Discover Shanghai’s urban sanctuaries
The locals of the Chinese megacity know where to find a peaceful escape from the urban bustle.
In a city where bigger always seems to mean better, it’s easy to get carried away by the glamour of the mega malls and glitzy nightclubs. But beyond the neon lights and skyscrapers, the city’s softer underbelly beckons to those looking for quiet time in serene surroundings.
“Even if Shanghai is a fast-paced city, there are cosy spaces everywhere,” says Kari Hakala, author of a guidebook on Shanghai co-written with journalist Oskar Helling targeted especially at Finnish travellers.
While the former French Concession and Jing An areas are excellent places to find cute shops and cafés, Shanghai’s building boom has also spared a great number of parks, and it’s surprisingly easy to find small spaces of lush greenery tucked away in the middle of the concrete jungle.
“These parks are an antidote to the stress of life in the metropolis and they give locals a chance to pause and reconnect with nature,” says Hakala.
Parks are also an important social hub where people gather for tai chi, mah jong, or dance classes.
Some of Shanghai’s best urban hideouts can be found in the most unlikely settings. A surprising example is Rose Garden. Nothing about the exterior suggests that the backyard of the GR Furniture home interiors store in the former French Concession is a jungle-like garden that doubles as the shop’s café. Overgrown and tangled, with spindly tables and old greenhouses, this green space has a disarming shabbiness that contrasts pleasantly with the urban grandeur beyond its walls.
Rose Garden, 405 Julu Lu
The past few years have seen a definite rise in interest towards healthy lifestyles and clean foods. Spearheaded by a couple of ex-pat brands, the health boom has enjoyed celebrity endorsement, and today the city is brimming with options for superfood snacks and vegetarian fare. One of the first mainstream venues for organic food is Green and Safe, a two-storey food hall and café housed in a modern loft-style industrial space in the former French Concession area. Particularly popular for its high-end organic supermarket, salad bar, and pizzas, the eatery also offers some of the city’s most impressive pancake portions.
Green and Safe, 6 Dongping Lu
Tea plays a starring role in Chinese history, but for Shanghai’s tourists, teahouses carry rather a dubious reputation due to notorious “teahouse scams” that leave gullible travellers considerably lighter on cash. But this should not discourage anyone from seeking a more authentic experience of the age-old ritual. One place to find it is in the former French Concession area, in the backyard of Urban Tribe, a boutique selling design apparel and ceramics. Boasting an impressive tea menu, the tea comes with a selection of healthy snacks in a peaceful garden shaded from the sun.
Urban Tribe, 133 Fuxing Xi Lu
Text and photos Amanda Soila