Visiting Tongli Water Town makes for a great day trip from Shanghai, China. There are actually a lot of ancient water towns near Shanghai, so it can be hard to narrow it down to which ones to visit. We chose Tongli as it looked incredible, it’s only about two hours from Shanghai, and it’s also close to Suzhou, so we thought we could combine the two in one trip. Tongli turned out to be a great choice as we absolutely loved exploring the ancient streets, canals, gardens and residences. Here we will share the best things to do in Tongli Water Town, how to get to there and all the things you need to know before you visit.
- Tongli Water Town Video (+ Suzhou)
- Why Visit Tongli Water Town?
- How To Get To Tongli Water Town From Shanghai
- How To Get To Tongli From Suzhou
- Tongli Water Town Map
- Entrance Fee + Opening Hours
- Things To Do In Tongli
- What To Eat In Tongli
- How Much Time Do You Need In Tongli?
- What Is The Best Time To Visit?
- Is Tongli Water Town Worth Visiting?
- Should You Visit Tongli Water Town And Suzhou In One Day?
Tongli Water Town Video (+ Suzhou)
Why Visit Tongli Water Town?
Tongli (同里) is an ancient water town built during the Song Dynasty between 960 and 1279, but you will also see the influences and architecture from the Yuan, Qing and Ming Dynasty.
There are six famous ancient towns to the south of the Yangtze River. Tongli is one of them, along with Zhouzhuang, Xitang, Wuzhen, Nanxun and Yongzhi.
So why visit Tongli Water Town? Tongli has more than 1000 years of history. It is made up of seven islands, 12 canals or rivers, and 49 bridges to connect the town. Here you can see beautiful examples of traditional architecture, bridges, homes, gardens and canals. It was also once home to Confucian scholars, government officials, painters and poets.
How To Get To Tongli Water Town From Shanghai
Tongli Water Town makes for a great day trip from Shanghai as it is fairly easy to get to from Shanghai.
Just make your way to Shanghai Railway station from wherever it is you are staying in Shanghai. Then you can take a fast train from Shanghai Railway Station to Suzhou Railway Station (approx. 32 minutes).
Once in Suzhou, you can take metro line 4 from Suzhou Railway Station to Tongli (50 minutes). At Tongli Metro you can buy entrance tickets to Tongli Water Town (near exit 10) and they will point you in the direction of the included bus, which is near exit two (after exiting, walk along the pathway to the left and follow it to the buses), which takes you to the entry of the town. We entered near Yongan Bridge.
The first bus to Tongli Water Town from the Metro Station is at 8 AM, and then every half hour. The last bus to return from Tongli to the metro station is at 5.30 pm.
Alternatively, you can take a public bus 725 from Tongli Metro Station to Tongli. Or you can take a bus directly from Suzhou Railway Station to Tongli Water Town.
This is what our journey looked like:
Metro Line 1: Xujiahui to Shanghai Railway Station (no transfers, 18 minutes)
Bullet Train: Shanghai Railway Station to Suzhou Railway Station (32 minutes) | We took G7002 train
Metro Line 4: Suzhou Railway Station To Tongli (50 minutes)
Bus: Included bus (exit two from the station) to Tongli Water Town entrance (5 – 10 minutes)
How To Get To Tongli Water Town From Suzhou
If you are already in Suzhou, all you need to do is take Metro Line 4 to Tongli, and then buy your tickets in the station and take the included bus at exit two to Tongli Water Town (walk along the pathway to the left and follow it to the buses).
You can also take a bus from Suzhou Railway Station to Tongli Water Town.
Tongli Water Town Map
Tongli Water Town Entrance Fee + Opening Hours
The full price of a Tongli Water Town entrance fee is 100 RMB, which includes entry to 10 scenic spots. If you buy a ticket at Tongli Metro Station (counter labelled Wu Jiang – near exit 10), you also get a bus included from Tongli Metro Station to Tongli (+ return) and 12% off the ticket price. This is what we did, so the ticket price for us was 88 RMB.
We have read that you can visit Tongli Water Town without a ticket from 6 PM to 6 AM, but you will not be able to enter any of the sites.
Tongli Water Town Opening Hours: 7.30 AM to 5.30 PM is the opening hours for most of the sites, although some sites are open after this time. The town itself does not ‘close’.
Things To Do In Tongli Water Town
Tuisi Garden (Retreat And Reflection Garden)
One of the most popular things to do in Tongli Water Town is to wander the beautiful Tuisi Garden, otherwise known as the Retreat and Reflection Garden.
Built in the Qing Dynasty between 1885 and 1887, Tuisi Garden is a classical Chinese garden, similar to those that Suzhou is famous for. The garden was listed as a UNESCO world heritage site in 2001. The garden itself was actually built for a retired government official that was relieved from his duties due to corruption allegations.
Walking through Tuisi Garden is extremely peaceful, even with the other tourists around you. Here you will see beautiful architecture, gardens, bridges and water areas.
Pearl Tower (Pearl Pagoda)
Visiting Pearl Tower (Gushu Yufang) was one of our favourite things to do in Tongli Water Town. Pearl Tower is not actually a tower, but references the love story of Fang Qing and Chen Cui’e in the Wuxi opera ‘Pearl Tower’. This area is filled with gardens, residential areas, canals, bridges, an opera stage and beautiful architecture.
This site is like a large maze, what you see when you first walk in is not what you will end up seeing. Our favourite area was near the back where there is a large canal, bridge, boat and opera stage. It’s absolutely stunning. And as it is so ‘hidden’, there was actually hardly anyone else around and you felt like you had it all to yourself.
Chongben Hall was built in 1912 for a wealthy merchant and is known for its intricate wood carvings, sculptures and architecture. The front entrance to Chongben Hall is near the river and the three bridges.
I loved the feel of Jiayin Hall, otherwise known as the good-for-posterity residence, and this was another highlight of things to see in Tongli Water Town.
Although Jiayin Hall was built in 1922 for Liu Bingnan as a private residence, it was designed in the style of the Ming Dynasty and according to the principles of Fengshui. There is a front hall, middle garden and a rear two-storey building in alignment, with the front entrance at the lane and back entrance at the canal.
Gengle Hall was built in the Ming Dynasty. Here you can see a traditional residence and water garden. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to see Gengle Hall but it looks like it would be beautiful and definitely worthy of making time to see it.
Taihu Water Conservancy Pavillion
This is the official mansion of the Taihu Water Conservancy from 1730 in the Qing Dynasty. The office was located at the front of the mansion and the residence at the back, as well as a garden. When the administration moved in 1736, the building was bought by local scholar Wang Quan. Today it is home to exhibitions for people to learn the history of Taihu Water Conservancy, which was actually really interesting. But it does take time to read and work your way through the exhibition, so if you are short on time this might be one to skip. We enjoyed reading about the history and walking through the residence and small garden area.
The Three Bridges, also given the name ‘Treasure of Bridges’, are three famous bridges in Tongli Water Town that form a natural circular road where the canals meet. These bridges are Taiping bridge (peace and tranquillity bridge), Jili bridge (good luck bridge) and Changqing bridge (lasting celebration bridge) and represent good fortune and happiness. There is a custom to walk over the three bridges during celebrations to bring peace and tranquillity, luck and long life. So we made sure to make our way over the three bridges just in case.
Siben Bridge is the oldest bridge in Tongli Water Town, being built in the Song Dynasty. Other notable bridges include Fuguan Bridge and Pu’an Bridge.
Make sure to explore the different streets and lanes of Tongli as they all a little different to each other. Some are busy, others quiet. Some are breathtakingly beautiful, others full of character.
One of our favourite areas of Tongli Water Town was the part of Fuguan Street along the river near Pearl Tower and Fuguan Bridge. Here it was so peaceful and beautiful, you could really get a sense for why people chose to live here. Fuguan Street also continues around to the most central area of the town near the three bridges. This part of Fuguan street is equally as beautiful but totally different.
Mingqing Street still displays the traditional architectural style from the Ming Dynasty and Qing Dynasty.
Cangchang Lane is a small lane between rivers and is known as ‘one person lane’ as it is so narrow.
What To Eat In Tongli
There are a few tea houses, cafes, restaurants and places to buy snacks in Tongli. As we only spent half a day here, we didn’t stop for a meal, but we did try their famous sock bottom crips. Here are some of the most famous speciality foods to try in Tongli:
- Gorgan – commonly known as water ginseng
- Sock bottom crisp, named so as it is shaped like the bottom of a sock – a thin layered shortbread, with a sweet and salty taste
- Jinbang Zhuangyuan pork shank
- Sweet and glutinous rice dumplings
- Soft, sweet, glutinous Suzhou orange cake
- Delicate and sweet malt cake
- Nongjia grass chicken pot
- Gorgon Fruit cake
- Fermented rice cookie
- Sweet green rice ball
- Zongzi, a traditional food of the dragon boat festival, glutinous rice with fillings wrapped in leaves
- Red bean cake
- Osmanthus sugar lotus root – a seasonal snack only available twice per year.
How Much Time Do You Need In Tongli?
We arrived at Tongli at around 9.10 AM and left around 12.30 pm, so we spent around 3 to 3.5 hours there. Honestly, we saw a lot during our time there but also felt like we needed to rush to get the bus as we were combining Tongli with Suzhou and really wanted to still be able to experience Suzhou too. So I would say another hour or even two would have been great. But we also saw a lot in the time we had.
So how much time do you need in Tongli Water Town? We would recommend anywhere from 3 hours to 5 hours.
What Is The Best Time to Visit?
We visited Tongli around mid-March and this was a beautiful time to go. The weather was crisp but not too cold and the flowers were starting to bloom. Weekends can be busier so perhaps pick a weekday if you can. Spring and Autumn are the most pleasant times to visit however it is a year-round destination. We also would have loved to arrive a little earlier, probably around 8 AM when the first bus goes from Tongli Metro Station to Tongli Water Town.
Is Tongli Water Town Worth Visiting?
We absolutely loved our time in Tongli Water Town. We were concerned it would feel too touristy or fake, and sure, there were quite a few tourists there, but it was still an incredible experience. People still live in the town, and the buildings and gardens you can explore are amazing. We would recommend getting there early, as you get a feel for local life before most of the tourists arrive which was really special. And definitely go into as many sites as you can as they all offer something different. Also, try and explore the streets away from the main areas.
Should You Visit Tongli And Suzhou In One Day?
We actually combined Tongli Water Town and Suzhou into one day trip, which honestly, we probably wouldn’t recommend unless you are really pressed for time. There is just too much to see in both places that we would recommend spending a few nights in Suzhou and visiting Tongli on one of those days. If you are pressed for time, then it is definitely possible, we still had an incredible day. But your day will be very full and you will have to choose the most important things to see in both places, as you will definitely not have time to see everything you may have wanted to.
For more information on visiting Tongli, take a look at the official Tongli site.