By Geoff Ng
If you’re looking for a green refuge from Shanghai’s concrete jungle, there are plenty of parks to recharge your batteries in. Xujiahui Park is a favorite among those working, shopping or strolling in the former French Concession. It’s home to the usual assortment of badminton players and kite-flyers, and the park’s sky bridge lights up at night. Go for a stroll before dining at the upscale La Villa Rouge restaurant. Xiangyang Park, another quiet retreat in the area, is popular among locals, who seem to loiter there at all hours. They exercise in the mornings, practice calligraphy by day and ballroom dance at night. Perfect for a quick escape from the urban sprawl. Across from Jing’an Temple is Jing'an Park, a wedge of greenery where you can briefly lose yourself after grabbing a quick coffee from one of the neighboring cafés. Also in the area is the recently finished Jing'an Sculpture Park. And, of course, those in Hongqiao looking for a quiet retreat gather at the Shanghai Sculpture Space at Redtown. Don’t despair if you’re on the “other” side of the Huangpu. Pudong-dwellers have the rolling expanse at the Lujiazui Central Green at the base of the Jin Mao Tower. Paths branch out from the park’s Pudong-shaped lake outlining a magnolia (the city flower). It’s a favorite spot for wedding photos. Listen quietly and you may even hear the new age music emanating from speakers buried in the ground.
If you’re looking to get the blood flowing, Shanghai has plenty of bigger parks where you are actually allowed to step on the grass. Zhongshan Park and Century Park (both stops on Metro Line 2) top this list. Both have massive stretches of green space that fill quickly with children and kite-flyers on weekends. Century Park (RMB10) has world-class soccer pitches and a set of tennis courts. It’s also the only place to go if you want to ride a paddle boat, tandem bike and hot air balloon all on the same day. Zhongshan Park distinguishes itself with weekly capoeira sessions and the kid favorite Fundazzle amusement park. Lesser known Quyang and Changfeng Parks (near the main campus of East China Normal University) not only have placid lakes and boat rental, but also excellent go-kart tracks. Finally, there’s Gongqing Forest Park (RMB15), by far the city’s biggest urban oasis. It’s often overlooked because of its far-flung location (take Metro Line 8 to Shiguang Lu, from there it’s a quick cab ride or a 10-15 minute walk east along Shiguang Lu), but you’ll have your hands full when you get there–there’s a roller coaster, a rock climbing wall, horse riding and even a zip line that will send you soaring over the water.
Shanghai may be perpetually overrun with construction, but there are still a few hidden spaces that have escaped the city’s obsession with building. Shaoxing Park is a great example. This tiny patch of greenery boasts several small rockeries, some well-worn exercise equipment and Shanghai’s friendliest gang of aging locals. Don’t be shy–join them in the mornings for daily Tai Chi session or drop by later to chat or kill time playing cards. Further south in Xuhui, find Guilin Park (RMB6). The former estate of a 1930s gangster is also one of the best examples of a traditional Chinese garden outside Yuyuan. Complete with the requisite arched walkways, stone bridges and rock formations, it’s especially beautiful in the fall, when the yellow cassia flowers bloom, filling the garden with the smell of peaches. The peaceful Xijiao Guest House is a great retreat for those in Hongqiao. Normally reserved for visiting VIPs, the Guesthouse lets us laobaixing in for a day for RMB50 (which can be redeemed for face value at the café inside). Meander through the tree-lined paths around perfectly groomed lawns to the sound of the park’s softly babbling creek. Although not hidden, but often overlooked due to its out-of-town location, Shanghai Sculpture Park off in the forgotten reaches of Songjiang (RMB80 for adult, RMB50 for children under 1.2 meters tall, Metro Line 9 to Sheshan Station and then a 10-15 minute walk or quick cab ride) is worth the trip. Proud home to 30 large sculptures as well as Shanghai’s largest man-made lake, this park has something to entertain every age group; there are beaches, cafés, fields, kids’ activities, a tree house and a small museum.
Shanghai’s history often gets lost behind the city’s ever-changing skyline, but Shanghai’s parks still have some tales to tell. People’s Park (located by Shanghai’s Tomorrow Square, ironically enough) is a testament to that. Constructed in 1863, it served as an old settlement racecourse until the start of World War II, when it was unceremoniously turned into a holding camp. Eventually redesigned as a park in 1951, it’s now adjacent to City Hall and the Grand Theatre, and houses both the Shanghai Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art. People’s Park has simultaneously become a hub of city life, a downtown refuge and of course, the site of the Sunday Singles Market, where local parents congregate to find suitable marriage partners for their sons and daughters. Fuxing Park is another slice of Shanghai history. Originally named Gujiazhai Park after the local family that owned the land, it was re-named French Park in 1909 and re-designed in the Parisian style. It later became Daxing Park when the Japanese took control of the former French Concession. Finally becoming Fuxing Park in 1949, it’s now home to statues of Marx and Engels, several nightclubs and a myriad of locals at leisure. If you’re more into China’s history than Shanghai’s, head over to the century-old Lu Xun Park (next to Hongkou Stadium), home to the father of modern Chinese literature, Lu Xun, or check out the Mausoleum of Soong Chingling (RMB3), a well-manicured park that houses the tomb of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen’s wife.