Despite its futuristic reputation, Shanghai has a surprising number of parks and green spaces. Some are massive sprawls of urban wilderness, while others are hidden pockets of paradise (and worth seeking out for a bit of solitude). Here are some of Culture Trip’s favourite parks in which to relax and recharge in downtown Shanghai.
Not to be confused with Jing’an Park, located near its namesake temple, Jing’an Sculpture Park wraps around the Shanghai Natural History Museum. Even if you don’t visit the museum, this artful oasis is a destination unto itself worthy of repeat visits. It’s an orderly place where you won’t see people exercising or playing sports. The pristine grass is studded with massive modern sculptures and interspersed with water features and well-tended flower beds that are changed with the seasons. There’s even a quaint café with a patio, where you can relax and contemplate the art (and cuddle a few resident cats) while sipping a cappuccino.
It’s hard to tear yourself away from the jaw-dropping views of the Huangpu River curving along the Bund, with its colonial-era edifices and vertiginous towers. Yet Huangpu Park offers a peaceful triangle of lush lawn and manicured flower beds amid the Bund’s sensory overload. It is China’s first-ever park opened to the public and the city’s oldest. Like most green spaces in Shanghai, it has a list of rules. Back in 1917, the sign’s restrictions included bicycles, dogs and ‘the foreign community’ (but today everyone is welcome).
Named for the gleaming gold temple across the street, this lovely rambling park was once the site of the Bubbling Well Cemetery. It holds a prime position alongside West Nanjing Road’s glam boutiques and multi-level shopping malls. At the centre of Jing’an Park is a tranquil pond with waterlilies and reeds, where you can lie on the wooden boardwalk (security won’t shoo you away) to watch koi and large turtles skim near the surface. If you’re just seeking a shady spot away from all the shopping, there’s always a bench free near the group of Shanghai grandmas dancing under the trees. Cosy up to some strangers and enjoy the action.
Strolling in sprawling Fuxing Park is like taking a trip through Shanghai’s fascinating history. During the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) it was a private garden before the French added Parisian designs and opened it up to the public in 1909. Two decades later, this 92,000-square-metre park was transformed once again – this time into a parade ground where the Japanese military marched. Now, it is once again a slice of paradise, with wisteria draped over iron pergolas, fragrant rose gardens, a sparkling pond and benches behind great swathes of grass where locals lounge and children play.
If you want to skateboard, jog along a soft surface or test your grip on a rock-climbing wall, the Xuhui Riverside Green near the Long Museum is recreation central. Once an industrial area butting up against the Huangpu River in the West Bund district, it’s now an 8.5-km-long strip bordered by grass and plenty of plants. For a more chill experience, simply stroll along the river passing under the area’s massive orange tower cranes, which almost feel like avant-garde art against the distant Pudong skyline.
At a massive 214,200 square meters, Zhongshan Park is an urban living room, amusement park, ornamental garden and recreational space all rolled into one. Yet back when it was first built in 1914, it was an audaciously large private garden that belonged to a local land agent. In 1941, it was rechristened ‘Zhongshan’ in honor of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, whose Chinese name was Sūn Zhōngshān. Now it’s an urban retreat with landmarks like a white marble pavilion, the 20-metre-high Great Stone Bridge and a pond for paddling boats. Nature is on full display, too, with 260 species of plants including fragrant peonies, sweet osmanthus, cherry blossoms and Chinese roses. There’s also a century-old plane tree that was presented to the original owner by an Italian knight. The 8,000-metre Great Lawn is one of the few spots in the city where you can have a picnic or stretch out for an afternoon nap.
Don’t let the iron gate deter you from entering this park that feels like a secret hideaway; if you arrive early enough you might even have it all to yourself. Hengshan Park is small but big on character, with a meadow, flowering trees and few benches hidden on a quiet hillock. Feeling energetic? Get a mini workout on the park’s exercise equipment.
It’s hard to imagine that the 86,000 metres of Xujiahui Park were formerly the Ta Chung Hua Rubber Factory. Today, it is exemplary of urban renewal (designed to replicate Shanghai’s Old Town), encompassing almost a full city block. One of the most outstanding features here is a dramatic 200-metre-long sky bridge, which melds the designed and natural worlds. Framed by fragrant magnolias and towering camphor trees, it’s an ideal vantage point for looking at the expansive scenes below. Black swans cruise along the man-made river, people practise tai chi in front of the red-brick villa that formerly housed Pathé Records, and blooming plants hide behind tidy hedges.
Huashan Greenland is a delightfully diverse urban park that straddles the blurry edges where the former French Concession and Changning neighbourhoods meet. Within its 39,500 square metres, you can find a short running track that undulates past palms and weeping willows, traversing a small brook with large stepping stones. It’s a favourite place for locals to play basketball on the courts near busy Huashan Road, or to huddle under a pavilion for a game of cards. Be sure to check out the southern end of the park, where a wooden boardwalk zigzags through a shaded grove of green bamboo.