China’s Six Ancient Water Towns

With a history of over 1,000 years, China’s water towns have remained almost unchanged, retaining a genuine atmosphere of antiquity. With their many antique houses and stores still located on the banks of the Yangtze River, these Chinese water towns have become very popular destinations both in China and abroad.


Often referred to as “Venice of the Orient”, Zhouzhuang is the most famous of the six water towns built along the Yellow River. Although it has been around since 1086 AD, it wasn’t until the early 1980s that the town’s tourism industry began to develop.

Elegant Pavilion, Quanfu Temple, Zhouzhuang, Jiangsu, China

In 1984, a Chinese painter put a set of paintings on display, at a gallery in New York. One of these, “Memory of Hometown”, depicted the Double Bridge of Zhouzhuang and was purchased by a certain Armand Hammer, chairman of the board of directors of a large petroleum company. When Hammer visited China, he presented “Memory of Hometown” to Deng Xiaoping, and that’s when tourists started flocking to Zhouzhuang.


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That is why Double Bridge, one of the 14 stone bridges in Zhouzhuang, is the town’s most popular tourist attraction. But many come to this wonderful place to see the traditional Suzhou architecture, whitewashed houses with black-tile roofs and crimson doors and windows, flanking the waterways.



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This particular water town stands out as the most well preserved of the six, with more than 81% of its architecture dating back to ancient times. Wuzhen has been gaining a lot of fame since it was featured on a popular Chinese TV show and has become one of China’s most visited destinations.


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Despite Wuzhen’s popularity, its inhabitants still live a simple life, preserving their ancient traditions and ignoring technological evolution. In this secluded paradise, people still purchase goods from trade boats, right through the windows of their river-bank houses, while blacksmiths, wood-carvers and silkworm breeders practice their crafts just like they did 1,000 years ago.

As recognition of its cultural and architectural value, Wuzhen has been included on the UNESCO World Heritage Site List.



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Located in Jiashan County, Zhejiang Province, the water town of Xitang dates back to the Warring States Period (476 BC – 221 BC). Famous for its covered corridors and large number of lanes and bridges, Xitang features many artistic buildings that can be traced back to the Ming and Qing dynasties.


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The Covered Corridor is Xitang’s most popular attraction, drawing in thousands of tourists from all around the world, with its irresistible charm. Over 1,000 meters-long, the tile-covered corridor of Xitang provides shelter from both the scorching sun and heavy rain, making it possible for tourists to sit back, relax and admire the boats passing on the river.



Divided into seven islands, intersected by 15 canals, Tongli is regarded as a less crowded Zhouzhuang. Featuring 49 arched stone bridges, linking each section of the town, antique waterfront houses and green willows lining the banks, Tongli offers some of the most romantic sights in the world.

A canal sidewalk in Tongli town, Suzhou

Because of its landscape, Tongli managed to survive the wars that destroyed so many amazing settlements in ancient times, and retains many old houses and temples dating back to the Ming dynasty.


Zhujiajiao_17 (Scenery of Zhujiajiao)

Located in west Shanghai, the fan-shaped town of Zhujiajiao is the perfect place to visit when you’ve had enough of the city’s skyscrapers and tumultuous life. With a history of over 1,700 years, Zhujiajiao is one of the most well preserved ancient towns in the Shanghai area.


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There are many beautiful bridges to see in this scenic water town, as well as old buildings from the Ming and Qing dynasties. The most popular attraction in Zhujiajiao is the North Street, a centuries-old street, just one kilometer long, where tourists come to admire the wonders of ancient Chinese architecture.



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Although not as old as the other ancient water towns in China (just over 700 years old), Nanxun has just as much to offer its visitors. Despite having withstood centuries of wars, the old buildings of Nangxun still stand proud, defying the passing of time.


After you’ve paid the fee at the town’s entrance you can opt to stroll around the ancient stone paths or take a boat on the canal. No matter which way you choose to visit the town, you mustn’t miss its many amazing gardens. The Small Lotus Garden, which dates back to the late Qing Dynasty, and the Jiaye Book-Collecting Hall are the most famous gardens of Nanxun.

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