Tongli Water Town

Written by Vanessa Zheng Updated Oct. 31, 2023

Tongli, a small but elegant water town in Suzhou, is a short 45-minute drive from downtown Suzhou and only 1.5 hours from Shanghai. Renowned as the "Oriental Venice" for its gondola rides, beautiful water, Gardens, and ancient stone bridges.

It is one of the six famous ancient towns to the south of the Yangtze River, with a hint of old China. You can take 1-2 days to relax in the laid-back atmosphere. 

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.

Tongli Water Town Facts

Tongli water town sunrise
Tongli Water Town Sunrise

Why Visit Tongli Ancient Town

Tongli Water Town is the best choice if you like a small but graceful water town around Shanghai. Most of the buildings in Tongli are situated along the waterways. Walking in the laid-back town, it's not difficult to imagine how life was 100 years ago.

Top 8 Things to Do in Tongli

There are 8 activities you could have a try in Tongli to get the authentic charm of this famous water town.

1. Have a Gondola Ride

Don't miss out on taking a gondola in Tongli Water Town—it's an unforgettable experience. The boat ride typically lasts about 20 minutes.

2. Explore Tuisi Garden

Tuisi Garden
Tuisi Garden

Tuisi Garden was recognized, along with other classical Suzhou gardens, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2001.

Known as the 'Retreat and Reflection Garden,' or simply 'Retreat Garden,' Tuisi Garden rivals the famed gardens of nearby Suzhou. It was established during the Qing Dynasty (1885–1887).

3. Visit the Three Bridges

The 'Peace and Tranquility (Taiping) Bridge', 'Lucky (Jili) Bridge', and 'Lasting Celebration (Changqing) Bridge' form the Three Bridges. Laid in a '品' shape spanning the confluence of three rivers, they form a circular street structure. 

Locals believe Three Bridges are symbols of good luck, making it a tradition to cross them during weddings and birthdays.

4. Explore Lanes and Streets

Many lengthy and narrow lanes can be found in Tongli, most of which are stone-paved.

There are eight major streets in Tongli Ancient Town, and the narrowest area can only accommodate one person at a time. For two people to pass each other, they would need to sidestep.

5. Visit Jiayin Mansion

Built in 1922 during the early years of the Republic of China (1912-1949), Jiayin Mansion remains a testament to the Ming Dynasty style.

With high, white outer walls and inner walls clad with wood paneling and exquisite carvings, it is said to have cost about 20,000 taels of silver.

6. Visit Chongben Hall

Situated next to the famous Three Bridges and directly facing Jiayin Hall across the river, Chongben Hall comprises five compact yet exquisite sections.

Its most appealing aspect is the more than 100 wood carvings it features.

7. Try Tongli Local Snacks

Tongli is renowned for its unique local snacks. Food stalls scattered along the streets offer a variety of delightful local flavors. Don't miss the chance to savor delicacies such as Zhuangyuan Pig Trotter, Wadi Su, and Qianshi Cake.

8. Drink a Tea in Nan Yuan Tea House

Nan Yuan Tea House is a century-old establishment in Tongli with an antique charm.

After a long day of walking and sightseeing, you can unwind on the second floor, sipping tea and listening to Pingtan - a local opera as you take in the scenic view.

How to Get to Tongli

Tongli is in Wujiang District, Suzhou City, just 30 kilometers from downtown Suzhou and 90 kilometers from Shanghai. It provides the perfect day-trip opportunity from either of these bustling cities.

From Suzhou - 30km (about 45 minutes drive)

You can take subway No. 4 from Suzhou downtown to Tongli Station, then catch the Wujiang ART Demonstration Line T1 to Tongli Water Town.

If it's too crowded, consider bus No. 725 from the subway station to Shipailou Station, then walk around 5 minutes to the place.

From Shanghai - 90km (about 1.5 hours' drive)

You could take a high-speed train from Shanghai to Suzhou, then follow the same route as above to reach Tongli.

Travel with China Travel (Recommended)

Should you wish to bypass the hassles of public transportation and complex navigation, a private tour with China Travel would likely be your ideal option. It includes complete sightseeing, meals, and transportation services.

In order to provide a seamless and enjoyable journey to Tongli, we offer you the proficiency of our experienced, English-speaking guides and professional drivers.

From picking you up from your specified spot (be it a hotel, cruise terminal, airport, or train station), to guiding you through the mesmerizing Tongli, and ensuring transportation to your following destination, we take care of every detail.

One of our most popular offerings - 1-Day Private Suzhou and Tongli Water Town Tour from Shanghai 

How to Plan Your Tongli Tour

Tongli Tour Map
Tongli Tour Map

Where to Stay in Tongli

While you can see Tongli in one day, staying overnight allows you to experience the quiet of the ancient town. Being in Tongli in the early morning and late evening after the tourists are gone is a serene experience.

Options for accommodation in the scenic area include resorts, hotels, homestays, and inns to suit any budget. Recommended areas to stay are around Mingqing Street, near Tuisi Garden, or Three Bridges for a range of food, drink, and entertainment options.

Popular Tours with Tongli Water Town

These tours are flexible and can be tailor-made to your tour needs.

Other Ancient Towns around Shanghai

You may get confused about which water town is the best to go to if you are the first time to visit, so we list all the water towns with detailed information for your inspiration:

Also read: Top water towns close to Shanghai, which is better for you?

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