Zhujiajiao is an ancient water town in Shanghai’s Qingpu District with 1700 years of history. It’s often referred to as Venice of the East.
We traveled there by bus on a field trip with teachers from my daughter’s Mandarin camp who guided us through the various shops, bridges, and street vendors.
Zhujiajiao is one of the best-preserved water towns in the Shanghai area though a rise in tourism has converted the once sleepy water town into one that is more commercialized.
I figure it’s best for me, as someone with limited Mandarin skills, to show you what it’s like in photos. Despite summer heat, I enjoyed the day.
Upon entering, it’s easy to straight away take a boat ride along the canals. The water is indeed green.
My daughter and her friends became immediately distracted by a sugar artist, who is one of the best in China.
Sugar painting is a Chinese folk art believed to have originated during the Ming dynasty. It involves hot, liquid sugar painted into two-dimensional dragons, pandas, fish and other animals that you can then eat.
This sweet treat can be made-to-order or purchased off-the-rack. Sometimes buyers are given the chance to spin a wheel, sort of like a Twister spinner. Where the arrow lands determines which animal the artist makes.
My daughter patiently waited for this panda.
The picturesque 36 stone bridges of various materials were built during Ming and Qing Dynasties. The small rivers throughout allowed the town to grow rice and become an important trading hub.
While many souvenir shops line the river, I was most intrigued by the street food in Zhujiajiao. You will not go hungry here.
Lotus root is a famous Zhujiajiao food. (It was also in a gorgeous flower arrangement at our hotel, Mandarin Oriental, Shanghai.)
Braised pork wrapped in palm tree leaves so that the melt-in-your-mouth meat stays put is one of Zhujiajiao’s most famous street foods.
I love Zongzi (very popular in Zhujiajiao), so we stopped to eat one. This street food has glutinous rice stuffed with filling and steamed in a bamboo leaf.
Salt baked quail eggs are to the left under the salt dome and on the right, I believe are lotus root cakes.
Other vendors offer a seemingly-endless amount of snacks and Chinese candies.
After crossing the famous Fangsheng bridge, you’ll find Starbucks and some other Western options. There is even a King Mango Thai with these massive mango desserts.
Speaking of the Fangsheng bridge, it’s traditionally a place to set fish free as part of a traditional Buddhist ritual of compassion.
So, people sell fish for others to release here. The kids’ teacher insisted they participate in a release, so they did.
About 60,000 people live in Zhujiajiao, and their homes are mixed in amid the many shops, artists and street food vendors.
While the kids speak enough Mandarin to get by and we did have teachers with us, I found nearly every vendor we came into contact with approachable and friendly. Some speak English, but most do not.
The kids were also intrigued by the various paper artists. They also came home with lots of inexpensive trinkets.
It was also fun to sample various types of rice wine.
Tips for Visiting Zhujiajiao Water Town
I would highly suggest studying and printing a map before arrival as the streets are small not labeled at many intersections. With a map in-hand you can also ask people where to go if lost.
We visited in summer and it was very, very hot. You’ll need sunscreen, mosquito spray, and a handheld fan (if it sprays water, even better) if visiting in warm weather.
Plan to spend a half-day here.
How to Get to Zhuijiajiao
Zhujiajiao is within walking distance of Zhujiajiao Station on Line 17 of the Shanghai Metro. Be mindful that if traveling by car or taxi that you’re likely to hit Shanghai traffic during peak hours (or randomly). Our return to the city was longer than anticipated. It took about 90 minutes to arrive and 2.5 hours to return on a summer Saturday.
Those with limited Mandarin skills may want to visit with a guide to learn more about the town’s history and be sure to hit the highlights.
Overall, a visit to Zhujiajiao is one of the best things to do in Shanghai with kids if you’re on a longer trip and have a chance to get outside of the city.
Have you been to Zhujiajiao?