How to Visit Tongli Water Town
Known as the Venice of the East, Tongli is a beautiful ancient water town with bridges, oriental gardens, and interesting halls. Spend a day admiring the traditional architecture in Tongli and the 49 stone bridges connecting the town. Tongli is a great getaway from Shanghai. Getting to Tongli from Shanghai is not easy, but this guide will help you make it a little less difficult. The whole trip will take you about 2.5-3 hours each way including waiting time for the trains. If you have an extra day in Shanghai you should visit Tongli, but spending more time in Shanghai should be your priority. The water town has a lot of similarities to the old town in Shanghai especially Yuyuan Garden. Getting to Tongli from Suzhou is a lot easier and only takes about one hour. If you are determined to see this ancient water town, follow this guide for how to get to Tongli, what to do there, and tips for visiting.
How Do You Get to Tongli From Shanghai?
Estimate about 2.5-3 hours to get to Tongli from Shanghai, including waiting time for the trains.
- Take the metro to Shanghai Railway Station which can be reached by line 3 or 4.
- Take the high-speed train from Shanghai Railway Station to Suzhou Railway Station (about 30 minutes). Buy your ticket at the ticket counter as the machines here are only in Chinese. Make sure you have Suzhou written in Chinese because the ticket agents often don’t speak English. You must show your passport to purchase a high-speed rail ticket.
- When you reach Suzhou Railway Station, follow signs for the metro. Take the metro line 4 to Tongli which will be the final stop. The metro ride will take about 50 minutes.
- Make sure you have Tongli Water Town written in Chinese (you can ask your hotel to write this for you). This will be helpful incase you have trouble finding the correct bus to the ancient water town when you arrive at Tongli metro station. Exit the Tongli metro station from exit number 10, take a left and continue walking until you see tourist busses. Before you get on the tourist bus to Tongli Water Town you can purchase your ticket for the ancient town at a table next to the tourist bus.
Note: To get back to the metro station you have two options. The first option is you can find the bus that goes to the metro station if you are able to understand where the bus will pickup. The second option is to get a taxi and show them the metro map with Tongli station in Chinese. From there take the metro back to Suzhou station, and purchase a ticket back to Shanghai Railway Station, the same way you came. Try to leave before rush hour (5-7 PM) as there can be long lines at the ticket counter.
How Do You Get to Tongli From Suzhou?
Getting to Tongli from Suzhou is a lot faster and easier than from Shanghai. From Suzhou Railway Station, take metro line 4 to Tongli station (about 50 minutes). Exit the Tongli metro station from exit number 10, take a left and continue walking until you see tourist busses. Before you get on the tourist bus to Tongli Water Town you can purchase your ticket for the ancient town at a table next to the tourist bus. Make sure you have Tongli Water Town written in Chinese so you can find the correct bus (you can ask your hotel to write this for you).
How Much Time Do You Need in Tongli?
You could spend 3-5 hours in Tongli depending on how long you spend taking pictures and if you visit every attraction, eat food, or ride a boat. I recommend visiting Tongli as a day trip from Shanghai or Suzhou.
Food in Tongli
There are many local street food options as well as western cafes offering English menus on the main streets.
Tips for Visiting Tongli
- You will most likely not find anyone in Tongli that speaks English. Make sure you have Google Translate Chinese downloaded in case you need to ask someone a question. For more tips for visiting China, take a look at our guide for important things to know for your visit to China.
- Ask your hotel to write Tongli Water Town, Suzhou, and Shanghai in Chinese for you so that you can show it to people to purchase tickets and if you get lost or have questions.
- Make your way to Tongli early so you have enough time to enjoy the water town. Try to leave Shanghai by 7 AM.
- If you want to visit the attractions in the water town, you will need to purchase a ticket for 100 RMB. You must show your ticket at each attraction (gardens, halls).
Top Things To Do in Tongli
1. Walk around the ancient water town and take time to enjoy the gardens, halls, and bridges. Two of the most popular halls are Chongben and Jiayin Halls.
2. Relax in Tuisi Garden, a World Heritage Garden built during the Qing Dynasty.
3. Take a nice boat ride on the river through the ancient water town.
4. Sit at a cafe and drink tea or try local food if you are up for the challenge.
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