Top 10 Most Beautiful Water Towns Near Shanghai

Written by Vanessa Zheng Updated Dec. 4, 2023

Planning a day trip from Shanghai? Why not take a water town trip?

Water towns are ancient and historic towns in China known for their bridges, rivers, and canals. They are generally concentrated in Shanghai, each offering a unique experience.

This article gives you the TOP 10 water towns to select according to your needs like schedule, travel convenience, and scenic highlights.

1. Tongli: Venice of the East

  • Location: Suzhou City, Jiangsu Province
  • Distance: 30 km from Suzhou downtown(45mins drive), 90 km from Shanghai(1.5hrs drive)
  • Time needed: 1 day
  • Ideal for: History and culture lovers, photographers, small-town enthusiasts
  • Features: quiet, less-touristy

Built in the Song Dynasty (960–1279), Tongli Water Town is one of the six famous ancient towns south of the Yangtze River. 

The dense canals divide the town into seven parts, it has been given the nickname "Venice of the East". Most of the buildings in Tongli are situated along the canals, which keep a series of ancient structures from the Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing dynasties.

A mix of traders and locals are still living and working there. Less commercialized and crowded than some other famous water towns, it can be seen as the best water town close to Shanghai.

Recommended Tour: 1-Day Suzhou and Tongli Water Town Tour from Shanghai 

Tongli Water Town
Tongli Water Town

2. Zhujiajiao: an Ancient Town in Modern Shanghai

  • Location: Qingpu District, Shanghai
  • Distance: 50 km from Shanghai downtown(1h drive)
  • Time Needed: 3hrs
  • Ideal For: Travelers with limited time in Shanghai
  • Features: Commercial, but good for travelers with limited time in Shanghai

With a history of 1,700 years, Zhujiajiao Water Town is an ancient town located in the Qingpu District of Shanghai. It has good access to Shanghai downtown by metro, bus, and taxi. So it's a popular family destination for the weekend. 

Zhujiajiao is one of the best-preserved water towns in Shanghai. There are unique old bridges, and small rivers, along with restaurants, bars, and coffee shops lining both sides of the streets.

In this town, you can stroll to see the ancient houses, sample some local foods, have a gondola ride on the canal, or relax in a bar.

Recommended Tour: 1-Day Zhujiajiao Water Town Tour from Shanghai

Zhujiajiao Water Town
Zhujiajiao Water Town

3. Wuzhen: Cultural and Elegant

  • Location: Tongxiang City, Zhejiang Province
  • Distance: 80 km from Suzhou and Hangzhou(1.5hrs drive), 140 km from Shanghai(2.5hrs drive)
  • Time Needed: 1 - 2 days
  • Ideal for: Travelers who want to explore the most thorough protection and scientific management water town, with good accommodation
  • Features: The most cultural and most developed water town, black-bricked and gray-tiled houses

Wuzhen Water Town is a charming and elegant ancient town, as well as one of the six famous water towns in the Yangtze River Delta. It is divided into two parts by a river: the East Area and the West Area.

Dongzha has been largely preserved in its original layout. At the same time, Xizha has been reconstructed to offer a comprehensive sightseeing and leisure experience within a traditional 'water town' scenic spot.

You can spot charming stone bridges everywhere, looming above the rivers. The black-bricked and gray-tiled houses present a striking contrast against the white walls, rendering Wuzhen as an exquisite Chinese ink-wash painting.

Recommended Tour:1-Day Wuzhen Water Town Tour from Shanghai 

Wuzhen Ancient Town

4. Nanxun: Well-Preserved Ancient Architecture

  • Location: Huzhou City, Zhenjiang Province
  • Distance: 65 km from Suzhou(1h drive), 90 km from Hangzhou(1.5hrs drive), 100 km from Shanghai(2.2hrs drive)
  • Time Needed: 1 day
  • Ideal For: Architecture lover, history and culture lovers, photographers
  • Features: traditional Chinese and Western architecture

Nanxun Water Town is a charming ancient town featuring a bunch of canals, bridges, and well-preserved ancient buildings. Unlike other ancient towns in the area, the buildings here combine traditional Chinese and Western elements.

Nanxun Ancient Town is not as well-known as the other water towns like Zhouzhuang and Wuzhen. It is the most original and the least commercial water town near Shanghai. You will not see enormous crowds of travelers here.

Recommended Tour: Nanxun Water Town Trip from Shanghai

nanxun ancient town
Nanxun Ancient Town

5. Zhouzhuang: the Most Popular Water Town

  • Location: Kunshan, Suzhou City, Jiangsu Province
  • Distance: 38 km from Suzhou(1h drive), 60 km from Shanghai(1.5hrs drive)
  • Time Needed: 1 - 2 Day
  • Ideal for: Travelers who want to explore the most renowned and best-preserved water town
  • Features: numerous bridges, waterways, the most popular and commercial water town in China

Located on the outskirts of Suzhou, Zhouzhuang Water Town is the most popular and busiest water town in China. It is famous for its well-preserved ancient residential houses and elegant watery views.  

Famous tourist attractions include the Shen House and Zhang House. And don't miss out on a boat trip around the town.

Recommended Tour:1-Day Zhouzhuang Water Town Tour from Shanghai

Zhouzhuang Ancient Town

6. Xitang: Mission Impossible III Filmed Here

  • Location: Jiashan County, Huzhou City, Jiangsu Province
  • Distance: 90 km from Suzhou and Shanghai(1.5hrs drive), 110 km from Hangzhou(2hrs drive)
  • Ideal for: Photographers, Mission Impossible III fans
  • Features: Sheltered waterside streets, Mission Impossible III filming location

Xitang Water Town is a beautiful ancient town in Jiashan County of Zhejiang Province. Its history dates back to the Spring and Autumn period (770 BC-476 BC) 2,000 years ago. The scenery here is just like a painting and the photos you take will all be like paintings, no matter which way your camera points.

Xitang Water Town is divided into eight sections by nine rivers, linked by old-fashioned stone bridges. In this ancient town, there are well-preserved old buildings, cobbled streets, and exquisite stone bridges.

The covered waterside walkways are probably the most well-known scene in this town, which is also the most distinctive feature compared with other water towns. 

Recommended Tour:1-Day Xitang Water Town Tour from Shanghai

xitang water town
Xitang Ancient Town

7. Luzhi: a Beautiful and Quiet Town

  • Location: Suzhou City, Jiangsu Province
  • Distance: 30 km from Suzhou(35 mins drive), 70 km from Shanghai(1.2hrs drive), 170 km from Hangzhou(3hrs drive)
  • Activities: walking, canal rides
  • Features: undiscovered, less crowded

Luzhi Water Town is a well-preserved and beautiful ancient town that has a history of more than 2,000 years. It is a small but lively town full of a cultural atmosphere. Walk along the streets, you can enjoy the natural beauty of the town and capture rural life by the riverside.

Luzhi Ancient Town also features numerous quaint stone bridges, which were built in the Song (960-1279), Yuan (1271-1368), Ming (1368-1644), and Qing (1636-1912) dynasties. There were once more than 70 bridges in this town, 41 of which are well preserved. So Luzhi is known as the “Museum of Chinese bridges”.

8. Mudu: the Birthplace of Wuyue Cultural

  • Location: Suzhou City, Jiangsu Province
  • Distance: 15 km from Suzhou(20 mins drive), 110 km from Shanghai(2hrs drive), 170 km from Hangzhou(3hrs drive drive)
  • Activities: Walking, boating
  • Features: Less crowded

Mudu Ancient Town is an ancient cultural water town quite similar to any water town in Suzhou. It is also the birthplace of Wuyue culture, which is a distinctive regional culture and an organic part of Chinese culture. The main attractions in this town include the Qianlong Emperor's travel palace "Hong yin Resort", Yan's Garden, and Mudu Imperial Dock.

9. Fengjing: an Ancient Town Near Shanghai

  • Location: Jinshan District, Shanghai
  • Distance: 75 km southeast of Shanghai(1.5hrs drive)
  • Activities: Walking, boating
  • Features: Close to Shanghai downtown, less crowded

Located in the southwest of Shanghai, Fengjing Ancient Town is a typical water town dating back to the time of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368). It is one of the eight new views of Shanghai.

In the town, you will see many historic buildings of the Ming and Qing style and numerous ancient stone bridges. This town is also famous for Jinshan Peasants' Painting, which has a great influence at home and abroad due to its unique art style.

fengjing ancient
Fengjing Water Town

10. Jinxi: Nice and Quiet

  • Location: Kunshan City, Jiangsu Province
  • Distance: 20 km from Suzhou(20mins drive), 80 km from Shanghai(1.5hrs drive)
  • Activities: Walking, boating
  • Features: Small but nice and quiet

Jinxi Water Town is located southwest of Kunshan City, Jiangsu Province. It is a lovely ancient town away from the tourist crowds and a nice place to walk around and sink into the old times of China. 

With a history of more than 1,000 years, Jinxi Water Town features a lot of historical sites and traditional buildings that were built in the Ming (1836-1644) and Qing (1644-1912) dynasties. Jinxi is also known as the "Hometown of Chinese Folk Museum". There are 14 museums where you can feast your eyes on collections from ancient times. 

How to Decide Which One to Visit?

Each water town has more than 5 historical sites worth visiting. Not all are included in the tour prices; you would need to pay an extra entrance fee for some Though some water towns such as Zhujiajiao are admission-free, it costs extra for the sites in the town.

Water Town Raking Different Visiting Time Admission Fee Transport from
Tongli 5 Well-preserved, lots to see. 4 hours RMB 100 P.P Shanghai: 1.5h
Suzhou: 45m
Nanxun 5 most affluent town in the past, featuring Chinese and Western architecture. 4 hours RMB 85 P.P Shanghai: 2.2h
Suzhou: 1h
Hangzhou: 1.5h
Zhujiajiao 4

Foodies paradise, near Shanghai

3 hours Free Shanghai: 1.5h
Wuzhen 4 Large, having good accommodation and a beautiful night view 1 or 2 days RMB 150 P.P Shanghai: 2h
Hangzhou: 1.5h
Xitang 4 Mission Impossible III was filmed here 4 hours RMB 95 P.P Shanghai: 1.5h
Suzhou: 1.5h
Hangzhou: 2h
Luzhi 3.5 The wide array of museums and temples 4 hours RMB 78 P.P Shanghai: 1.5h
Suzhou: 35m
Zhouzhuang 3.5 Local wealthy and influential families, very crowded 1 or 2 days RMB 100 P.P Shanghai: 1.5h
Suzhou: 1h
Mudu 3 A collection of private gardens 4 hours Free Shanghai: 2h
Suzhou: 20min
Jinxi 3 many folk-art museums 4 hours RMB 65 P.P Shanghai: 1.5h
Suzhou: 20min
Fengjing 2 old bridges, well-preserved wooden houses, and open-air stage.  4 hours Free Shanghai: 1.5h
Jinze 2 Southern Culture of China 3 hours Free Shanghai: 1.5h
Qibao 1 Little old street with not much to see 1 hour Free Shanghai: 30min

Note: The above information is for your reference only.

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No subway or high-speed train is going directly to the water towns. Feel free to contact us to book a private tour, including a vehicle and an English-speaking guide, for easy access and in-depth understanding.

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