Zhouzhuang Water Town: the Most Famous Ancient Water Town in China
When it comes to water town, Zhouzhuang Water Town should be the first one in many people’s minds. It is renowned as ‘China’s number one water town’ and has been one of the busiest water towns near Shanghai.
Why You Should Visit Zhouzhuang Water Town?
Zhouzhuang is considered one of the most beautiful water towns in the world and is one of China's over 50 UNESCO World Heritage sites.
Zhouzhuang is said to be the most delicate and typical water town in China. Unlike the other 5 and undeveloped minors, which may have a mix of dark/paint falling/modern looking houses and not so nice-looking big rivers or gardens, Zhouzhuang holds exclusively ancient houses, little canals and bridges.
Zhouzhuang is said to be China's oldest among the over 10 water towns near Shanghai. CNN says, ‘Built over 900 years ago during the Ming and Qing Dynasties, the beautiful river town feels like a living museum -- picture whitewashed Chinese houses, quiet canals and arched stone bridges that would fit perfectly in a landscape painting.’
Zhouzhuang, Commercial and Crowded?
If you have read reviews on TripAdvisor, you will see some negative reviews about Zhouzhuang, say it is too commercial and too crowded.
We agree with the points. As China’s number one Water Town and the most famous water town in China, Zhouzhuang is indeed commercialized and crowded.
Still, it is worth a visit if you plan well and have the right expectation.
You should not miss Zhouzhuang Water Village, if…
1. you want to see a typical and beautiful water town. Zhouzhuang Ancient Town might be more crowded than many other water towns, but it is hard to beat regarding waterways and landscapes. The narrow alleys, stone bridges, canals, and boats plying the canals make for a fascinating experience.
2. you want to spend a night in a water town. Zhouzhuang is one of the biggest water towns near Shanghai. It is worth spending one night as it is well developed with a variety of hotels and beautiful night views. You can enjoy the magic of the evening peace when the town lights up with all the crowds gone. Many other small water towns such as Xitang and Nanxun are more suitable to make a half-day trip.
3. you are a shutterbug. Zhouzhuang is an inspiration for a lot of photographers and artists. Experience its interconnected waterways and beautiful landscapes while crossing its 14 stone bridges (they’re also some of the best spots for taking great photos).
4. you are looking for a great stop for your journey between Shanghai and Suzhou. Zhouzhuang is located between Shanghai and Suzhou. You can stop there for a couple of hours.
What You Shouldn’t Miss in Zhouzhuang Water Town?
Nicknamed “the Venice of the East”, Zhouzhuang is featured many bridges and running waters, delicate private gardens, architecture, the cobble and brick laneways, and you will have a commanding view of the beauty of water village.
Besides the landscape, it has a rich culture and history behind its ancient sites. Many of them can date back to over 500 years.
There are lots to see and do there:
- Strolling the narrow alleyways to appreciate the old-style houses along the canals and learning about how people live there;
- Taking a gondola ride along the canal;
- Crossing stone arch bridges. Out of 14 stone bridges, the oldest isFu’an Bridge while the most famous is the Double Bridge. Don’t miss them.
- Visiting two wealthy merchant houses- Shen and Zhuang families. The Qing Dynasty-style Shen House complex is a vast Chinese mansion with more than 100 rooms, as well as elaborate gold carvings, quiet gardens, and ancient furniture.
- Eating local food at a restaurant or sipping a cup of coffee at a café by the canal;
- Stopping by at the Chinese opera house just to see its grand stage or to even view the performance.
How to Avoid Crowds
Even though Zhouzhuang Water Village is crowded at most times of the year, you can still find some ways to avoid some crowds and try to have a better experience.
Visit on Weekdays
Due to it is close to Shanghai and Suzhou, Zhouzhuang is a popular weekend escape for many local people. We recommend you visit on weekdays.
Visit in Low Season
Zhouzhuang is especially crowded in summer and during Chinese holidays and festivals. If you visit in winter or spring and during the school term, there aren’t many tourists.
Most Chinese tour groups make a day trip to Zhouzhuang Water Village. It becomes much quieter at night when the groups are gone.
Find the Quiet Corners
Zhouzhuang is commercial in its main streets which are filled with shops and restaurants. But you can still find some quiet corners in the area of local people live. It can be enjoyable to get off the beaten track and experience the authentic water village.
How to Get from Shanghai, Suzhou to Zhouzhuang? (with map)
From Shanghai to Zhouzhuang Water Town
Zhouzhuang is about 70 kilometers away from Shanghai in the east. There are several ways to get here from Shanghai – bus, taxi, and train, or as part of a tour group.
By Bus:It is the cheapest way to go to Zhouzhuang from Shanghai. It usually takes you 2 hours and costs you around $5-15. There are daily buses from several bus stations:
- Shanghai Tourist Aggregation Center at Shanghai Stadium
- Shanghai Tourist Aggregation Center at Hongkou Football Stadium
- Shanghai South Long Distance Bus South Station
- Shanghai Main Long Distance Bus Station
By Taxi:It is the quickest way to get from Shanghai to Zhouzhuang, which costs $40 - $50 and takes 1 hour.
By Train: There are no direct trains between Shanghai and Zhouzhuang. You can train to Kunshan and take a connecting bus from there, but that's a lot of hassle and takes a while.
Book a Private Transfer:If you are short of time and seeks for a hassle-free journey, the best way to get from Shanghai to Zhouzhuang is to book a private transfer. You will be picked up from your hotel, airport, or any places in Shanghai, and taken to Zhouzhuang directly and transferred back to any places you want to get in Shanghai.
From Suzhou to Zhouzhuang Water Town
Zhouzhuang Water Town is 30 km southeast of Suzhou. It is convenient to get from Suzhou to Zhouzhuang by bus and taxi.
By Bus: There are direct buses departing from Suzhou North Square Bust Station near Suzhou Railway Station and Suzhou North Bus Passenger Terminal and arriving at Zhouzhuang Water Village. Services depart hourly and operate every day. The journey takes approximately 1h. The ticket fare is about $3.
By Taxi:It is convenient to get from Suzhou to Zhouzhuang by taxi. It costs $20 - $25 and takes 35 min.
What’s the Best Way to Visit Zhouzhuang Ancient Town?
About 70km from Shanghai, Zhouzhuang Water Town is considered a famous day trip destination from Shanghai. If you have a stay in Shanghai and would like to find something different, Zhouzhuang can be a great option.
As it is close from Zhouzhuang to Suzhou. It is doable to make a day trip to cover Zhouzhuang and Suzhou as well. A private tour with private car and guide is a guarantee for a smooth and enjoyable tour.
Here are two sample tours for your reference:
Zhouzhuang Water Town Day Tour from Shanghai
- 8:30–10:00: Transfer from Shanghai to Zhouzhuang
- 10:00–12:00: Zhouzhuang Water Town exploration: Zhouzhuang Museum and Mi Pavilion, Zhenfeng Cultural Street, take a boat ride
- 12:00–13:00: Lunch
- 13:00–16:00: Continue to explore in the water village: the Double Bridges and two mansions of Shen and Zhuang families, Nanhu Qiuyue Garden, etc
- 16:00–17:00: Transfer from Zhouzhuang Water Town to Shanghai
Suzhou and Zhouzhuang Water Town Day Tour from Shanghai
- 8:00–9:30: Transfer from Shanghai to Zhouzhuang
- 9:30–11:00: Explore in Zhouzhuang Water Town and see the highlights
- 10:50–12:30: Transfer from Zhouzhuang to Suzhou and have lunch Accommodation in Zhouzhuang
- 13:00–16:00: Sightseeing in Suzhou City: Lingering Garden, Humble Administrator Garden
- 16:00–18:00 Transfer from Suzhou to Shanghai
Worth Staying Overnight in Zhouzhuang?
It is popular to make a day trip to Zhouzhuang Water Town. However, if your time is permitted, werecommend you stay overnightfor its different beauty.
The night views are very different from the day ones. It is beautiful at night with added lighting touches to embrace the beauty of this ancient town.
The tourist buzz is gone, leaving a tranquil and peaceful water village.
Accommodation in Zhouzhuang
There are a variety of accommodation options from international brand hotels such as Pullman to local family inns, in and outside of the water town. The prices range from $20-80 and more for some boutique hotels.
Tips for selecting a hotel/inn:
- You are recommended to have a room with a view of the canals.
- If you want to get a quieter glimpse of life in Zhouzhuang, you can choose to stay outside of the town. There are many options just a couple minutes’ walk to the main gate of the scenic area.
Travel Tips to Help You Enjoy Zhouzhuang Better
1. Automobiles are forbidden in the town. Be sure to wear a pair of comfortable shoes.
2. Keep your tickets safe, because the staff will check your tickets at every attraction.
3. There are many shopping places in the town. Remember to bargain if you want to buy some souvenirs.
4. Do not expect the locals can speak English. Book a tour with an English-speaking guide is helpful if you are not satisfied to take some pictures only.
Ticket and Open Hours
Daytime Ticket:CNY 100 (for entry to the town and seeing 15 scenic spots)
Night Ticket:CNY 80 (for entry after 16:00 and seeing only two scenic spots - Shen House and Zhang House)
Boat ride price for reference:CNY 180 for a daytime cruise; CNY 220 for a night cruise.
A night show called Four Seasons of Zhouzhuang is available with an extra cost CNY 150 (ordinary seat).
Opening Hours:The town is open all day long. The scenic spots inside are open from 8:00 to 16:30, except the Zhang House and Shen House are open for the whole day.
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