The Six Ancient Chinese Water Towns


Shanghai is a very modern city and to many visitors it doesn’t look like “real China” at all. To get the taste of Chinese antiquity (and tranquility) you don’t have to go far from Shanghai; several picturesque little towns are just a couple of hours away from downtown Shanghai. We will start with the list of the Six Chinese Water Towns and after that add another 2-3 places which did not make the list but most would agree have even more charm than those on the list.

Map of Ancient Water Towns | More detailed Map

Six famous ancient water towns are:

1) Zhouzhuang Water Town (周庄 Zhōu Zhuāng)

Probably the most famous among all water towns, 900 years old, mostly built during Ming and Qing Dynasties, Zhouzhuang is located halfway from Shanghai to Suzhou in Kunshan City, Jiangsu Province. It is easy to get there by bus both from Shanghai and Suzhou: from Suzhou bus leaves from Suzhou North Long-distance Bus Station from 7:05 am to 5:00 pm every 20munites. From Shanghai: There are around 7 buses heading for Zhouzhuang from Shanghai Long-distance Bus Station daily and several more from Shanghai Stadium.

Pictures of Zhouzhuang Water Town taken in December of 2007 can be found here.

2) Tongli Ancient Town (同里 Tóng Lǐ)

Tongli is 80 kilometers away from Shanghai and only 18 kilometers away from Suzhou. There is an express bus from Shanghai to Tongli which departs from Shanghai Stadium at 8 a.m., 9 a.m., 10 a.m. and 11 a.m., the journey takes two hours. Shuttle buses from Suzhou Railway Station or Suzhou bus station will take you to Tongli, in 35-50 minutes.

3) Xitang Ancient Town (西塘 Xī Táng)

Located in the north of Jiashan County in Zhejiang Province Xitang town can be reached by the Shanghai-Xitang special tourist bus which leaves from Shanghai Stadium (?) at 9:00 am on weekends. Alternatively you can take a bus from Shanghai to Jiashan first then continue your journey to Xitang via bus. Jiashan - Xitang buses leave the bus station every 5 minutes. Taxi ride from Jiashan to Xitang would cost around 30RMB.

4) Wuzhen Ancient Town (乌镇 Wū Zhèn)

Wuzhen is located in the north of Zhejiang province, on the Beijing – Hangzhou Grand Canal with rivers and canals crisscrossing the whole town. For hundreds of years its residents have been building houses along the rivers and trading near the bridges.
Access by bus: Shanghai – Wuzhen special-line buses depart from Shanghai Hongkou football stadium on weekends or some major festivals at 8:00 am and Shanghai Stadium at 7:50, 8:45am. Shanghai West bus station also has some bus connections to Wuzhen and the ticket price is 30 yuan/per person. Direct Hangzhou – Wuzhen buses don’t exist; travelers have to transfer at Tongxiang. From Nanxun to Wuzhen: buses from Nanxun to Jiaxing all pass through Wuzhen.

5) Nanxun Ancient Town (南浔 Nán Xún)

Located in Jiashan Hu basin, about 120km west of Shanghai, 65km south of Suzhou and 125km to the north of Hangzhou, Nanxun was one of the “most affluent towns" in China, also called ”the town of wealth” in the Ming and Qing dynasties.
Getting there from Shanghai:take Shanghai - Huzhou bus which passes through Nanxun and have a stopover there. From Tongli to Nanxun: take the Tongli - Wujiang bus which leaves Tongli every few minutes and then transfer to Nanxun at Wujiang bus station.

6) Luzhi Ancient Town (甪直 Lù Zhí)

With the area of only around 1 square kilometer and the history of more than 2,500 years Luzhi ancient town is listed here as the last of the six famous water-towns but it could have been the first on the list too. It is located in Kunshan City, about 25 kilometers away from Suzhou.
There are many buses departing from Suzhou to Luzhi; tourist bus departs from Suzhou railway station for Luzhi daily. Buses from Suzhou to Luzhi depart from Suzhou North bus station every 30 minutes from 6:30am to 6:30pm (ticket price is Y7 per person). Around 10 busses connect Shanghai and Luzhi daily, departing from Shanghai Bus Station (806, Zhongshan Bei Lu). On weekends and major holidays, special tourist buses will operate on the same route (Shanghai Yangpu Sport Center: 7:30am; Hongkou Football Stadium: 8:00am and Shanghai Sport Stadium: 8:30am). There are no direct buses running between Zhouzhuang and Luzhi. Luzhi is about 65 kilometers away from Tongli, travelers can take a tourist bus from Tongli to Luzhi (for about Y12).

Other water towns which don’t belong to the famed Six Ancient Water Towns but are equally beautiful:

Zhujiajiao Water Town (朱家角镇, Zhū Jiā Jiǎo Zhèn)

Zhujiajiao (“Zhu Family Settlement”), 1700 years old, it was famous for clothing and rice business (it was Chinese commercial centre during Song and Yuan dynasties), it is a typical ancient water town in the south of the Yangtze River. Zhujiajiao is located in west Shanghai, about one hour by bus from Shanghai Downtown (buses depart from Shanghai Stadium, People’s Square and Shanghai bus station).
Wikipedia article

Qibao Water Village (七宝古镇,Qī Bǎo Gǔ Zhèn)

Qibao ("seven treasures") ancient water town is located in Minhang District of Shanghai, only 18km southwest of downtown Shanghai, in Yangzi River delta. Qibao was built in the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) and opened for tourists in 2002.
The "old town" (many of the structures are newly built to look old) covers about 2 square kilometers and has the usual narrow alleyways, arched bridges, and canals. Qibao's proximity to downtown Shanghai is both blessing and curse; it can be easily reached, but it is also flooded with tourists.
From downtown Shanghai to Qibao, you can take Tourist Bus A (Y2, 1 hr) from the Shanghai Sightseeing Bus Center at the Shanghai Stadium. Alternatively, take Metro Line 1 to Xinzhuang Station and walk 200 meters to the intersection of Humin Lu and Qixin Lu; take Bus 91 in the Beixinjing direction and get off at Qibao Zhen station. A taxi from downtown Shanghai will cost around Y70. There is no longer an admission fee to the old town, only separate admissions fees (Y5-Y10) at select sights.
Wikitravel article

Shaoxing (绍兴,Shào Xīng)

Shaoxing is a city of over 640,000 people located between Hangzhou and Ningbo, lying to the south of the Yangtze Delta, in the north of the Zhejiang Province. Shaoxing is one of the oldest and most famous historical cities in China (many important scholars were born or lived here such as Yu the Great in ancient China and the famous writer Lu Xun in modern times). Shaoxing was also the seat of the ancient Yue Kingdom during the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC-476 BC). Owing to its long history, this old city reveals less vanity and tinsel than some modern metropolises. What's commonly seen and felt here is a kind of leisurely and peaceful ambience. Several buses are connecting Shaoxing with Shanghai (Hutai Rd, South Long Distance Bus Station, Railway Station – North), Hangzhou, Ningbo and Wenzhou.
Wikipedia article | Wikitravel article

Jinxi Water Town (锦溪, Jǐn Xī)

Another Yangtze River water-town, named after the Jinxi River which zigzags through it from north to south. Jinxi is called the hometown of Chinese folk museums because it initiated the Chinese Ancient Bricks and Tiles Museum and the Antiques Museum of East China, as well as others. The residents live a quiet life and the town seems to be isolated from the stream of time.

Mudu Water Town (木渎, Mù Dú)

Mudu (“timber blocking the river”) surrounded by several mountains, located at the junction of Suzhou and Taihu Lake, in Suzhou’s eastern suburbs. It is noted for its gardens and, similar to Suzhou, several gardens have been restored, maintained and open to the public.
Getting there: Visit Mudu as part of a trip to Suzhou. Go by bus or taxi.

TIP: If you want to see pictures of the places listed on this page you can go to and just copy the name of the place (written in Chinese characters) into the search box in the bottom-left corner of the screen and you will get dozens of pictures of that place.