Ultimate Guide to Shanghai's Zhujiajiao Water Town

By That's Shanghai, November 22, 2022

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Forget leaving the country, traveling around China now involves negotiating a COVID minefield and a million different rules. So what better time to explore the sights right on our doorstep?

Enter Zhujiajiao 朱家角, a 1,700-year-old water town located in Qingpu District, just 48 kilometers from downtown – the perfect location for a daytrip or weekend getaway.

Here's our ultimate guide to making the most of this historic and cultural gem.

The History

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Zhujiajiao, known as the Venice of Shanghai, is one of the oldest settlements in China, with archaeological findings dating back 5,000 years.

The town was established about 1,700 years ago, developing during the Song (960–1279) and Yuan (1271-1368) dynasties; by the time of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), Zhujiajiao was a thriving market town and trading center for the entire region. 

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

At first, Zhujiajiao became a well-known collecting and distributing center for agricultural products, but, due to its convenient location and natural environment, many merchants gathered here, developing the cloth industry and solidifying the town’s status a major hub south of the Yangtze River.

The Sights

Aside from strolling along the cobblestone alleys and twisting canals, taking in the beautiful and mostly original architecture present in Zhujiajiao, you can also enjoy a leisurely boat ride, visit traditional Chinese gardens, explore a Buddhist temple and get a glimpse into what life used to be like in Shanghai centuries ago.

Fangsheng Bridge 放生桥

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The most iconic spot in all of Zhujiajiao is without a doubt Fangsheng Bridge, at 70 meters the largest, longest and tallest stone arch bridge in all of Shanghai.

After being rebuilt in 1571, and linking the northern and southern parts of Zhujiajiao, it has become the town’s trademark. Eight dragons surrounding a shining pearl are engraved onto the center arch, while four classic stone lions stand in the pillars on both ends.

Admire it from afar before crossing it yourself, since the views of it and the views from it are equally fantastic.

Bei Dajie 北大街

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Known as the 'mile-long street with a thousand shops,' Bei Dajie is one of the best preserved ancient streets in China, with buildings dating back to the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912).

With countless of open-air shops, restaurants and cafés, you can easily spend an afternoon here.

Purchase snacks and gifts for friends, taste local products and pop into any of the restaurants for an enjoyable lunch with a picturesque view of Fangsheng Bridge.

A short stroll of Bei Dajie feels like a journey that takes you back hundreds of years.

Kezhi Garden 课植园

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Kezhi Garden is one of the largest Chinese traditional gardens in southern China that you’ve probably never heard of. It used to be owned by Ma Weiqi, a salt merchant and one of the wealthiest men in Zhujiajiao.

Its name – Ke (meaning to learn) and Zhi (to plant) – is an allegory for the importance of studying and farming to maintain a happy and healthy household. 

As such, the garden itself is composed of two parts: the study area (Ke Garden, 课园) and the farming area (Zhi Garden, 植园).

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For only RMB20, you can enjoy a relaxing stroll through the garden, meditation in the pagoda, and see view of the tallest structure in old Zhujiajiao, a five-story pavilion.  

Yuanjin Monastery 圆津禅院

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The Buddhist Yuanjin Monastery was built in the mid-1300s is located on the northern end of Caohe Jie. Composed of three main buildings, for just RMB10 visitors can explore numerous halls and pavilions. Climb up to the third floor of Qinghua Pavilion for a panoramic view across Zhujiajiao Ancient Town.

While it may be smaller and less glamorous than some of the other similar temples around China, Yunjin Monastery is renowned within the devout Buddhist community for having been visited by literary dignitaries who have left behind works that celebrate their faith.

Chen Yun Memorial 陈云纪念馆

Chen Yun Memorial
Image via Dianping

Built on the former residence of Chinese politician Chen Yun, this memorial commemorates his life and examines the history of Qingpu District. The museum is divided into five sections which serve as a biographical exhibition of Chen's life.

Canal Boat Ride

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What would a visit to Zhujiajiao be without a canal boat ride?

Passes can be purchased at the small wooden ticketing booths found next to Zhujiajiao's major tourist attractions, and you can hop on the gondolas for a canal cruise and observe the 35 plus bridges and ancient architecture of Zhujiajiao.

Each boat seats up to six, and a short ride costs RMB80 for six people, while longer rides are RMB150.

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

You can also enjoy an afternoon tea experience while simultaneously taking a boat ride through the winding canals.

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Image courtesy of Jing Ting

Sip on their choice of tea from around the country, paired with local fruits, cakes, sweet soups, nuts and an assortment of nibbles, all while learning about the history of the buildings and alleyways they pass during the boat ride.

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Image courtesy of Jing Ting

What to Eat

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While Zhujiajiao is located in Shanghai’s Qingpu district, it still retains its own unique culture and regional snacks. From roasted and dried soy beans to 100-year-old pickle shops to some of the most famous zongzi in the entire country, it’s impossible to leave Zhujiajiao hungry. 

Zharou 扎肉

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Walking around Bei Dajie, you will spot massive steaming metal bowls filled to the brim with what appears to be lotus leaf-wrapped pork belly. The lingering smell of sweet, fatty pork will pull you in and have you taking your wallet out before you know it. 

Zharou are chunks of slow-braised pork in a sweet sauce, almost like fatty country-style pork ribs. The sauce is similar to a less sticky, thinner hongshao sauce that seeps in between the layers of meat and fat. Each piece is about RMB3 from street vendors, and RMB6 at sit-down restaurants. 

Zongzi 粽子

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Everyone has heard of zongzi (粽子), the triangle-shaped sticky, glutinous steamed rice dumplings that flood every Chinese city around the Dragon Boat Festival.

Zhujiajiao is no exception, and there are ayis dotting every corner, expertly folding the bamboo leaves together, stuffing them with rice, egg yolk, pork and other goodies, then wrapping them like pros with thin strips of pliable straw. 

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The fat from the meat melts into the rice, creating a thick, gooey texture and hearty flavor throughout. One of these bad boys will set you back only RMB4-6 and will keep you full for hours. 

Dried Soy Beans

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Zhujiajiao is famous for its green soy beans used in many signature dishes. For an on-the-go snack, street food stalls along Bei DaJie sell a dried and roasted version of them for RMB10 a bag (250 grams) in four flavor choices.

Choose from savory spiced, spicy with chilies, sweet with candied orange peel or lightly salted with shaved river bamboo fungus. 

Handalong Pickle Shop

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

Handalong Pickle Shop, located at 287 Bei DaJie, has been selling pickled snacks using a secret recipe for over 100 years.

From sweet or savory pickled ginger (RMB18 per jin) to pickled radishes in a chili dry spice rub (RMB12.5 per jin) to sweet pickled cucumbers (RMB12.5 per jin), the options are endless. 

Served in large apothecary-style jars, you can sample your way down the line, picking your favorites to bring home.

Shun Ji

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Being so close to the water, it’s no surprise that river fish, baby clams and small snails are on every menu of each restaurant that line Zhujiajiao’s canals. But don’t be mistaken, the food at some of these restaurants is significantly better than others. 

For meaty, flash-fried river fish (旁皮鱼), look no further than Shun Ji at 198 Bei Dajie. The small fish are flaky with crispy bones, spicy chilies and freshly chopped scallions – the perfect snack for a cold beer and river view. 

Make sure to order the river clams with Chinese chives (韮菜蚬). The lightly stir-fried crunchy chives are smothered in hundreds of plump, luscious de-shelled baby clams. Order it with rice to soak up all of that umami seafood broth – utter crustacean heaven.

Where to Stay

Jing Ting

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

An upscale homestay-style bed and breakfast, Jing Ting is a restored historical building within easily walkable distance from the thousand-year-old village’s attractions, like Fangsheng Bridge and Kezhi Garden, yet is secluded enough that guests can enjoy a getaway from busy city life.

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Image by Sophie Steiner/That's

The more than 800-square-meter structure is designed in a courtyard pattern, with prevalent wood, brickwork and traditional carvings throughout.

READ MORE: Escape to Jing Ting, a Zhujiajiao Ancient Town Retreat

How to Get There

Zhujiajiao is located less than 50 kilometers from downtown Shanghai.

Metro

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To get there by Metro, take Line 17 towards Oriental Land. Get off at the penultimate stop, Zhujiajiao. This train journey only takes about an hour and 15 minutes and will set you back a mere RMB8. 

Once you arrive at Zhujiajiao station, take exit one across the bridge and down the stairs. From there, it’s a little less than a kilometer walk/Mobike ride to Zhujiajiao ancient town.

Just take a left at Zhuxi Lu, your first right at Xiangningbang Lu, and then a left at Xinfeng Lu, which will lead you straight into the town.

By Bus

Another affordable way to get to Zhujiajiao is taking the Huzhu Express Bus (Hùzhū Gāosù Kuàixià 沪朱高速快线) at the corner of Pu’an Lu and Yan’an Lu (near People's Square), which takes you directly to Zhujiajiao Bus Station in about an hour for RMB12 per person (one-way ticket).

By Didi

The simplest way is to just jump in a Didi. That'll cost you about RMB150.

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