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Top Water Towns in China

In the picturesque Jiangnan area (the south of the Yangtze River region), there are top 10 ancient towns scattered near Shanghai, Suzhou and Hangzhou, such as Zhujiajiao, Zhouzhuang, Wuzhen, Tongli, Xitang and Nanxun. Since ancient times, by making full use of the natural conditions and geographic environment, residents of these ancient towns accumulated rich experience of how to live with rivers and lakes in a harmonious way. With the growth of economy, culture, and productive forces, a network of towns connected by watercourses came into being in the 11th century. In the 13th century these towns began to thrive.

Jiangnan water towns are reputed as “the Venice of China” for they were built based on the water. Different water towns are in different shapes decided by the flow of rivers. You may find yourself easily get lost when wander through Zhouzhuang for it is in nest-like shape with lots of winding old streets and a dense network of rivers; you may never worry about the way and enjoy every minute exploring along the straight rivers of Wuzhen which takes you back to the past in a nostalgic setting; Nanxun is a cross-shaped water town that you can stroll along the two main rivers to feel the folk customs without hassle; while, Xitang is the most primitive water town keeping in simple lifestyle in star-shaped with many rivers meeting at one point…

There is a Chinese saying - small bridge, flowing river, families. This is a perfect description of the water towns in Jiangnan area. Besides the old bridges, meandering rivers and ancient households, the ancestral halls, old temples and pavilions, ancient opera stages, classical gardens, guild halls, pawn shops, dye houses, distillery…are still well preserved in many of the water towns. Check the following top 10 water towns rated by numerous travelers on TripAdvisor and select one or two covered in your trip when visiting Shanghai, Hangzhou or Suzhou!

China Water Town Map

Top 10 Water Towns You Never Miss in Jiangnan

1. Zhouzhuang Water Town - No. 1 Water Town in China

Zhouzhuang Water Town is reputed as one of “ ten most beautiful towns in the world” with appealing sightseeing and authentic local flavor. It has a history with over 930 years. In 1086, it was changed to Zhouzhuang from “Zhenfengli”. In Yuan Dynasty, the legendary Jiangnan rich man called Shenyou, the uncle of Shen Wansan, moved here which brought Zhouhuang prosperous trade town.

Visiting Zhouzhuang, you can easily see it is circled by water and all the houses built along the four main rivers with eight long streets stretching through the town. Moreover, you can see 14 ancient particular stone bridges built in Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, multiple courtyards linking together on the winding water, more than 800 residents living by the river, etc. which is exactly the look of serene historic water town in east China. Besides the scenery, the special folk culture in Zhouzhuang will tell you about the real gem of culture in Wu area and the soul of this charming place.

Location: Southwest of Kunshan City, Suzhou; 38 km from Suzhou, 70 km from Shanghai

Features: Nest-like shaped; typical & prestigious; commercialized & crowded; great place for photography

Recommended Rating:

Best Time: All year round to enjoy charming Zhouzhuang in four seasons

Recommended Length of Visiting: one or two days (if time permits, spend a night here)

Ticket: RMB 100 / person at daytime (08:00-16:00); RMB 80 at night (16:00-21:00)

Highlights for Exploration: Shen’s House (沈厅), Zhang’s House (张厅), Double Bridge (双桥), Fu’an Bridge (富安桥), etc.

Recommended Trips to Zhouzhuang:
>> 2 Days Best Suzhou & Zhouzhuang Water Village Tour
>> 5 Days Shanghai & Suzhou Tour with Zhouzhuang

Zhouzhuang Ancient Town Zhouzhuang Ancient Town Zhouzhuang Ancient Town Zhouzhuang Ancient Town

2. Zhujiajiao Ancient Town – Venice of Shanghai

Zhujiajiao Ancient Town has long history with 1700 years which is still bright and flourishing. Someone regards Zhujiajiao Ancient Town as Venice of Shanghai and someone thinks it is a dazzling pearl situated along Dianshan Lake.

Zhujiajiao is crisscrossed by rivers and canals, with 9 long streets running along the rivers and hundreds of buildings of Ming and Qing Dynasty architecture flanking both sides. What makes Zhujiajiao more charming is its historical sites, including 36 old bridges, Kezhi Garden, former residences and ancient halls, etc. The antiquity of the bridges, the rareness of the streets and the seclusion of the alleyways all present you a scene of “boats sailing on the water and people touring in painting”.

Location: No.84 Xijing Street, Zhujiajiao Town, Qingpu District, Shanghai; 48 km from Shanghai within 1 hour’s drive

Features: Fan-shaped; nearest water town of Shanghai; great for photography

Recommended Rating:

Best Time: April to November

Recommended Length of Visiting: half day to one day

Ticket: Free for entrance and if visit its spots, 60 Yuan / person including 9 tourist sites

Highlights for Exploration: Kezhi Garden (课植园), Qing-dynasty Post Office (明清邮局), Yuanjin Buddhist Temple (圆津禅院), Fangsheng Bridge (放生桥), Tai’an Bridge (泰安桥), etc.

Recommended Trip to Zhujiajiao:
>> 3 Days Shanghai & Zhujiajiao Water Town Tour

Zhujiajiao Ancient Town Zhujiajiao Ancient Town Zhujiajiao Ancient Town

3. Wuzhen Water Town – Dream-like Water Town

Wuzhen is a beautiful water town located at the center of the golden triangle consisting of Shanghai, Hangzhou and Suzhou. With a history of 1300 years, Wuzhen fully preserves the water town’s style and pattern in the late Qing Dynasty and the Republican period. Wuzhen shows the harmonious living between human and nature.

The ancient Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal flows through the town which is divided by waterways in four sections – Dongzha, Xizha, Nanzha and Beizha. The most visited parts are Dongzha (East Scenic Zone) and Xizha (East Scenic Zone). To explore East Scenic Zone is to enjoy all kinds of traditional folk customs while the West Scenic Zone is less crowded, more tranquil, more specious and more beautifully decorated with some historical sites, manual workshop, exhibition halls and museums to explore.

Location: No.18 Shifu South Road, Tongxiang, Jiaxiang City; 80 km from Hangzhou with 70 minutes’ drive

Features: Ribbon-shaped; touristy East Scenic Zone; cozy West Scenic Zone with comfortable water town atmosphere; great for photography

Recommended Rating:

Best Time: All year round, especially in spring and autumn

Recommended Length of Visiting: one day or two days (if time permits, spend a night in Xizha Scenic Zone)

Ticket: 150 Yuan for combined ticket (East and West); 100 Yuan for East Scenic Zone and 120 Yuan for West Scenic Zone

Highlights for Exploration: Ancient Bed Museum (江南百年床馆), Folk Customs Museum (民俗馆), Old Opera Stage (古戏台), Maodun’s Former Residence (茅盾故居), Chinese Foot-binding Culture Museum (三寸金莲馆), etc.

Recommended Trip to Wuzhen:
>> 3 Days Hangzhou Tour with Wuzhen Water Town

Wuzhen Water Town Wuzhen Water Town Wuzhen Water Town Wuzhen Water Town

4. Tongli – Poetic Water Town in the Dream

Tongli, formed in Song Dynasty with a history of over 1000 years, is a wonderful example of a vibrant and functioning water town. It is the National AAAAA Tourist Attraction surrounded by water and linked by old stone bridges from Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties.

The most highlighted spots should be “one garden, two halls and three bridges”. One garden refers to “Retreat & Reflection Garden” (Tuisi Garden) which is a classical garden listed as World Cultural Heritage Site. Two halls refer to Jiayin Hall and Congben Hall and three bridges are Taiping Bridge, Changqing Bridge and Jili Bridge. Tongli is a perfect place to savor the authentic flavor of old water town in China and the real leisure life of this poetic Jiangnan region.

Location: Tongli Town, Wujiang District, Suzhou; 25 km from Suzhou for 35 minutes’ drive

Features: Horn-shaped; closest to Suzhou; great for photography

Recommended Rating:

Best Time: All year round, especially in spring and autumn

Recommended Length of Visiting: one day

Ticket: 100 Yuan / person during daytime, 50 Yuan / person at night

Highlights for Exploration: Retreat & Reflection Garden (退思园), Jiayin Hall (嘉荫堂), the Three Bridges (三桥), etc.

Recommended Trip to Tongli:
>> 2 Days Best Suzhou Tour with Tongli Water Town

Tongli Water Town Tongli Water Town Tongli Water Town

5. Xitang – Primitive Water Town with Original Lifestyle

Xitang Water Town is conveniently located in the golden triangle of Shanghai, Hangzhou and Suzhou. Xitang has a history about 1300 years. In Tang Dynasty, the local residents in Xitang built houses along the rivers and lived by the water. In the Southern Song Dynasty, it developed into large scale and the business here flourished. In Ming and Qing Dynasties, it was the important center for handicraft and commerce.

Xitang owns all the typical features of water towns but it gives you a totally different feeling when enter into this tranquil ancient town. What attracts visitors most is the easygoing lifestyle that local residents have followed for thousands of years. Unlike the ancient towns of Zhouzhuang and Wuzhen, Xitang is not a bustling village that people in the town live ordinary and peaceful lives. Xitang is crisscrossed by nine rivers, linking by 104 old bridges, 122 old lanes and many ceilinged corridors. The most enjoyable time to wander leisurely in Xitang is in the early morning and late afternoon.

Location: No.258 Nanyuan Road, Jiashan County, Jiaxing City; 90 km from Shanghai, 110 km from Hangzhou, 85 km from Suzhou

Features: Star-shaped; primitive & less crowded; great for photography

Recommended Rating:

Best Time: Spring and Autumn, especially in April to May, September to November

Recommended Length of Visiting: half day to one day

Ticket: 100 Yuan / person

Highlights for Exploration: Wenzun Hall (闻尊堂), Zhongfu Hall (种福堂), Shipi Lane (石皮弄), Songzi Laifeng Bridge (送子来凤桥), etc.

Recommended Trip to Xitang:
>> 2 Days Poetic Hangzhou with Xitang Water Town

Xitang Water Town Xitang Water Town Xitang Water Town Xitang Water Town

6. Nanxun – Living in Nanxun with Serenity

Nanxun Water Town, with a history of more than 760 years, is listed as National AAAAA Tourist Attraction. In 1252, it was named “Nanxun” instead of Xunxi. In Ming and Qing Dynasties, it well flourished and became important trade center for the rising and development of silk breeding and silk reeling.

Nanxun is the cross-shaped water town with blending of water, streets, houses, bridges. The architectures is a combination of Chinese architectural elements and the 18-century European style. All the buildings makes Nanxun a magnificent and graceful water town. What makes Nanxun more attractive is the traditional Chinese wedding on the water.

Location: Renrui Road, Nanxun District, Huzhou City; 95 km from Hangzhou, 60 km from Suzhou

Features: Cross-shaped; less-crowded; great for photography

Recommended Rating:

Best Time: All year round, especially in spring and autumn

Recommended Length of Visiting: half day to one day

Ticket: 100 Yuan / person

Highlights for Exploration: Jiaye Hall (嘉业堂), Little Lotus Garden (小莲庄), Yide Hall (懿德堂), etc.

Nanxun Water Town Nanxun Water Town Nanxun Water Town

7. Luzhi – Ancient Town with 2500 Years’ History

Luzhi Water Town is as old as Suzhou Ancient Town, with more than 2500 years history. In Tang Dynasty, the shape of Luzhi was like “甪” and hence it used this word for this antique town. Luzhi Water Town is close to Wusong River in the north and embraced Cheng River in the south. The rivers altogether are at 5.6 kilometers with 41 well persevered old bridges from Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties. Besides the old bridges, there are nine main old streets and 58 old alleys. Luzhi has kept Ming and Qing dynasty architectures which makes it a primitive town with many historical sites.

Location: Xiaoshi Road, Luzhi Town, Wuzhong District, Suzhou; 32 km from Suzhou

Features: Less-crowded; primitive; great for photography

Recommended Rating:

Best Time: Spring and autumn, especially from March to May, September to November

Recommended Length of Visiting: half day

Ticket: 80 Yuan / person

Highlights for Exploration: Baosheng Temple (保圣寺), Shen’s House (沈宅), Xiao’s House (萧宅), Ye Shengtao’s Memorial Hall (叶圣陶纪念馆), etc.

Luzhi Water Town Luzhi Water Town Luzhi Water Town

8. Fengjing – Beautiful Hibiscus Town

With a history of 1500 years, Fengjing Ancient Town was situated at the border of Wu and Yue state in history and hence it is praised as famous town of Wu and Yue culture. This water town is elegant with clear streams flowing through, lotus fully blossom in summer. Hence, Fengjing has got “Hibiscus Town”, “Rivers Flowing in Breeze”. A visit to Fengjing, you can feel that it is a town with bridges in a few steps that among the 52 preserved bridges, the oldest one is the 700-year-old Zhihe Bridge.

Fengjing is an ancient town with many celebrities and flourishing culture. It is the birthplace of Jinshan peasants’ paintings with strong local flavor. There are many ancestral houses of famous painters. You won’t miss the famous cartoonist Ding Cong’s Exhibition Hall to display more than 100 cartoons. It is blending with other exotic culture that you can find Taoism, Buddhism, Catholic and Christian sites.

Location: Hubei Road, Jinshan District, Shanghai; 70 km from Shanghai downtown with 70 minutes’ drive

Features: T-shaped, less crowded & less commercialized; great for photography

Recommended Rating:

Best Time: All year round, especially in spring and autumn

Recommended Length of Visiting: half day to one day

Ticket: 50 Yuan / person

Highlights for Exploration: Sanbai Garden (三百园), Shiwang Palace (施王庙), Ding Cong’s Cartoonist Hall (丁聪漫画馆), etc.

Recommended Trip to Fengjing:
>> 3 Days Shanghai & Fengjing Water Town Tour

Fengjing Water Town Fengjing Water Town Fengjing Water Town

9. Mudu – First Water Town in Wu Region

Mudu Water Town, with a history of 2500 years, is as old as ancient Suzhou city. The name for “Mudu” has a legendary stories with Xishi, one of the four ancient beauties in history. It said that the king of Wu State named Fuchai tried to please Xishi, so he began to build palace on Lingyan Mountain with lots of timbers transporting through the rivers which blocked the canals. The name “Mudu” came into being since then. In Qing Dynasty, the emperor Kangxi traveled three times and Qianlong traveled six times to Mudu for its intoxicating natural beauty.

Actually, Mudu looks like classical gardens more than water town. It features over 30 private gardens with fine layouts, exquisite designs and beautiful architectures. Traveling to Mudu, you’ll walk into a Chinese painting telling old stories in history.

Location: Jinshan Road, Mudu Town, Suzhou’ 13 km from Suzhou downtown

Features: Y-shaped; close to Suzhou; less touristy; great for photography

Recommended Rating:

Best Time: All year round, especially in spring and autumn

Recommended Length of Visiting: half day

Ticket: 78 Yuan / person

Highlights for Exploration: Yan Family’s Garden (严家花园), Old Pine Garden (古松园), Bangyan’s House (榜眼府第), etc.

Mudu Water Town Mudu Water Town Mudu Water Town

10. Jinxi – Museum of Jiangnan Area

Jinxi Water Town is just like a sleeping young lady with simple beauty. It is also a museum to explore ancient culture which can be date back to the Neolithic Age. In Spring and Autumn Period, it had all kinds of hand workshops and the kiln and clay making was famous at that time. Jinxi is the typical Jiangnan water town with a fertile land of fish and rice. It is lying Dianshan Lake in the east, Cheng Lake in the west, Wubao Lake in the south and Bailian Lake in the north. The whole town has 16 lakes and 238 waterways.

Traveling to the tranquil Jinxi, you can explore the Ding’s House, the first tile museum in China, as well as Lotus Buddhist Temple, Shiyan Bridge…

Location: Jinxi Town, Kunshan City; 50 km from Suzhou

Features: Less touristy and crowded

Recommended Rating:

Best Time: All year round, especially in spring and autumn

Recommended Length of Visiting: half day

Ticket: 65 Yuan / person

Highlights for Exploration: Lotus Buddhist Temple (莲池禅院), Shiyan Long Bridge (十眼长桥), Ding’s House (丁宅), Shi Garden (柿园), etc.

Jinxi Water Town Jinxi Water Town

Travel with China Discovery

If you want to get rid of hustle of public transportation and troublesome navigation, you can take a private tour package which covers sightseeing, dining and transfer from us. Our local tour guide and driver will escort you to any destinations with speed and convenience, and take care of all the details. You just need to focus on sightseeing.

If you have more questions about water towns in China's Jiangnan area, please feel free to contact us and our professional travel consultants are here ready to help!

Recommended Tours

Top 3 tours chosen by most customers to explore in the best way. Check the detailed itinerary, or tailor your own trip now with us.

Wuzhen Water Town
3 Days Best Hangzhou Tour with Wuzhen Water Town

Hangzhou

Tongli Water Town
2 Days Best Suzhou & Tongli Water Village Tour

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Zhouzhuang Water Town Locals
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