetic views around.

Shanghai Zhujiajiao Water Town
Zhujiajiao Water Town

Highlights: Kezhi Garden, Fangsheng Bridge, Yuanjin Buddhist Temple, Tai’an Bridge…

Best Time to Visit: Spring (April to May) and Autumn (September to November)

Recommended Visit Duration: Half to 1 day

Location: No. 555 Kezhiyuan Road, Zhujiajiao Town, Qingpu District, Shanghai (48km to downtown Shanghai)

Recommended Trips:

 

8. Mudu Ancient Town: A Haven of Classical Gardens

Mudu Ancient Town is one of the best water towns in China, which is a serene retreat near downtown Suzhou. The 2,500 years of history of Mudu Town is as long as that of the ancient city of Suzhou. As home to more than 30 classical gardens, it is also praised as “the town of gardens”. Each garden is like a tranquil painting with elaborate design and serene landscape. Among them, Yan Family’s Garden is a representative one, that is worth lingering over.

Mudu Ancient Town
Mudu Ancient Town

Highlights: Yan Family’s Garden, Old Pine Garden, Bangyan’s Mansion…

Best Time to Visit: Spring (April to May) and Autumn (September to October)

Recommended Visit Duration: Half to 1 day

Location: No. 188 Shantang Street, Mudu Town, Wuzhong District, Suzhou City, Jiangsu Province (10km to downtown Suzhou, 110km to Shanghai)

 

9. Guangfu Ancient Town: A Secret Retreat with Rich Historical Flavor

Guangfu is a historical town steeped in a strong ambience of tranquility and primitive simplicity. Flagstone lanes here are narrow and long, and is flanked by old houses. The white walls and black tiles look even unsophisticated under the sunlight. With few visitors coming here, residents in the town all live a traditional and easygoing lifestyle. The unspoiled allure earns Guangfu a place in the list of China’s best water towns. There are also a lot of historical sites, like Guangfu Temple and Guangfu Pagoda, for visitors to trace the past of this quiet town. 

Guangfu Ancient Town
Guangfu Ancient Town

Highlights: Guangfu Temple, Guangfu Pagoda, Guangfu Bridge…

Best Time to Visit: Spring (March to May) and Autumn (September to November)

Recommended Visit Duration: Half to 1 day

Location: No. 38 Xiajie Street, Wuzhong District, Suzhou City, Jiangsu Province (25km to downtown Suzhou)

Top China tour packages to the best water towns:

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