Fengjing Ancient Watertown
Fengjing is a town in Jinshan District, Shanghai, around 70 kms from Shanghai. A very well preserved ancient water town, it's main attraction for me is it's 52 ancient bridges, which in typical chinese fashion, are beautifully lit during the evening.
People inhabited the area from around 2,000 years ago, however it did not officially become a town until 1275 AD.
Not as commercialised as some of it's more famous brethren.
Jinze Ancient Watertown
Jinze is located in Qingpu district, Shanghai, around a 60 kms drive from Shanghai. The watertown is over 1,000 years old with the oldest preserved bridges in Shanghai. Supposedly there were 6 temples, 13 archways and 42 bridges" in and around the town, of which 21 old bridges still remain.
Built over the Song, Yuan, Ming and Qing dynasties (960–1911), it led to the saying "Bridges of four dynasties connected by one river". The Puji Bridge and Wan'an Bridge, built in the Southern Song dynasty (1127–1279), are the oldest surviving stone arch bridges in Shanghai.
No hordes of tourists here due to its small size, however in the town centre there are 10 bridges which are lovely, especially at night when they are illuminated.
Wuzhen Ancient Watertown
Wuzhen is the furthest from Shanghai of the 'famous' watertowns, being around 130-150 kms away depending on your starting point, or around a 90-120 mins drive from the city and actually in the province of Zhejiang. Being equidistant to both Hangzhou & Suzhou (80 kms).
The watertown has a history going back 6,000 years ! As a town it is over 1,300 years old and is a national 5A scenic area and rated as one of China's top ten historical & cultural towns. This is likely the largest (and has the most expensive tickets) of any watertown in the region and has 4 distinct areas named to the cardinal points, of which Dongzha & Xizha are the main attractions with Nanzha and Beizha rarely visited by most tourists.
With numerous museums, workshops, a Shadow Play Theatre and Martial Arts Performances on the back of boats, staying overnight, when most tourists have departed, is not only quieter but offers photographers the best light with fewer people.
Qibao Ancient Watertown
Lao (Old) Qibao is the closest 'watertown' (only the very small ancient canal area) from Shanghai being easily reached in 40 mins from downtown, via the metro, Line 9 takes you to within 400m of the entrance.
Qibao (and it was just the canal area back then) is over 1,000 years old and, whilst not comparable to it's more famous and much much larger brethren, for people without enough time to go further afield to visit any of the other watertowns, this will give you a flavour and is really worth an hour of your time (just make sure you come at dusk to see it in both daytime and in the evenings when all the bridges and shops are illuminated).