Despite the heavy population, there are hidden gems; sometimes, adjacent to the busiest streets in Shanghai city.
Many foreigners and locals alike do not know of these places. For example, if you tell a Shanghainese you want to go to Sheshan, chances are, he or she will not know where it is. That’s because it is on the outskirt of the city. And that’s excellent news for you. Especially when you discover the small streets nobody knows about. How do I know? Because I went to this place, early morning, mid-afternoon, late afternoon and late at night and I was almost always alone there.
Table of Contents
1. Shanghai city in few words
With a population of 20million, Shanghai is one of the biggest cities in China. In some way it is the capital of China since it regulates the amount of businesses that flows in and out of the country. Most International and locals companies have their head office there or in the vicinities (Suzhou etc). Shanghai city is so busy it might seem that wherever you look there are only massive crowds. The Bund for example, one of the most iconic places in Shanghai, is the hotspot for local, regional and international tourists. East-Nanjing road and its many traps (see my blogs on What not to do in China) is so packed that one might find it difficult to breathe.
Nonetheless, there are places many people do not know about and that are surprisingly beautiful. Below is my list of the 5 places in Shanghai city no one will ever tell you about and that you should explore if you live or visit Shanghai.
2. The Romantic path
My absolute favourite. When you live for many years in China you treasure places where people do not go often to. Sheshan (in Songjiang district in west Shanghai) is one of those places. I have been to this place so many times I lost count. At first, when you go there, it looks like any touristic places. The main entrance to Sheshan Catholic church (上海教区佘山天主堂), perched on the highest hills of Shanghai, is usually filled with people during the bank holidays; although relatively quiet most of the times. What many visitors do not know is that few meters away from the main entrance gate there is another entrance which is usually empty. This gate is located opposite to a big car park (Huanshan road). If you cross the street and carry on you will find yourself inside a walking pathway.
2.1. What to expect?
Along the path way you will see a small vendor with drinks and an entrance leading to the church. There you can walk in complete tranquillity on your way up the church. The air is pleasant to breath and you even have an Observatory centre inside you can visit.
If you continue your walk instead of entering that gate, you will have one of the most pleasant time of your life. The tar street is very well maintained and clean. It is adjacent to a small lake and the many trees provide protection against the summer heat of Shanghai. You won’t find this street on Google map, and that’s even better. The walk is about 1 km long, and along the way you can see some country men working their garden. There is also a very nice tea field, and the workers, with their colourful hats, make for great pictures.
2.1.1. Experience true Chinese lifestyle near Shanghai city
At the end of the path you will have 4 options. Go right to the church, go left, come back or cross the street. If you cross the street and walk straight you will be able to see many fields that are cultivated by the local residents (pictures). A stroll into these field will give you an insight into the way some Chinese people live.
2.1.2. Other options
There are other activities you can do in Sheshan. Not far from the church there is also a Botanical Garden that worth taking a look at (Shanghai Chenshan Botanical Garden, 上海辰山植物园). And if you really are into heavy crowd there is also a theme park (Shanghai Happy Valley, 上海欢乐谷).
All in all, I would say the whole area is underrated; which is great If you want to experience the best China has to offer without too much crowds.
Regarding the car park I mentioned earlier; it is literally empty during the week. You might even be able to park for free since, sometimes the agents just don’t show up
2.1.3. Hotels nearby
❣️ Sofitel (Address: China, Shanghai, Songjiang District, 泗陈公路3388弄
Phone: +86 21 3761 8888)
For a five star hotel, prices are very good and you can bring your whole family there as they have plenty of activities for children while adults can enjoy great food sometimes cooked by French chef.
❣️ The Yuluxe Sheshan (Formely Le Meridien Sheshan) Shanghai (Address: 1288 Linyin New Rd, Songjiang District, Shanghai, China, Phone: +86 21 5779 9999)
This hotel is also a five star one but why not treat yourself to the best if the price is affordable ,and the food great, and the location superb, and…
3. Chongming (close to Shanghai city) – A trip in time
My second favourite place is Chongming. It is also on the outskirt of Shanghai city (about 1h30 drive from the city center). The place tends to be busy during holiday times especially in DONGPING National Forest Park but there are few areas that offer great views of real China without the crowd. The park deserves a visit and offer a breath of fresh air away from the city and its craziness. If you are coming from Pudong you get into YangGao Zhong road toward Wuzhou avenue (五洲大道). Follow then the G1501, then transition to G40. You will drive across a long bridge that will give you a good appreciation of Chinese prowess when it comes to buildings. You will cross the Yangtze River. After crossing the river you turn left direction of S128 陈海公路 (ChenHai road).
Chongming and his small pathways
3.1. What to expect?
Depending on the time you get there you will find numerous fruit vendors who sell their crops of the seasons (my favourites are Strawberries and mandarines).
There are also great rice fields, lots of interesting small streets that lead to local residents’ home. This is unlike what you will see in the city center where narrow streets lead to dead streets. You might even be able to strike a conversation with the nice residents or purchase whatever great food, vegetables, fruits they have to offer. Most of the people who visit China complain about their inability to explore real china. This place offers a true opportunity to see a side of China that defies the pace of construction that happens on a regular basis. So, hurry up and see if you can find these small streets.
3.1.1. Hotels nearby
❣️ Hyatt Regency Chongming
Address: Chongming District, China
Phone: +86 21 6703 1234
4. Renaissance hotel rooftop
It might sound incredible I would advertise a hotel that does not even know I exist. However, there are three absolutely great reasons why you should head over the 22nd floor of the Renaissance Hotel (yu garden station 豫园站) on a Friday, Saturday and even Sunday night.
4.1. What to expect?
4.1.1. The view from the top
First; the bar on the last floor of the hotel is well hidden (you need to walk the stairs to the bar after you reach the 22ndfloor). Most of their customers are not even aware of this bar. When you get to the bar you carry on walking up another sets of stairs that lead to the roof top of the hotel. At night this is the most beautiful view you can have of the whole city. There is a strange mixture of grandeur at such height, and nakedness in open air. Of course, there is enough protection and space for you to roam freely about and enjoy a great view from the many buildings of the city.
4.1.2. Close to YuGarden
The second great reason why you want to explore this place, is that it is very near, actually walking distance from the touristy Yu Garden and all his attractions. You can enjoy a traditional Xiao Long Bao (which is a delicious and traditional steamed bun with thin skin layers that hold meat in delicious sauce), in a restaurant where the very Tom Cruise and Jackie Chan are said to have had their diner. After filling yourself with the delicacies (you can try duck, buns with red beans filling etc), you walk toward the Renaissance hotel. On a Friday and Saturday evening there is great salsa dance party going on.
4.1.3. Great Salsa on week-end
And that’s the third great reason why you should head there. Actually, it is more than salsa. They have all kinds of Latin music from bachata, salsa, kizomba etc…The parties have been going for many years; a sign of the quality of entertainment provided. You can admire Chinese ladies and men mixing their skills with the few foreigners who know of the place. Most of the attendees are regular customers which means, you will get a friendly treatment and are unlikely to get harassed about anyone. What’s more? Entrance is 50RMB and includes complementary drinks. You will meet Alan the organiser of the event. Say Hi from me (Jimmy) and don’t underestimate his dancing skill despite his belly. And guess what? If I have convinced you to book this hotel you definitely know you can dance all night.
Salsa Parties on Friday, Saturday and even Sundays at the Renaissance Hotel with Alan
4.1.4. Only drawback
The few guys lurking around the hotel and who tend to offer “massage service or lady services”. As long as you ignore them they will disappear in a heartbeat (however, if you think that following them might be an additional great “TO DO THING“ in Shanghai read my post about the things you CAN NOT DO IN CHINA).
❣️ Renaissance Shanghai Yu Garden Hotel
Address: 159 Henan S Rd, Huangpu, Shanghai, China, 200010
Phone: +86 21 2321 8888
5. Shanghai Dream Art Center (上海梦中心) in Xuhui district
This one is a place dear to my art (and heart). I love old and decayed building and Shanghai offers a lot of such buildings. Shanghai Art Center gives you a beautiful view of art in Shanghai city without the heavy disturbance. For a place that is so open to public view it is incredibly quiet. How do I know? Check out the dancing videos I did there. To shoot these I went there many times and every time I was able to find a parking space (I’ll tell you stories about driving in China as a foreigner: see my post…), and did not get harassed as much as I could have been had I shot these videos in another location.
5.1. What to expect?
5.1.1. Art and view of Shanghai
There is a great vibe about this place. You can get inside the exhibition centre and see the latest exposition. When I went there, I felt people who do some form of art should have a pass in life. Not least because art is like a knife, and artists tend to be at the sharp edge of this knife rather than the spine.
It is located in the West Bund area. You can access the location via the Line 11 LongYao Road station. Since it is rapidly developing, these days are the best time to discover the centre. It is also close to Huangpu river which you can see on the nice walk path they built nearby.
In terms of location it is half hour drive from HongQiao International airport and about twenty minutes from people square.
6. Dianshan Lake (淀山湖)
This last recommendation; I almost missed it. It is located in the west of QingPu district and cover a large area. It boasts the largest natural freshwater lake of Shanghai. There you can see large and small boats floating around and for an instant you will be transported back in time.
I got to discover this one after I took part in a renovation project with a friend of mine. Walking around the lake proved to be a great outing.
Dianshan is a big place in Shanghai city that hide tones of beauty
6.1. What to expect?
6.1.1. Quietness, water and greenery
It is about 1hour drive from the city, and as you might have guessed by now it offers something that is a treasure in China. Moments of quietness where you can explore sides of the city no-one will ever tell you about. There is a very long walk along the river and you can enjoy the best of sightseeing. You can barbecue in some spot along the way if that’s your thing. Fishing happens a lot in the area; so do not be surprised if some of them make their way to the vegetable market nearby.
Other attractions in the area include the Shanghai Grand View Garden. You can enjoy a variety of activities there (see https://www.shanghaihighlights.com/shanghai-sightseeing/grand-view-garden.htm).