One of the finest of the water towns within easy day-trip range of Shanghai or Suzhou, Zhouzhuang (Zhōuzhuāng, 周庄) boasts a stock of Ming, Qing and even Yuan Dynasty buildings that comprise some 60% of its total architectural heritage. Willow-lined canals flow past houses with whitewashed walls shaded by grey-slated roofs and carved, curving wooden eaves. From the right vantage points, the view isn't all that different from what Marco Polo might have seen on his visits to this part of China.
A small place, Zhouzhuang is worth a leisurely day of strolling over its historic arched bridges like the Twin Bridges, its cobbled lanes, taking a boat tour of the canals (RMB 100 or RMB 150 for the Shen Wansan boat tour) and visiting centuries-old treasures like the merchant villas the Zhang Residence and Shen Residence; Quanfu Buddhist Temple; South Lake Garden (Nán Hú Yuán, 南湖园); and Chengxu Temple. There's also a fine museum featuring examples of traditional regional crafts and fishing implements.
Note that entry to the town, including most attractions, is RMB 100 for the day (or RMB 80 after 4pm). If you plan to spend a couple of days make sure to tell the ticket vendor who will direct you to an office to get a scan. They'll sit you down and take your picture, which will be printed on the ticket for verification the next day.
Zhouzhuang is generally considered a day-trip destination. If you're staying in Shanghai or Suzhou, it's possible to see most things the village has to offer and make it back in a day.
That said, there are still a number of charming places to stay. Most of the hotels in Zhouzhuang are situated along the river and prices range from around RMB 100 to 300 a night.
The town itself can be easily traversed by foot, but getting there can take time and effort.
To and from Zhouzhuang
The easiest way to get to Zhouzhuang for those just spending a few days in Shanghai is to book a tour. Ctrip offers a half-day Zhouzhuang Tour that includes pickup at your hotel and an experienced English-speaking guide. Alternately, you can arrange for a car to take you there and back (expect to pay between RMB 350-500, not including entry fees).
If you're on a budget or a dedicated DIY traveler, Zhouzhuang is only about 90 km (55 mi) via bus from downtown Shanghai. You can catch the public bus to Zhouzhuang at Shanghai Indoor Stadium (RMB 200 roundtrip including the RMB 100 or RMB 80 after 4pm entry fee). Eight buses depart daily between 7:30am and midnight and there are two buses that also depart from Hongkou Football Stadium, one at 8am and the other at 9am (RMB 240 including the entry fee).
You can also take a train from the Shanghai Railway Station to Kunshan (Kūnshān, 昆山) and take the bus from Kunshan to Zhouzhuang. Buses depart about every 12 minutes from the Kunshan Bus Station.
Once you arrive at Zhouzhuang Bus Station, you can take a taxi for about RMB 10 or pedicab for RMB 3 to the heart of town (which costs RMB 100 or RMB 80 after 4pm to enter).
Contact Information: Because the information provided is subject to change, you are strongly urged to confirm the times and schedules listed above before you travel. Useful telephone numbers are as follows (usually information is only provided in Chinese):
Bus center at Shanghai Indoor Stadium (86 21) 6426 5555
Bus center at Hongkou Football Stadium (86 21) 5696 3248
Shanghai Railway Station (86 21) 6317 9090/9510 5123
Shanghai South Railway Station (86 21) 6451 1039
Suzhou Wuzhong Qu Bus Station (86 512) 6525 1088
Suzhou North Bus Station (86 512) 6577 6577
Kunshan Long-distance Bus Station (86 512) 5738 6789
Wansan Pork Shank (Wànsān Tí, 万山猪蹄), a leg of pork braised or steamed for a day in a mix of greens that comes out tender and sweet, is a popular dish that gets its name from famed local Shen Wansan who held large feasts with dishes including the aforementioned. As the town's most famous dish, it can be found at numerous Zhouzhuang restaurants.
Between meals, nut-filled Wansan Cakes (Wànsān Gāo, 万三糕) are a popular snack that's widely available.
Zhouzhuang's traditional handicrafts include bamboo woven articles like baskets and furniture (zhúbiān, 竹编) and bronze pieces ornamented with figures or pictures of flowers and birds (zhuānglú, 庄炉).
Zhouzhuang teapots have a good reputation, featuring particularly vivid relief on the body of the pot.
You can also find Suzhou embroidery and pearls and other Yangtze River specialties. The typical souvenir shops selling paintings and other knicknacks are well represented.
Zhouzhuang's primary attraction is the town itself, and aside from periodic festivals, low-key teahouses and restaurants, there's not a lot going on as it is, after all, a small town on the water. The way to enjoy life in Zhouzhuang is to take a leisurely cruise in a boat, relax in a teahouse alongside a canal and see if you can't find a folk music or opera performance taking place. The Zhouzhuang Museum is worth visiting for a quick impression of the region's fishing culture and the usual arts and crafts can be found around town in various stalls, boutiques and small galleries.
Festivals & Events
Zhouzhuang is home to a number of colorful folk festivals and events, from frequent long boat races held on holidays and to celebrate marriages (teams consisting of some dozen scullers are driven by drums and gongs). Lantern races are also popular, with lantern-bedecked boats presenting a charming spectacle. During the Lantern Festival, held two weeks after the Chinese New Year, poles with "golden lanterns" are erected in Niulang Temple Square. The "lanterns" are actually packed with fireworks and are blown up during a pyrotechnic freakout that lights the town up quite nicely, delighting the crowds and scaring the evil spirits off for another year. Local festivals follow the Chinese lunar calendar, so be sure to check listings for dates and times.