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Brief Introduction of Tongli

Tongli (同里), or called Tongli Water Town, in the south west of Suzhou, is one of the “Top Six Ancient Towns in the Regions South of Yangtze River” in China with a long history of over 1,000 years. Enjoying the advantageous location of being surrounded by water and linked by old stone bridges, Tongli is the symbol of water town in southern China. Therefore, it is regarded as the “Oriental Venice” as well as a “Natural Photo Studio” by people from the whole world and named the “National AAAAA Tourist Attraction”. Moreover, since it still well keeps a series of ancient structures from Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties, like the “Retreat & Reflection Garden (退思园)” that is a World Cultural Heritage Site praised by many poets, Tongli is a perfect place to savor the authentic flavor of old water town in china and the real leisure life of this charming Jiangnan (江南) region.

History of Tongli

Tongli was established in Song dynasty over 10 centuries ago and was first named Fu Tu (富土, Fertile Land). But it changed to be called as Tong Li (铜里) so not to be too extravagant. And later people finally changed its name again into the present Tongli (同里). According to the history, Tongli is a key place in the ancient Wu (吴) region, and since it could communicate with the outside world only by boat, there were few wars or turbulence. And then, it became an ideal place for people to escape from the social upheaval and settle down.

Tongli - Tongli Water Town Tongli - "Oriental Venice"
Tongli - Tongli Suzhou Poetic Tongli in the Early Spring

Can’t-missing Highlights in Tongli

To explore the real charm of Tongli Water Town, you can not only roam along the old streets and rivers, but also visit the famous spots in, like the Retreat & Reflection Garden, Gengle Hall, the Pearl Tower, the Three Bridges, etc.

Retreat & Reflection Garden

Retreat & Reflection Garden or Tuisi Garden (退思园) has been listed as the World Cultural Heritage Site by the UNESCO. This garden was built during 1885 and 1887 by Ren Lansheng (任兰生) who was relieved of his office as government official for his corruption. He named this place as “Tui Si Yuan” to introspect himself. In Tuisi Garden, you can feel the very ancient charm from the historic wood buildings. However, you will be surprised to find the very fantastic water garden hidden in, where pavilions, corridors, bridges, halls, houses, rockeries, pools, old trees, lovely flowers, adorable fishes, etc. are all very harmonious and nice in this secret garden. Walking along the stone-paved path or standing on the pavilion on rockeries, you can appreciate the especially terrific sightseeing of the natural and traditional garden. For its amazing beauty, there is a Tuisi Zhuang (退思庄) in the botanic garden in New York, US, which is built according to Tuisi Garden, which completely demonstrates that the Chinese garden has already got popularity from the entire world.

Gengle Hall

Gengle Hall (耕乐堂, Happy Farming Hall) at the middle section of Lujiadai (陆家埭) is really a super ancient building in Tongli Water Town. Built in Ming dynasty in the traditional structure of residence in the front and garden in the back, you can appreciate the more ancient houses in this hall. In the residence area, there are abundant root carving works of various shapes exhibiting in the house, such as the eagle, the flower tree, the figures, the lion, and so forth. When you come in the water garden, you can enjoy the very clear pool with red fishes, antique winding stone bridges above the water, old houses with the traces of weathering, pretty blue sky. Every blink will present you a distinct visual feast!

The Pearl Tower

The Pearl Tower (珍珠塔) in Tongli Water Town is famous for the love story named the “Pearl Tower” happened in this official censor’s mansion. According to the story, Fang Qing (方卿) and Chen Cuie (陈翠娥) loved each other very much but faced with the difficulties of the wide gap between their family statuses. But after the man making efforts to get the “Number One Scholar” and returning hometown with reputation, Cuie and he finally got married. Visiting the Pearl Tower, you can admire the ancient houses and the wide water garden to be amazed at the charm of old water town and feel this famous love story.

The Three Bridges

The Three Bridges (三桥) in Tongli refers to Taiping Bridge (太平桥), Jili Bridge (吉利桥) and Changqing Bridge (长庆桥), which is one of the must-see highlights in Tongli Water Town. Forming a shape like the character “品” in Chinese, the Three Bridges is the treasure place in Tongli. You could see people walking on the bridges and boats running below. Especially during festivals, there will be very busy and jubilant, because local people treat it very auspicious and happy to walk along the Three Bridges. So you can follow the custom to get more good fortunes and better body by walking along the Jili Bridge, Taiping Bridge and Changqing Bridge in order for one round without going back.

Besides, there are many other interesting places to visit in Tongli Water Town, like Jiayin Hall (嘉荫堂) with beautiful design and gauze-cap-like beam decorations, Chongben Hall (崇本堂) with exquisite sculptures, Mingqing Street (明清街) with various local food and shops, Luoxing Island (罗星洲) with fabulous natural scenery, etc. you can spend more time to discover deeper beauty of Tongli!

Tongli - Retreat & Reflection Garden Secret Garden in Retreat & Reflection Garden
Tongli - Tuisi Garden Ancient Tuisi Garden in Spring
Tongli - Gengle Hall Picturesque Scenery in the Garden of Gengle Hall
Tongli - Pearl Tower Spring Raining Sightseeing in the Pearl Tower
Tongli - Tongli Ancient Town Local Grandma Walking on the Old Street in Tongli
Tongli - Tongli Water Town China Antique Windows in Tongli Water Town

Amazing Activities in Tongli

You deserve to try the featured activities in Tongli to get the real fun and feel the authentic charm of this famous water town.

Rickshaw Tour

Let the local carter take you to appreciate Tongli Water Town with a distinct visual angle on the ancient rickshaw. Passing through the narrow lanes and admire the centuries-old buildings, you can imagine yourself as the people living in Tongli in ancient times. (For fee)

Boat Tour

Take a sculling boat at day time to feel the excitement of watching the ancient buildings and people passing by, the brand-new practice of going through the old Chinese bridges. You can have the scene of ancient Tongli people communicating the outside by boat in your mind. (25 min, about RMB 90 / boat; 1-6 people / boat)

Splendid Night View

The night view of Tongli Water Town is splendid. With strings of red lanterns lighting along the river, gorgeous colorful flashes shining in the trees, sparkling lights curving the fancy lines of bridges and paths, the water town will make you immerse into its beauty.

>> 2 Days Best Suzhou & Tongli Water Village Tour

>> 5 Days Shanghai & Suzhou Highlights Tour with Tongli

Tongli - Boat Tour Take a Sculling Boat to Enjoy Tongli Water Town
Tongli - Night View Splendid Night View in Tongli Water Town

Recommended Route to Visit Tongli

1 day classic tour (Recommended)

Enter Tongli Water Town to visit Retreat & Reflection Garden to see the secret garden, after that feel the love story at the Pearl Tower. Next walk along the Three Bridges to more fortunes. Then go to Gengle Hall to enjoy the water garden and the ancient houses. After that, take a sculling boat to appreciate the charm of Tongli Water Town.

2 day In-depth route

Day 1:

Enter Tongli Water Town to visit Retreat & Reflection Garden to see the secret garden, and then go to Jiayin Hall to enjoy the beautiful design in the old residence. After that, walk along the Three Bridges to more fortunes. Next, go to Gengle Hall to enjoy the water garden and the ancient houses. Then, take a sculling boat to appreciate the charm of Tongli Water Town.

Day 2:

Visit the Pearl Tower to feel the love story and admire the sightseeing, and see the carvings in Chongben Hall. Then, take a boat to Luoxing Island to admire the charming natural scenery.

Tongli Maps & Transportation

Situated about 25 km from Suzhou downtown and about 90 km from Shanghai, Tongli Water Town can be easily reached by bullet train, coach, bus, etc.

Independent Travel:

From Suzhou – 25 km

There are frequently running coaches from North Square of Suzhou Railway Station, Suzhou North Bus Station, Suzhou South Bus Station and others, which mainly takes about 1 hour to get to Tongli Bus Station. And then you can get to Tongli Water Town Scenic Area by taking the local vehicles like rickshaw, bus, minibus, taxi, etc. for about 1.5 km.

If you drive from Suzhou downtown, it will take about 40 min to reach Tongli Water Town.

From Shanghai – 90 km

You can take the tourist bus directly arrive at Tongli Water Town for about 1.5 hours in the Tourist Distributing Centers in Shanghai South Railway Station, Hongkou Football Stadium, and Shanghai Stadium.

Besides, you can take a bullet train from Shanghai to Suzhou Railway Station for about 30 min and transfer onto a coach to Tongli for about 1 hour.

It will take you about 1.5 hours to drive from Shanghai downtown to Tongli Water Town.

Travel with China Discovery (Top Recommended):

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

Tongli Map Click to Enlarge the Location Map of Tongli
Tongli Map - Tourist Map Click to Enlarge the Tourist Map of Tongli

Opening Time & Fee in Tongli

Entrance Fee:

RMB 100 / person (7:30-17:30 for April - October; 7:30-17:15 for November – March; valid for 2 days and includes all the tourist attractions in Tongli Water Town, but you can visit each one for only once.)

RMB 50 / person: (18:30-21:00; only includes the Retreat & Reflection Garden: 18:45-20:30.)

Note: the above information is for your reference only, for the detail fee information in Tongli, please contact our Travel Consultant!

Best Seasons to Visit Tongli

Spring: with moderate temperature, Tongli is more charming and poetic, especially in the misty rain;

Summer: a lot of local special folk activities are held in Tongli, offering you the best chance to see the folk culture of this famous Chinese water town. Furthermore, you can enjoy its fantastic night view wandering along the rivers and bridges;

Autumn: in the fresh and clear climate, the faint aroma of sweet-scented osmanthus makes Tongli Water Town like a young attractive lady under the azure sky;

Winter: with much fewer tourists, Tongli is quiet but still beautiful. Particularly after snowing, you can appreciate its pure white and elegant appearance with several red lanterns hanging along the river.

Tongli Hotels

Various types of hotels and hostels are provided in and around Tongli Water Town. You can choose the luxury Tongli Lake Resort to feel living in the ancient Chinese water town. Also, Tongli Lakeview Hotel of less than 1 km from the tourist area provides very good services and equipment. And Blossom Hill Tongli is also another good romantic choice of traditional Suzhou and modern decoration. Besides, other comfort and economy hotels and featured hostels and Inns will surely make you Tongli stay unforgettable.

Tongli Food

Tongli as a thousand-year-old water town has abundant kinds of delicious food for you. The famous Zhuangyuan Pig Trotter is very popular among visitors from the whole world for its very tender meat and great scent. Wadisu Crisp of traditional professional skills is tasteful and crispy. Moreover, other local food like Qingtuanzi, Qianshi Cake, and so on, is worth to have a try.

Tips to Go to Tongli

1. Take rain gears and some mosquito repel especially in summer and take enough clothes because it’s a little cold in the autumn morning and night.

2. Watch out while travel on the boat in case of falling in the water.

3. Since the day tour ticket is valid for two days, if you want to stay in Tongli Water Town for 2 days, you are required to present your valid document like your passport to have your ticket sealed.

4. Tongli keeps a very traditional skill of fishing that is to order the cormorants to catch fishes in the water, and that skill is for over 1,300 years. The local people would sometimes present this God-given show at the middle place of the Three Bridges if there are boats running by and the guests give them some reward.

Recommended Suzhou Tours

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

Suzhou Museum Architecture
2 Days In-depth Suzhou Culture Discovery Tour


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


Yu Garden
5 Days Shanghai & Suzhou Highlights Tour with Tongli

Shanghai / Tongli / Suzhou / Shanghai

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[Important] Travel News for Expats: China travel is reopening now! Travel with China Discovery and learn about where to visit & requirements for each destination! Read Details >