Although Shanghai is more known as a futuristic concrete jungle rather than a green wonderland, this city of 24 million actually has a lot more open space than one might think. You just have to know where to find it. Public areas are incredibly important here, and parks are places where you’ll not only find families and couples, but also loads of retirees who gather to dance, exercise, play cards, and generally just have a good time. While ebullient throughout the day, showing up in the mornings before 9am will give you a true glimpse into the everyday life of local residents.
Fuxing Park（Fùxīng gōngyuán，复兴公园)
The former French Concession has a plethora of pretty little parks hidden in plain sight, but Fuxing Park is one of the best in the center of the city. Built in 1909 by the French, this pretty spot features rambling pathways, tall trees, and an open lawn where older residents can often be found flying kites, dancing in groups, or playing in bands. There’s also a lovely rose garden in the back that is particularly beautiful come mid-spring. When the weather is fair, pack a picnic and join the neighborhood, it’s an incredibly festive affair.
Luxun Park (Lǔxùn gōngyuán, 鲁迅公园)
For a dose of history with the outdoors, head to the sprawling Luxun Park in Hongkou District. Here, you’ll find the tomb of the writer Luxun, the father of modern Chinese literature. You’ll also find a small memorial hall dedicated to a Korean independence activist, Yun Bong-gil. In 1932, when Shanghai and Korea were under occupation, Yun detonated a bomb in Luxun Park during a birthday ceremony for Emperor Hirohito, killing two Japanese officials and injuring others. The memorial hall was erected by the South Korean and Chinese government in 2003. For lighter distractions, the lovely park is also still a gathering place of artists, calligraphers, and musicians, and you will find them practicing their craft around the park.
Zhongshan Park (Zhōngshān gōngyuán, 中山公园）
When established in 1914, this plot of land was known as Jessfield Park and was the largest park in Shanghai (Luxun Park was second). In 1944, it was renamed in honor of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the father of modern China (whose Chinese name is Zhōngshān, 中山). Today, the sprawling park is still a welcome oasis in the decidedly chaotic concrete jungle that has sprung up around it. You’ll also find kites, a small amusement park, and lots of space to roam.
Jing’an Sculpture Park（Jìng’ān diāosù gōngyuán，静安雕塑公园）
This pretty, family-friendly outdoor area offers exactly what the name might suggest. The 30,000 square meters of land are peppered with statues and sculptures from more than 61 cities, many of which awe from their sheer size and ingenuity. Children and adults alike will love the larger-than-life bulls that recline in the fields, the huge tubas, and more to be discovered around every corner. The Shanghai Natural History Museum is also located right behind the park, and is worth a gander.
Xuhui Riverside Greenspace（Xúhuì bīnjiāng lǜdì， 徐汇滨江绿地）
Located in the South Bund area of Shanghai, this recently opened spot features a promenade down the Huangpu River’s less populated bank. This park is another one where an industrial past meets its green future. During your walk, you’ll come across towering rusted cranes and beached boats, plus a hip climbing wall, skating park and lots of art. Keep an eye out, events like the Shanghai Christmas Market and several music festivals are also held here throughout the year.
Xujiahui Park（Xújiāhuì gōngyuán, 徐家汇公园)
This open space is truly where urban and green space meet. Built on what was formerly a brick factory, the park (which was completed in 2002) still pays homage to the Xuhui District’s industrial past. The architects left a factory chimney sticking out strikingly from the center of the park. The rest is all about the green, though, featuring a little duck pond and man-made stream (modeled after the Huangpu River), as well as a children’s playground, a glass pedestrian overpass, and lots of little tree nooks where one can hideaway for a little while.
Shanghai Botanical Gardens
Boasting more than 80 hectares of land, this is the largest municipal botanical garden in all of China. Set a little farther outside the city center, here you’ll find a riot of flowers, flowering trees and plants of every persuasion. Not surprisingly, spring is the best time to head over there when the cherry trees are in full bloom, along with the tulips, peach trees, and the expansive rose garden. Entrance fee 15 RMB (US$2.25).
Century Park (Shìjì gōngyuán, 世纪公园)
At 140 hectares, Century Park is officially Shanghai’s largest park and is a hot spot to be when the Shanghai weather turns clement. There are a lot of pretty natural elements to the park, including small lakes (where you can row a boat), plus many hidden fields and glades where you can set up with a picnic, a book, and a group of friends. You’ll also find both Chinese-style and Western-style gardens, where the blooms are particularly lovely in the spring and autumn.
Expo Park (Shìbó yuán, 世博园)
Located on the Pudong side of town near the Mercedes Benz Arena, Expo Park is one of the nicest you’ll find within easy access of a metro station. Opened after the Shanghai Expo in 2010, the park incorporates some elements from the past Expo buildings, plus lots of green space and some lotus ponds to soften the landscape. This is also where many of Shanghai’s big music festivals are held, including the famous Shanghai JZ Festival.
Gongqing National Forest Park
When the weather gets hot, it’s time to head out to the cooling canopy that is the Gongqing National Forest Park. While not the absolutely biggest park in the city, there are enough trees here to make an excursion feel like you’re in the countryside. If you’re feeling particularly ambitious, head there early on the weekends and post up next to one of the many grills they have around the facility, so you can enjoy a hot meal in the cool breeze.