Zhouzhuang's historical center is compact and easy to walk around. There are few remarkable buildings and temples marked as tourist attractions but you will get the best just enjoying the picturesque views of houses, bridges and canals ... Thing that indeed might be hard to accomplish in the crowded weekend days and holidays, where I would recommend arriving very early in the day to beat the crowd.
It takes from a couple of hours to half a day to visit the historical center. It is nice to include a boat tour (see my other tip) that for few dollars will take you around the canals, the rest is just walking and enjoying the scene. A night stay might be worth for those ones in a romantic mood.
Access to the historical center is for a fee.
Not sure they can be called "gondolas" but they certainly resemble Venice's gondolas for the long shape and for fact they are piloted with a single oar.
There is no way you can escape a canals tour in a gondola if coming into town and no reason why you want to do it since the experience is quite pleasant indeed.
The tours are organized and managed by local tourism authority and the itinerary and the price are fixed. The departing point is on the tourist path right in the town center and you will have not trouble in finding it. During the cruise the rower will sing you traditional local songs and, if you speak Mandarin Chinese, will tell you about the story of the town. Price per boat for the ~20-30 min tour in August 2009 was 80 RMB (~8 EUR/11 US$) .
I was a kind of surprised in noticing the majority of rowers are women.
The great part about the "preserved" part of Zhouzhuang is that it's gated off to cars. I only went there to visit for a day but I could have easily stayed one or two nights here just walking around and taking in the sites. Most buildings here are easily hundreds of years old--some of them opened to the public for viewing since some are the homes of old famous scholars or poets. It's truly a beautiful place to just take a stroll in.
The best experience I had in Zhouzhuang is to be able to drink some tranditional Chinese wines, rice wine and yellow wine, in a very old style Chinese bar. It matches all my imagines about the acient style bar I have read in those old Chinese novels.
At the south of the Zhouzhuang water town near to the temple area, you can witness a huge bridge across the lake which surrounds the entire town of Zhouzhuang. There is a pavillion where you can take a rest and admire the scenery here.
At the southern end of the water town of Zhouzhuang lies a very beautiful temple with pavillions, lake and huge colourful gardens. You have to visit this place to truely experience the beauty, which is typical of the classical scenery of this part of China which the Chinese people called "Jiang Nan" (which means south of the river i.e. the moghty Yangtze River).
There is a big map of the old town of Zhouzhuang to the left of the lane after you have entered the main entrance. You can also purchase maps from the local shops, but generally the old town is not big and easy to move around.
The night at Zhouzhuang has its own charms, as the town is lighted up with many beautiful red lanterns and the weather is cooler. Many people love to sit outside enjoying tea by the waterways, chit-chatting and catching up with friends. Some shops are still opened at night.
Morning is the best time to experience Zhouzhuang, with its beautiful sunrise, calm waters and people going about their daily lives. The best thing is that the tourists are not here yet, which gives you the opportunity to experience the real town. The tourists would usually pour in around 10 am and leave around 5 pm.
Zhouzhuang will not be complete with its people, who are friendly, laid back and simple. Of course you might argue that tourism is here today, but the people still lead a very simple life in this town.
There are many traditional boats moving on the waterways of Zhouzhuang, which is another of the town's charms. Unfortunately, the boats mainly cater for tourists nowadays, but you can see them in a traditional manner during the early morning when the tourists have not arrived.
Water is the one of the 5 main elements of Zhouzhuang, as it consists of many waterways as the town is surrounded by a lake (like Venice). It was only discovered in the 1984, which sadly resulted in rapid commercialisation.
Do experience a boat trip which brings u around the town. It starts from further south of the Double Bridge on Nan Shijie and drops u near the Zhouzhuang Museum.
It costs RMB60 per boat and can carry maximum 8 people. Try to get other waiting tourists to join u to make up 4 to 6 people so that it is easier to split the cost later.
U can ask the boat man/woman to sing their traditional songs at extra tips (I forgot how much).
Water is the soul of Zhouzhuang and surrounds the whole town. It carries the Gondola-like boats as the mode of transport for the people. It also amplify the beauty of the town with the reflections of the bridges and the architecture.
Zhouzhuang is famous for its bridges. There are 14 stone bridges in all. Among them, Double Bridge is the most famous and make sure u take a closer look at it.
Built between 1573-1619, it is special because it is made up by two bridges: one in the north-south direction and the other east-west; one with a square opening and the other round, and look like a key in ancient times. Thus, it was also called Key Bridge by the folks.
An artist Chen YiFei put it on an oil painting and was exhibited in the gallery which received praises. Since then it gained attention from the world for its beauty.
There are also a few famous bridges like the Fu'an Bridge. In chinese, "Fu" means wealth and "An" means safe and healthy. Make sure u cross this bridge on foot and receive the blessings!
Bet u won't be as "lucky" as me to see it on a rainy day.