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Top Shanghai Water Town Trips

Shanghai, the metropolis, is called “Mo Du (魔都)” by Chinese people. Mo means ambition and Du means metropolis. It is home to the world's second-tallest building.

Many people are familiar with the spectacular riverside of the Bund and ambitious skyline of Pudong. But they often ignore that she also has a soft side like any elegant lady. Water towns are her tenderness. They preserve well an ancient atmosphere and are unique to China. Ordinary people still live there. 

Let’s explore this ambitious city with added elegance. Remember her tenderness and get to know her completely.

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How to Plan a Shanghai Tour

How Long to Stay

1-Day

Plan A

visit 3 to 4 top attractions in Shanghai city

Plan B

visit a water town like Nanxun

Plan C

Suzhou + Tongli

2-Day

Plan A

Shanghai highlights + a water town

Plan B

Shanghai highlights + Tongli + Suzhou

Plan C

Shanghai highlights + interesting activities like sidecar experience

3-Day

Plan A

Shanghai + Hangzhou + a water town

4-Day

Plan A

Shanghai + Hangzhou + Suzhou + a water town

Top Things to See

Top 7 attractions in Shanghai city

  • The Bund
  • Yuyuan Garden
  • Shanghai Tower
  • The Oriental Pear TV Tower
  • Shanghai Museum
  • World Financia Center
  • Former French Concession

Top 4 water towns nearby

  • Tongli - elegant and small
  • Nanxun -  mixing Chinese and western styles
  • Zhujiajiao - foodies' paradise
  • Wuzhen - sweet night scenes

Best Time to Visit Shanghai and Water Towns

  • You can visit Shanghai all year round. The most comfortable seasons in the city arespring and autumn, and the scenery is also pleasant then. 
  • There are fewer tourists during weekdays. So it is recommended to visit water towns during weekdays. 
  • You are recommended to avoid Chinese public holidays from 1st to 3rd May (Labor Day) and 1st to 7th October (National Day). During these holidays it’s crowded and hard to buy tickets.

Why Visit Water Towns?

- They are nice places for escaping from pressure. Slow down and listen to romantic stories or anecdotes that took place there. Take a boat trip and relax.
- They are unique to China.  
- They are close to Shanghai, Hangzhou or Suzhou, so transportation is convenient and basic infrastructure is well established.
- They preserve well an ancient atmosphere and ordinary people still live there. With our insightful local guides, visitors can understand the culture of water towns very well.
- Their air quality is excellent.

Distinctive Features of Water Towns

Water town Crowds Features Highlights Visiting time Transport from
Nanxun

There are many attractions in this big water town. When meeting a tour group, you can see other attraction. When they leave, return.

Chinese style architecture mixes with western style.
Different from girly, small water towns, Nanxun is like a rich bel-esprit
Profound water town history
The most civilized and affluent town in the past
 

  • 100 Residential Houses
  • A gondola ride 
  • Little Lotus Garden
  • Former Residence of Zhang Shiming
  • The Spanish-style Former Residence of the Liu Family (Red Houses)
4 hours Shanghai: 2h Suzhou: 1h Hangzhou: 1 1/2h
Tongli

Not crowd at all. Quiet at night.
 

Elegant and small water town
Most buildings in Tongli are situated along the waterways.
At night, it is quiet, and many Chinese lanterns will be lit up.
 

  • Tuisi Garden
  • Three Bridges Area
  • A gondola ride 

3 hours Shanghai: 2h Suzhou: 40min
Zhujiajiao Not many visitors in town in the mornings (before 12:00) on weekdays There are not many visitors in town in the mornings (before 12:00) on weekdays.
Over 1,000 well-preserved houses built in the Ming (1368–1644 AD) and Qing (1644–1912 AD) dynasties line the streets.
It is a foodie’s paradise. Visitors like to sample snacks there.
 

  • Taking a Gondola
  • The Qing Dynasty Post Office
  • Kezhi Garden
  • Fangsheng Bridge
4 hours Shanghai: 50min
Wuzhen Crowded but orderly Large –scale Qing dynasty architecture is well-preserved
  • East Area (Dong Zha/dong jaa/ 东栅)
  • West Area (Xi Zha /sshee jaa/ 西栅)
7 hours/2 days Shanghai: 2h Hangzhou: 1h
Zhouzhuang Always filled with big tourist groups Local wealthy and influential family-Zhang and Shen family
  • Double bridge
  • Shen Mansion
  • Zhang House
7 hours or 2 days Shanghai: 2h Suzhou: 1h
Qibao Crowded and commercial Little old street with not much to see water lanes 1 hour Shanghai: 30min
Xitang Pleasantly empty, except at weekends Mission Impossible III was filmed here Long corridor 4 hours Shanghai: 2h Suzhou: 50min Hangzhou: 2h

Acommadation We Recommend

Stay in a riverside hotel along the Bund to watch the splendid skyline of Pudong

  • Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund(Five-star) Ranked #2 on Trip Advisor
  • Fairmont Peace Hotel Shanghai (Five-star) Ranked #7 on Trip Advisor
  • Les Suites Orient, Bund Shanghai (Five-star) Ranked #20 on Trip Advisor (Best price among all the five-star hotels on the Bund )

Hotels in Pudong

  • Mandarin Oriental Pudong (Five-star) Ranked #1 on Trip Advisor
  • Four Seasons Shanghai Pudong (Five-star) Ranked #2 on Trip Advisor

Comfortable hotel

  • Kingstown Hotel Plaza Shanghai (3-star)
  • The Bund Hotel (near the Bund, 4-star) 

Do I Need a Visa?

144-hour visa-free transit policy

If you meet the following criteria, you can travel to Shanghai and some places nearby (like water towns, Suzhou and Hangzhou) for up to 144 hours without applying for a visa:
1. You are in transit to a third country or region (Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan are included). For example: USA–Shanghai–Hong Kong is acceptable for a 144-hour transit visa in Shanghai, but USA–Shanghai– USA is not. 
2. You travel around Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang provinces but do not go to other provincial level areas in China.
3. Your transit time is no more than 144 hours (from the first 00:00 hrs after entering). 
4. Your port of entry is named in the policy. 
5. You are citizen of one of the 51 countries included in the policy.
See whether your entry port and country are listed in the policy.

Need a visa

If you don’t meet all the criteria, you need to apply for a visa before traveling to China. Read: How to Get a China Visa.

What Customers Said About Our Guides and Trips

Michelle M

Chicago, IL

Suzhou and Tongli Water Town

This is a LONG over-due review (since we traveled in March) of what was a nicely paced day spent outside of Shanghai in Suzhou and Tongli Water Town. This was a private tour with a driver and our guide, Jen, who was quite friendly and eager to please. Overall, my communications with China Travel (Vanessa) and our tour experience with Jen was very positive, and we would recommend their company to others!

myk18546

Port Talbot, United Kingdom

Suzhou and Tongli water villages..........day tour with Sophie Lee / China Travel

We had never booked a "private" tour before and were unsure what to expect However built up some confidence as the booking process was quick and simple with excellent communication. Thank you Leon. Our guide, Sophie Lee met us, as arranged, at the hotel and we set off for Suzhou.

debbien_12

Bedford, United Kingdom

Tongli with Valerie

I am not a fan of guided tours as I prefer to do thing at my own pace, but chose to do this because I don’t speak any Chinese and wanted to ensure my time was spent on enjoying the experience, rather than struggling with communication. It turned out to be a wise choice. All in all we had a great trip, and compared to another guided trip we took later in our holiday, Valerie was an absolute gem!

Contact Us

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Leon Long

Leon Long

Travel Advisor

Vanessa Zheng

Vanessa Zheng

Travel Advisor

vivian Cen

vivian Cen

Product Manager

Vicky Wen

Vicky Wen

Product Manager

Elysees Zhao

Elysees Zhao

Web Editor

Vivi Chen

Vivi Chen

Travel Advisor