Not known for its temples, Shanghai's most popular Buddhist shrine with visitors is the Jade Buddha Temple (Yufo Si). The Longhua Temple is also on the route of some tourists; its pagoda is the most interesting one in Shanghai. Shanghai also has several active Christian churches and an Islamic mosque where foreign visitors may worship or visit. But what really sets religious Shanghai apart, at least in China, is its Jewish legacy, most powerfully evoked by the reopening of the Ohel Moshe Synagogue as a museum and study center, and the Ohel Rachel Synagogue for Shabbat services.

Jewish Shanghai

As China's most international city, Shanghai experienced several waves of Jewish immigration, each leaving its mark. The first to arrive, in the late 1840s, were the Sephardic Jews. Businessmen who made their fortunes in opium and property, they built large estates and as many as seven synagogues, and were responsible for some of Shanghai's finest architecture. The Sassoons, who emigrated from Baghdad in the mid-19th century, were the first Jewish family to make a fortune in Shanghai, and both the Peace Hotel on the Bund and the villa estate next to the zoo (now the Cypress Hotel) were their creations. Silas Hardoon was a later Jewish real estate baron whose great estate was razed to make way for the Sino-Soviet Shanghai Exhibition Center on Yan'an Xi Lu (south of the Portman Hotel). Meanwhile, the legacy of the Kadoories, another wealthy Jewish family from Baghdad, is the stunning "Marble House" on Yan'an Xi Lu, today the city's most popular and impressive Children's Palace.

The second wave of Jewish immigrants comprised Russian Jews fleeing the Bolsheviks at the beginning of the 20th century. They were followed in the 1930s by a third wave of European Jews who were fleeing Hitler, and who landed here only because Shanghai was the only city in the world at that time willing to accept these "stateless refugees." Just before World War II, the numbers of Jews in Shanghai topped 30,000. In February 1943, to appease the Germans who wanted the Japanese to implement the Final Solution in Shanghai, the occupying force of the Japanese army forced the "stateless Jews" into a "Designated Area" in Hongkou District (north of the Bund), marked by today's Zhoujiazui Lu in the north, Huimin Lu in the south, Tongbei Lu in the east, and Gongping Lu in the west. Tens of thousands of Jews lived cheek by jowl in this "ghetto," where the local synagogue became the center of their material and spiritual lives until the end of the war.

Travelers interested in the Jews in Shanghai can still visit that center, the Ohel Moshe Synagogue (Moxi Huitang), Changyang Lu 62, Hongkou (tel. 021/6512-6669; daily 9am-5pm [last ticket sold 4:30pm]). Built in 1927 by the Ashkenazi Jewish community of Shanghai, it no longer serves as a synagogue, but as the Shanghai Jewish Refugee Museum (Youtai Nanmin Zai Shanghai Jinianguan) devoted to the history of the Jews in Shanghai. Following renovations, the museum now has an annex in the back that features an exhibition of Jewish life in Shanghai from 1933 to 1945. Tickets cost ¥50 (¥10 for students).

The best way to visit this synagogue, Huoshan Park (Huoshan Gongyuan), where there is a memorial to Jewish refugees, the Marble Hall, and the longtang (lane) row houses of Hongkou that formed Shanghai's "Little Vienna," is on the wonderful "Tour of Jewish Shanghai" conducted by appointment with Dvir Bar-Gal (tel. 0130/0214-6702;

The tour will also pass by Ohel Rachel Synagogue (Laxier Youtai Jiaotang) at Shanxi Bei Lu 500, behind the Portman Ritz-Carlton Hotel. It was built in 1920 by Jacob Sassoon in memory of his wife, Rachel, and is today considered one of the world's most endangered monuments. For many years home to the Shanghai Education Commission, it reopened in May 2010 as a living synagogue for Shabbat prayers and meals.

Travelers interested in learning more about the Jewish community in Shanghai, attending Shabbat dinners, or participating in religious services should contact the Shanghai Jewish Center, Hongqiao Lu 1720, Shang-Mira Garden Villa no. 2 (tel. 021/6278-0225; fax 021/6278-0223;

Mosques & Churches

Major Catholic churches include Boduolu Tang (St. Peter's Church), Chongqing Nan Lu 270, Luwan (tel. 021/6467-0198), originally built in 1933 but rebuilt in 1995, and which now holds services in English on Saturday at 5pm and Sunday at 10:30am; Sheng Ruose Tang (St. Joseph's Church), built in 1860 at Sichuan Nan Lu 36, Huangpu (tel. 021/6328-0293 or 021/6336-5537); and Junwang Tianzhu Tang (Christ the King Catholic Church), also called the Good Shepherd Church, Julu Lu 361, Jing An (tel. 021/6217-4608).

Other active Protestant places of worship that open their doors to foreign worshippers include Huai'en Tang (Shanghai Grace Church), opened in 1910 at Shanxi Bei Lu 375, Jing An (tel. 021/6253-9394); Jingling Tang (Youag John Allen Memorial Church), built in 1923 at Kunshan Lu 135, east from Sichuan Bei Lu, Hongkou (tel. 021/6324-3021 or 021/5539-1720), the place where Chiang Kai-shek wed Soong Mei-ling; and Zhusheng Tang (All Saints Church), Fuxing Zhong Lu 425 at Danshui Lu (tel. 021/6385-0906), a lively church in the French Concession that recently began holding services again.

For the locations of additional cathedrals, churches, mosques, and places of worship and the times of services, inquire at your hotel.

She Shan Cathedral -- For those who can't get enough of Shanghai's European-style churches, one of the best is located in Songjiang County, a 40-minute trip from Shanghai. Situated on the western peak of She Shan (She Mountain), She Shan Cathedral (She Shan Tang) was originally built by the Jesuits in 1866 as the Holy Mother Cathedral, and rebuilt between 1925 and 1935 as the Basilica of Notre Dame. Laid out in the shape of a cross, this majestic brick structure has a 38m-tall (125-ft.) bell tower on top of which stands a replacement bronze Madonna and Child statue (the original was destroyed in the Cultural Revolution). Catholic pilgrims from neighboring areas flock here on Sundays, holy days, and especially during the month of May (in 1874, Pope Pius IX declared a full amnesty to any Catholic who made the pilgrimage to the Marian Shrine at She Shan during May), many of them making the trek up the hill via the south gate. Along the way are a number of shrines and grottoes. The church (tel. 021/5765-1521; 8am-4pm) holds Mass Monday through Saturday at 7am (6:30am in summer) and Sunday at 8am.

Behind the church is an astronomical observatory (tel. 021/5765-3423; 7:30am-5pm), founded in 1900 by the French Catholic Mission. The eastern half of She Shan consists mostly of a Forest Park, various recreational theme parks, and a tourist resort with the luxurious Le Meridien She Shan hotel (Linyin Xin Lu 1288; tel. 021/5779-9999). To reach She Shan, take Metro Line 9 to the Sheshan or the Dongjing stop (about 40 min. from downtown Shanghai); from there you can take a taxi to the mountain (about ¥15). Public bus nos. 90 and 91 (from outside the subway station) ply the same route, but take longer.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.