Add:Zhouzhuang, Kunshan, Jiangsu
The area south of the Yangtze river has traditionally been the most fertile. With a complex of small rivers and gentle weather this part of China flourished in ancient times. Early prosperity gave birth to the building of canals and ancient towns nestled amongst the waterways. The agrarian societies they house have now gone, but the streets, bridges and canals remain as a reminder of the spirit of the past.
These are the watertowns which can be likened to a Chinese Venice. They're unique places to visit and are conveniently located near Shanghai. Though there are several watertowns in the area Zhouzhuang is the biggest of all of these and have been extensively developed by the local tourism industry.
As such the ancient houses, streets and bridges have been well restored and preserved, however be prepared for big crowds and steep prices. Most weekends and holiday periods it's almost impossible to walk through the narrow, ancient streets due to the number of people, and the houses on either side are filled with souvenir shops flogging their wares.
If you can navigate through the crowds however it's a pleasant place to spend an afternoon. In the evening you can also take a boat along the main waterway and watch performances along the banks.
There is also a 'Wansan' museum within the town. The title 'Wansan' is bestowed on most local produce or shops and it comes from a local historical figure. Shen Wansan was a tycoon in the Ming dynasty who started his lucrative career in Zhouzhuang. Legend has it though that he became so rich the emperor became jealous of him leading to the downfall of the Shen family. Now the name 'Wansan' is most associated with the local delicacy - fatty pork leg stewed in soy sauce. Be sure to try it while you're there.
Some tour guides may suggest you visit the nearby Zhouzhuang Paradise and Artist's Village. This is basically an amusement park with a series of art galleries attached with seemingly little relevance to watertowns. Unless you have kids to entertain this area holds little appeal. To the north of Zhouzhuang ancient town there is a holiday housing complex called 'Amorous Village', though nothing special in itself it does have a quiet, unpopulated pier along the lake which is a nice walk.
100 yuan, 60 yuan for boat ride
To get there:
Take a bus from Shanghai Sightseeing Bus Station.
40 yuan return.