Modern Shanghai isn’t just all skyscrapers and flyovers. The actual municipality covers an astonishing 7,037 sq km (2,717 sq mi), and within that urban sprawl, pockets of Old China endure, and the outlying water town of Zhujiajiao (Zhūjiājiǎo, 朱家角) is the most charming.
Like Yangtze River water towns such as Tongli and Zhouzhuang, Zhujiajiao presents a charming face: willow-lined canals; traditional residences with whitewashed walls, grey slate roofs and classical garden courtyards; calm temples; crooked cobbled lanes and ancient stone bridges spanning waterways plied by flat-bottomed boats.
Zhujiajiao makes for a fantastic day-trip escape from the clamor and clutter of modern Shanghai, and it’s a wonderful window into China’s past.
The town, which was founded over 1,700 years ago, occupies land that archaeological records show has known human settlement for over 5,000 years. It became a regional commercial center during the Song and Yuan dynasties and, as Shanghai grew in later years, was eventually absorbed into the metropolis’ expanding suburbs.
Its impressive architectural heritage includes a number of Ming and Qing dynasty bridges, including the famed Fangsheng Bridge (Fàngshēng Qiáo, 放生桥) near the entrance to town where you’ll find vendors offering you goldfish to release into the water from the high bridge, which dates back to 1571, for good luck. Look for the “Dragon Gate Stone” tablet with its eight dragons coiled around a pearl and the four carved lions standing watch over the bridge.
The Huimin Bridge (Huìmín Qiáo, 惠民桥), also called Lang Bridge (Láng Qiáo, 廊桥), is another unique Zhujiajiao treasure—it’s the town’s only wooden bridge, enclosing pedestrians in slatted walls beneath upturned eaves
You’ll find plenty of byways to wander in Zhujiajiao. The winding primary tourist street, North Street (Běi Dàjiē, 北大街), is lined with Ming and Qing-era dwellings, many of which feature pleasant canal lookouts. While you can also grab a delcious local meal on North Street, be careful; a recent story in Shanghai Daily revealed restaurants with seperate English and Chinese menus with the former having prices as much as 50 percent higher! Bring a pocket phrase book along and confirm you’re not paying a special “foreigner price.”