Top choice in Zhejiang

Oddly overlooked by most visitors, this 400m stretch of 100 (or so) wooden row houses, flanking a narrow canal, is Nanxun's most charming spot. The buildings here have distinctive blue-black tiles and white walls, creating striking views. Most houses are still lived in by descendants of workers from Nanxun's Ming dynasty (1368–1644) merchant days when goods would arrive from Suzhou along these waters. Today residents run small tea shops on their waterfront patios (try the local water-chestnut cakes).

Head to the east bank of the canal at the Lotus Bridge (identifiable by the perfect circle shape formed by its reflection in the water) for the largest, most picturesque concentration of houses, where willow trees brush the deep green water. Many of the buildings have decorative eaves to shelter from the rain and retain stylised carvings such as clouds and Guanyin (the goddess of mercy). Red lanterns hang here and are lit up spectacularly at night.

Lonely Planet's must-see attractions

Nearby Zhejiang attractions

1. Nanxun

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This lived-in Southern Song dynasty water town has unique architecture that fuses Chinese and European styles. With fewer visitors than other canal-filled…

2. Liu's Former House

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Nicknamed the red house, this intriguing two-faced structure has a traditional Chinese front house and a back one of red brick. It contains baroque-style…

3. Zhangshiming's Former Residence

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The grandest of Nanxun's wealthy merchant homes looks like a classic Chinese manor, with ornate carvings in wood, stone and brick – until you reach deep…

4. Lesser Lotus Villa

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Nanxun's most famous attraction is this sprawling villa, though its best feature only shines in summer, when the lotus flowers in the courtyard pond…

5. White Lotus Pagoda

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This seven-storey pagoda is a beacon at the far western end of the Xizha scenic zone. You can climb up to the 3rd floor for excellent views over the Grand…

6. Yuelao Temple

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Singles and couples alike come here to win the favour of the god of love (who, interestingly, appears here as an old man) by lighting incense and tying…

7. Xīzhà

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8. Chinese Footbinding Culture Museum

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With plenty of English, this fascinating museum covers the thousand-year history of female foot-binding in China with examples of the shoes that…