There is no shortage of ancient water towns in Shanghai. Tom Cruise even filmed Mission Impossible 3 in Xitang Water Town. But Qibao Water Town (七宝老街), also known as Qibao Ancient Town (七宝古镇), is the real hidden gem in Shanghai. Qibao is Chinese for ‘seven treasures’, and there are different tales of how the town got its name. One theory attributes the name to the steady financial growth of the town, while the other is a folktale about seven mysteriously appearing treasures. Add this ancient town to your Shanghai itinerary and get a glimpse of traditional China.
Pros of Qibao Water Town
You just can’t beat the convenience of getting to Qibao. Located in the Minhang District, it’s only 30 minutes away from Shanghai city center and reachable by Metro.
We had originally planned to visit Xitang Water Town, which is a 2 hour bus ride away from Shanghai. Seeing that the temperature in Shanghai was 45ºC (feeling like 50ºC, no joke) that day, I was in no mood to sit on a bus for a 4 hour return trip. After some quick researching in our hotel lobby, we learned of Qibao. It checks off all of the major elements of a Chinese water town, so I would highly recommend it.
Cons of Qibao Water Town
Spanning only 2-blocks, Qibao is definitely one of the smaller water towns. If you want to see more elaborate towns with a network of alleyways, tree-lined streets, and canal bridges, stick with Xitang Water Town. You could also try these water towns: Zhujiajiao, Nanxun, Tongli, Zhouzhuang, or Wuzhen.
At Qibao, there are only a few old streets, so it can get very crowded on weekends. We visited on a weekday and it was fine.
What to See and Do
The entire area is for pedestrians only. There is no admission fee to enter the town, but RMB 30 will get you admission to attractions and museums. Some of these include the Cricket House, Shadowgraph Museum, Cotton Textile Mill, Old Trades Museum, Museum of the Artist Zhang Chongren and the Pawn Shop Museum.
The two story buildings reflect traditional Chinese architecture and there are stone footbridges over Puhui River.
The old streets are lined with street food.
If your stomach is up for it, try some Qibao Gao (glutinous rice), dried bean curd wrapped in lotus leaves, beggar’s chicken, and smoked toads! There is a Coco Bubble Tea shop, but I found a convenience store and got the China version of Gatorade instead to replenish electrolytes in the damn heat.
In terms of attractions, there is also a temple and tea houses where you can watch boats float down the river. You can take a boat ride from the dock along the canal lasting 20 minutes, at RMB 10 per person. You’ll find some great photo-ops in Qibao, but since my face was melting, my selfies turned out less than Insta-worthy!
How to Get to Qibao Watertown
Qibao is located on Metro Line 9. Get off at Qibao station and take exit 2. Turn right and you’ll see a sign for Qibao Old Street.
We couldn’t read the directional signs in the Metro and ended up taking a less direct exit. This took us on a round-about route to the back entrance where we saw some old buildings. Are we there yet?! The actual main entrance to Qiabao Old Street has a proper welcome sign.
Taking the taxi from Shanghai would set you back about RMB 60.