City Orientation Walk II, Shanghai (Self Guided)

Shanghai's old town is a vast area, once walled off when the city was split between foreign concessions. On this walk, you'll get a chance to appreciate the traditional ancient architecture of Shanghai en route to the large open-air market and delightful Yuyuan gardens, plus explore the trendy Tianzifang district for the exquisite shopping and entertainment the city has to offer!
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City Orientation Walk II Map

Guide Name: City Orientation Walk II
Guide Location: China » Shanghai (See other walking tours in Shanghai)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 10
Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.8 km
Author: emma
Shanghai Town God's Temple

1) Shanghai Town God's Temple (must see)

Any city in China with a sense of history has a temple to their town god always located within the old quarter. Dating back to the Ming era, this Taoist temple merits a visit if you're in the immediate area to visit the Yuyuan Gardens, especially given the scarcity of old-style buildings to see in Shanghai.

Until 1950, it was a center of what is sometimes called "popular Taoism" which was quite removed from the philosophical Taoism of the Tao Te Ching. However, the new communist government was unsympathetic to any form of Taoism, and changes were promptly made by removing statues that allegedly supported superstition.

Apparently, that still wasn't enough of a reformation, and during the Cultural Revolution, the temple was converted to secular use, the main hall having been used as a jewelry shop for many years. With the return of traditional Chinese culture to political respectability, the temple was put back into the hands of Taoist priests and was reconsecrated in 2006.

It has a medium-size main courtyard in front of the main entrance and from it there are a number of halls including the Huo Guang Hall on the north side, where you can see the large statue of Huo Guang himself, the very first of the three Shanghai City Gods. Going round the back of this hall one can see a short corridor leading to the hall of Qin Yu-Bo, the second of the City Gods. Around that are additional small halls for the Gods of Wealth, Literature, and Knowledge, among others. Other gods can be seen in the other halls around the main courtyard.

Then, of course, the large "festive area" in the temple's vicinity is perhaps the best place for souvenir shopping in all of Shanghai, with everything from postcards to key-chains to handicrafts to clothing – and, yes, there are plenty of shops to choose from, but also some big beautiful buildings built in traditional styles from centuries ago with food courts and restaurants inside each of them, so you have plenty to choose from for local dishes as well.

At night the various old-style buildings are decorated with lights and are great for photos, but even in daytime one can get some memorable pictures of old Chinese architecture in the foreground with the Bund's high-rises in the distance – the contrast is quite interesting indeed!

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8:30am-4pm
Antiques Market of Shanghai Old Town

2) Antiques Market of Shanghai Old Town

Located in the basement of the Huabao building in the main Yu Garden Shopping Complex, this is Shanghai's largest indoor antique market, housing a labyrinth of over 200 established antique dealers selling all kinds of merchandise and curiosities from days gone by. The stalls are filled with embroidered silk jackets and dressing gowns, freshwater pearls, ceramic tea sets, imitations of Cultural Revolution posters, wooden fans and painted scrolls.

Even before 1949 and the Cultural Revolution, this antique bazaar was a holiday market that sold folk antiques and handicrafts. Today, with such a wide variety of goods, it attracts tens of thousands of tourists on a daily basis.

Beware – you will definitely have to bring out your bargaining skills here! Whatever price the dealers initially tell you, try to bargain for at least 40% less.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-5:30pm
Yuyuan Bazaar

3) Yuyuan Bazaar (must see)

Located just outside the famous Yuyuan Gardens, this busy shopping area packed with locals and tourists offers a real look at Shanghai life. Although many items are sold here, visitors will be unanimously intrigued by the countless food vendors that appear to be in competition with each other, most of which specialize in dumplings of every imaginable filling; they even have dumplings filled with soup and served with a straw. The Nanxiang Shanghai steamed buns are pretty good on a chilly day, and there's a long but well-organized queue for them in the center courtyard.

On the whole, this bold bazaar with new Ming-style buildings is a cacophony of shops, street performers, sedan-chair rides and people everywhere. It covers an area of over 50 hectares with about 3,000 shops and nearly 10,000 vendors selling second-hand goods in addition to antiques and handicrafts. There are some fine gift-giving ideas in the souvenir shops, from painted snuff bottles to delightful Chinese kites, embroidered paintings and clever palm-and-finger paintings.

As with any shopping in Asia, visitors can use their negotiating skills to get the best possible price. It helps, of course, if they do their homework on the general products and prices before buying, but a good trick is to look for locals, particularly women, coming in and out of a shop; they know where the best deals are and you will notice a price drop.

Why You Should Visit:
No matter how commercialized, this is still a pretty sight to behold. Only in China!

Besides the huge bazaar that no one can miss, there are a few buildings with a variety of items at both wholesale and retail rates, located behind the Yuyan Gardens on Fuyou Street. If you're looking to escape the crowds and get a fascinating insight into where the locals go for their household items, check out the Fuyou Street Merchandise Mart – similar to WalMart, but in a fraction of the space WalMart actually operates in. Bargaining there is recommended, but the prices aren’t high to begin with; just perfect for those on a budget.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am-10pm
Yuyuan Garden

4) Yuyuan Garden (must see)

Yuyuan Garden was built 400 years ago during the Ming Dynasty by Pan Yunduan, the son of a high ranking official for the recreation of his aging parents. Yuyuan means happy and Pan spent 20 years creating a space for the happiness of his parents.

Yuyuan Garden fell into disrepair after the decline of Pan’s family and was purchased by rich merchants in 1760. The garden was restored to its former glory but suffered damage again during the Opium Wars. In 1956, repairs and restorations were undertaken and it was opened again to the public in 1961.

The garden covers an extent of five acres. It has the oldest and largest rockery in China and three halls, the Cuixiu Hall, the Sansui Hall, and the Dianchun Hall. Other buildings include the Yule Pavilion and the Wanhua Chamber. Visitors can view Ming-dynasty-style rosewood furniture in the halls. A 400-year-old maidenhair tree planted by Pan stands in front of the Wanhua Chamber. The highlight is a large rock called the jade rock. It is a 3.3-meter high rock with 72 holes positioned in such a way that water or smoke sent into one of the holes comes out through all the holes at the same time. The Yuyuan Garden has pavilions, corridors, bridges, streams and a courtyard to make it a calm and relaxing sanctuary within a busy section of the city.

Why You Should Visit:
A terrific initial exposure for those unfamiliar with a Chinese garden, with its elegant structures, hidden bat and dragon features, and huge rockery.
There is less emphasis placed on flora with, rather, more emphasis placed on flow, water, and the harmony of elements.

Go early, as closer to the opening hours as possible, to minimize crowds. Later in the day, the lines get very long!
Do take a bottle of water with you, but if not you will find a tea house in the middle of the gardens.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8:45am-4:15pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
Shanghai Confucian Temple

5) Shanghai Confucian Temple (must see)

This ancient temple is a must-see for visitors to Shanghai, giving a small window into the Chinese championing of learning. It's the main temple in Shanghai dedicated to the famous Chinese philosopher, first founded during the Yuan Dynasty, when once a small fishing village, Shanghai was elevated to the status of a county seat. With time, it became the country's most prestigious learning institution with a combination of temple and school.

The complex is well-tended and much larger than anticipated just from the view at the entrance. There are usually few visitors, but quite a number of nicely preserved buildings here, as well as the beautiful Sky and Cloud Reflection pond.

You can visit several rooms containing statues of Confucius and ancient copies of the most famous Confucian texts. An appealing atmosphere of scholarly introspection infuses the complex – students wishing for good exam results or for admission to the college of their dreams tie red ribbons to branches of pine trees, and there’s a statue of Confucius himself looking mighty professorial.

The main building of the Temple is Dacheng Hall, which you see in front of you as you enter the temple grounds. To the right is a huge bell, the Dacheng Bell, weighing some 1500 kg. It is said that the sound of this bell is loud and clear and that when sounded the reverberations last for three minutes.

Going into the hall, there is a golden, seated statue of Confucius, flanked by the statues of his two most outstanding students, Yan Hui and Zeng Shen.

The temple also houses a collection of ceramics and a tea house, where it's nice to attend a tea ceremony and perhaps enjoy some kinds of tea for free.

In its northeastern part, the temple hosts a book fair in the tradition of book houses that thrived during the reign of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Every Sunday, book traders come to buy, sell and exchange old and rare books at the venue, which makes for some fun browsing.

The surrounding area is full of toy stores, school items, anime and manga, for there are several schools and kindergartens nearby. A beautiful and traditional area, where you can also enjoy authentic food at very good prices. The temple stands not far from the famously modern Xintiandi area.

The Sunday book market has to be visited as it is something different in Shanghai, but beware that it opens at 8am and closes early around 3-4pm.
If you want full access then pay 10RMB; otherwise, you can just go to the book market inside the inner courtyard. 10RMB lets you into the temple as well as the other courtyards.
Go towards the temple and the guards will ask for your tickets. Most people think they cannot go up, but that's what your ticket covers for.

Temple Opening Hours:
Daily: 8:30am-4:30pm
Fazangjiang Temple

6) Fazangjiang Temple

Fazangjiang is one of the four most important Buddhist temples in Shanghai along with the Jade Buddha, Jing'an, and Longhua. Its unique architecture would make it a top destination in the Old Town, but curiously enough it does not advertise itself and without stepping through the doors, tourists would never know that it is there and even some Shanghainese are not aware of its existence. Along the city street, it appears as just another gated entrance into a neighborhood. Going past the wall, the feeling inside is quiet, even with people praying and burning incense.

The temple was built in 1924 and like the far more advertised Jing’an, it too was used as a factory during the Cultural Revolution and then restored. Some parts of the structure have been designed with unique Art Deco motifs, and adding to the uniqueness is the location of the main hall inside a tower-like structure. A large modern statue of the Sakyamuni, also known as Gautama Buddha, is now found in the hall sitting on top of a lily. There are also two gilded walls with images of "arhats" or so-called "perfected persons" who have attained nirvana. Other walls have golden sculptures of the Buddhist trinity, and there is a small shrine dedicated to Dizang Wang, the Chinese God of the Underworld from Buddhist mythology. The swastika, the ancient Buddhist symbol meaning “all” or “eternity”, can be seen on many prayer ribbons hanging around.

Much to its merit, Fazangjiang has kept its historical identity intact and is a welcome oasis within the hustle a bustle of a very busy city. No ticket is required here, but the serene atmosphere and friendly local crowd make it a fine place to get a sense of Chinese Buddhism today.

Please note that there are two doors at number 271. The one on the left leads into a small vegetarian restaurant, but has a back door to the temple, while the one on the right leads directly into the temple complex.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 7:30am-4pm
Birthplace of Chinese Communist Party

7) Birthplace of Chinese Communist Party

July 23, 1921 was the day on which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) was founded, but few people know that this "birth" actually took place in Shanghai's metropolis. It was here, at No. 106, that the CCP held its First National Congress, thus chartering the course of what later became the People’s Republic of China while transforming this unassuming shíkùmén block into one of Chinese communism’s holiest shrines.

Although there are elements of propaganda over it, it is still a good place to learn a bit about the events in 1921. There's a little exhibition hall housing some rather curious artifacts and pictures from back then, combined with exhibits related to broader Chinese history and Shanghai history in particular. In addition, one can see a waxwork diorama of young Mao Zedong and his fellow delegates. As it seems, the curators have done their best with the number of displays given the building's reduced size.

Visitors have to get a ticket to get in, but the tickets are free and easy to obtain from the building next door to the entrance. If possible, try to avoid being around the Chinese guided groups, as the space would immediately get really crowded.

Overall, there's a fascinating contrast between this 'shrine' to Chinese Communism and the hum of the Starbucks right around the corner, jam-packed full of locals guzzling their chai lattes and using the free Wi-Fi – and a visit here is worthwhile just to see this juxtaposition of old and new, communism and capitalism...
Shikumen Open House Museum

8) Shikumen Open House Museum

The Shikumen Open House Museum recreates the interior of an authentic "stone-gate" house in Shanghai when the city was known as the Paris of the East. Its carefully restored two storys are fascinating to wander around, skillfully evoking the life of early 20th-century Chinese gentility before the communist era.

The “shikumen” style of house was the typical residence of middle class households in the 1920s and '30s unique to the city of Shanghai. At the time there were nearly 9000 shikumen houses with most of Shanghai's elderly residents having been born in them.

The house has eight well appointed exhibition rooms stretched over three floors: the living room, the study room, the master bedroom, the daughter's room, the son's room, the kitchen, the grandparent's room and the prayer room, each containing pertinent everyday objects of the era: from children's books and toys, to typewriters, kitchenware, furniture, toiletries and the like. A top-floor display details how the surrounding Xintiandi neighborhood came about, admitting that most of it was built from scratch.

Paved and pedestrianized, with old alleys opening out onto a central plaza, Xintiandi is a great place to wind down or linger over a coffee after your visit, with upscale restaurants and shops and plenty of outside seating for people watching.

Opening Hours:
Sun-Thu: 10:30am-10:30pm; Fri, Sat: 11am-11pm
St. Peter Catholic Church

9) St. Peter Catholic Church

The St. Peters Catholic Church is located in the French Concession of Shanghai. Foreign residents of the city worship at the church and masses are celebrated in Chinese, English, German, Korean and French.

The St. Peters Catholic Church was built by the French Jesuits for the students of the Aurora University. The university was founded by a Chinese Jesuit priest, Fr. Ma Xiangbo and members of the Society of Jesus from France. The University remained a Jesuit institution till the Chinese revolution. After the Cultural Revolution, the Jesuits were driven out and the building became a culture center. Recently, the old building was demolished and a modern church was built in 1995 to house the congregation.

The original church was built in Byzantine architectural style. It had a central dome and five chapels. Religious ceremonies in a small part of the old building were revived in 1984. The Culture Centre relocated and returned the church to the diocese. The new structure has two floors. The church is on the second floor and chapels are on the ground floor. St. Peters Catholic Church remains one of the principal places of worship for catholic expatriates in Shanghai.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Tianzifang District

10) Tianzifang District

Tianzifang or Tianzi Fang is a touristic arts and crafts enclave that has developed from a renovated traditional residential area in the French Concession area of Shanghai. The district comprises a neighborhood of labyrinthine alleyways and an example of preservation of local Shikumen architecture. Tianzifang has become a major tourist attraction and has more than 200 diverse small businesses such as cafes, bars, restaurants, art galleries, craft stores, design houses and studios, and even French bistros.
Sight description based on wikipedia

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Taking Care of Your Feet

To ensure ultimate satisfaction from a day of walking around the city as big as Shanghai, it is imperative to take good care of your feet so as to avoid unpleasant things like blisters, cold or overheated soles, itchy, irritated or otherwise damaged (cracked) skin, etc. Luckily, these days there is no shortage of remedies to address (and, ideally, to prevent) these and other potential problems with feet. Among them: Compression Socks, Rechargeable Battery-Powered Thermo Socks for Cold Weather, Foot Repair Cream, Deodorant Powder, Shoes UV Sterilizer, and many more that you may wish to find a place in your travel kit for.

Travel Gadgets for Your Mobile Device

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