Shanghai is a fast-paced city. Find some time to relax, and check out one of these prime reading spots throughout the city from parks to coffee shops – and even a fake Swedish lake.
Once the largest park in Shanghai, Fuxing Park is the quintessential Chinese senior hangout spot. Find sprightly adults dancing their favorite ballroom steps, gambling with cards and mahjong, or writing ephemeral poetry with giant calligraphy brushes and water. Located in the French Concession, Fuxing Park is also a great escape from the city that surrounds it. Here, there is plenty of green space and vegetation to renew your body and soul. Sure, it’s one of the city’s most popular parks, but there is always a quiet spot to sit down and crack open your favorite book.
1984 Book Store
Everyone who has been to 1984 Book Store says that it is Shanghai’s hidden gem. This Chinese art-centric book shop and café named after George Orwell‘s novel of the same name has a lovely courtyard in which to sip a milkshake and check out the spoils of your shopping spree. Inside, you’ll see young couples searching for the perfect vinyl, and outside you’ll find neighborhood cats scratching their backs on the courtyard walls. Bring a book of your own or buy one at the shop, and you have everything you need for a pleasant afternoon.
Old China Hand Reading Room
It’s easy to miss Shaoxing Rd, but the historical street is packed with unique cafés, art galleries, bookstores, and publication houses. Combining the best of what the street has to offer is the Old China Hand Reading Room. This library-cum-café by photographer Deke Erh and historian Tess Johnston is the perfect place to bury your nose in an English book about China, all while enjoying tea and coffee.
One of the only survivors of the infamous 2016 Yongkang Rd. bar street crackdown, Pain Chaud remains a popular but peaceful choice for anyone trying to get some work done or read a book in the morning. Run by the same team behind French student mecca Le Café des Stagiaires, Pain Chaud offers up reasonably priced baked goods, coffee, and other café fare in an atmosphere that will transport you to the streets of Paris.
In Shanghai’s central Zhongshan Park, most people stick to the main pathways, so if you are looking for a nice place to read that book on politics your dad sent you for the holidays, find a nice bench towards the back and you’re likely to see few fellow park-goers the entire time. This is also one of the few parks in the city that allows sitting on the grass, so feel free to bring a picnic blanket and some bubbly and treat yourself right.
Shanghai Library may only be the second largest library in China, but it is the tallest library in the world. Combining public library services with science and technology research books, Shanghai Library is a valuable resource for residents and expats alike. Most tomes are in Chinese, but the fourth floor contains English-language texts as well as an international reading room. Bring your passport to register when you enter, and enjoy hours of uninterrupted reading time.
Once nothing more than an industrial area devoted to airplane manufacture, Shanghai’s West Bund is now the city’s best alternative to the congested historic Bund. In an effort to turn the West Bund into an arts and cultural hub that rivals London’s South Bank, the city government has encouraged the rapid establishment of art museums and galleries along this lively waterfront. Among the picnickers and skateboarders are now the hippest artsy types who come here for the Long Museum, Yuz Museum, and other up and coming creative venues that will turn anyone into an art critic.
Located in the often-overlooked Putuo District is one of the city’s most beautiful parks. Changfeng Park is about more than just green space. Here you’ll find a lake with rentable boats, go-karting, an aquarium, and more. Find a nice spot in the shade along the manmade river and make use of that Kindle you rarely turn on.
The Market is much more than a café. Setting up shop in the site of an old, renovated indoor swimming pool, the Market features terrific coffee shop Cambio, as well as vegetarian restaurant Happy Buddha, crêperie Papito’s Pancakes, and fusion shop Asian Plus. The sunken lounge area makes for a great place to get some work done during the day or to participate in one of the Market’s many private events.
The Bookroom is a library-themed café-cum-hidden speakeasy. With a simple push, the bookcase in the back opens to reveal a craft cocktail lounge open Thursday through Sunday. The café itself is a draw in itself, though. Here you’ll find simple sandwiches, pasta dishes, salads, fresh juices, coffee, and, most importantly, a relatively people-free area in which to finally finish Infinite Jest like you’ve been promising yourself you would for two years.
Meilan Lake, supposedly modeled on Sweden’s Lake Malaren, is part of Shanghai’s “Little Sweden,” one of nine fake European towns in Shanghai that were set up to attract property buyers to move into the suburbs. It is not as impressive as faux-British Thames Town or as quaint as Little Spain, but the area surrounding Meilan Lake is charming in its own way. Among families and couples taking wedding photos are people in rented hammocks and tents enjoying an ice cream and a book by the lake.
The Nameless Park on the corner of Donghu and Huaihai Roads
The little green space on the corner of French Concession streets Donghu and Middle Huaihai can barely get away with calling itself a park. Sneeze and you might miss it, but stumble into it on a whim and find yourself surprised by the relaxation that can be had here. The archways slope into benches often occupied by napping uncles, and dogs play on the grass while owners catch up on the latest gossip. During the winter, there is hardly a person to be sighted in the whole of the “park,” but come summertime, this centrally located spot can get pretty popular. Grab a spot in the morning before they’re all gone!