Zhouzhuang is located in the very east of China and modestly calls itself China’s number one water city. Not far from Shanghai and Suzhou, Zhouzhuang is a popular excursion destination: with its many canals and waterways as well as a pretty little old town, Zhouzhuang (pronounced: chuu-chuang) is definitely worth a visit. The small water town is considered one of the cultural centers of the region and offers not only Chinese tourists but also foreign visitors like me fascinating insights into China’s extensive culture and history.
Zhouzhuang: Back to ancient China
The term China’s number one water city is no coincidence: in 1985, the two now best-known Zhouzhuang bridges adorned the first issue of the United Nations stamp. Shuangqiao (key bridges) is the name given to the two bridges standing at right angles to each other because they look like a Chinese key. Chen Yifei, a Chinese artist, was exhibiting in a gallery in New York at the time, including a painting of the same key bridges. In short, the paintings were a success, the bridges made it onto the stamp, the stamp into the world and Zhouzhuang (and China’s water towns) onto the international stage.
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Hey, I’m Tatiana, a German-Brazilian living in Berlin & the author behind The Happy Jetlagger. I’ve been writing about my travels since 2014. In addition to my job as a flight attendant, this blog is my passion project!
But Zhouzhuang has been around for much longer, of course – just like Suzhou Zhouzhuang can look back on over 2000 years of history. Like the entire region, the city experienced its heyday during the Ming dynasty and some remnants of this can still be admired in the city today.
Boat trip in Zhouzhuang: China’s romantic waterways
Don’t miss out on a boat trip on the numerous small wooden boats that sail along the small canals. The tour starts collectively at a departure point, where tickets are purchased at the same time. A 20-minute trip costs 150 yuan per boat, and up to 6 people can go on it. The trip was a bit short for my taste, but that could also be because it was just too nice to glide through the atmospheric canals on this traditional wooden boat! On request (and a small tip), the boatwomen will also sing classical Chinese folk songs – it doesn’t get much more idyllic than that.
Places of interest in Zhouzhuang: Shen House
One of the main attractions in Zhouzhuang is the Shen House. Shen Wansan was a wealthy businessman who left his mark on Zhouzhuang – and he was so rich that even his descendants benefited from it for a long time. In 1742, they built Shen House – and “house” is a slight understatement! The entrance to the building, inconspicuous from the outside, leads into a complex with over 100(!) rooms that extends over 6 blocks. I could have spent hours wandering through the many detailed rooms and courtyards: The Shen House is an absolute experience, you immediately feel transported back to ancient China.
Would you like to spend the night in a traditional Chinese house? In the middle of the old town of Zhouzhuang, there are great accommodations like this one:
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Quang Fu Temple: relaxation from sightseeing
There is also a huge temple complex in the middle of Zhouzhang. If the narrow streets of the old town have become too narrow and you need some space, you should definitely take a short break around the Buddhist Quang Fu Temple in Zhouzhuang. The temple is located in the huge Nanhu Garden and the grounds are a great contrast to the bustling old town. Zhouzhuang is a popular destination for Chinese tourists – and not without reason, as it is beautiful! It can sometimes get crowded and a little more air is not a bad thing, especially in hot tropical temperatures.
The old town of Zhouzhuang: stroll, store, enjoy
Zhouzhuang is not only steeped in history, the small alleyways are also great for a stroll. There is certainly a lot of tourist kitsch, but for me as a European, everything here is so exotic that I can even enjoy the banal trinkets. The small souvenir stores blend in surprisingly harmoniously with the historic streets, so that I was once again amazed at how well cultural assets are maintained here in the region – despite the hordes of tourists. You can even still find real street life, and the best moments can be captured in the small side streets.
How to get to Zhouzhuang
Visiting Zhouzhang is surprisingly well regulated: Access is limited! There is a huge parking lot for cars and coaches, with a large visitor center where you can also buy tickets. That’s right: Zhouzhang charges admission. What has long been discussed in crowded tourist attractions such as Venice and is now slowly gaining acceptance there at least, is simply done in Zhouzhang. Once again, I was struck by the well thought-out management of tourist flows and sophisticated infrastructure: China is really more organized than you might think in this country!
However, so much organization is probably necessary, as we were advised not to come to Zhouzhuang during Golden Week. Golden Week is the name given to three different weeks in China: The Chinese New Year or Spring Festival (January or February), the week around May 1st (Labor Day Golden Week) and the week around October 1st (National Day Golden Week). Then Zhouzhuang, like many other popular destinations in China, will be bursting at the seams.
Zhouzhang is only about 30 kilometers away from Suzhou, which I also liked very much. But Zhouzhuang is also easily accessible from Shanghai by public transport or with tour operators.
All articles about China:
- Shanghai Tips: First time in China
- Hong Kong: A Typhoon, the Peak Tram and a Skyline
- 5 Tips for Hong Kong in 24 hours
- Suzhou: The most beautiful gardens & what to do in town
- Best Things to do in Zhouzhuang, China
- Mutianyu: From Beijing to the Great Wall of China