Nanshi (Shanghai's Old Chinese City)
Start: Shanghai Lao Jie (Shanghai Old Street), Nanshi, Huangpu District (Metro: Yu Garden).
Finish: Dajing Lu, Nanshi, Huangpu District (Metro: Dashijie or Yu Garden).
Time: 2 to 4 hours.
Best Times: Weekday mornings or early Sunday morning (for the Fuyou antiques market).
Worst Times: Weekends are packed with tourists and shoppers. If you must tour on the weekend, go early.
The Old Chinese City (Nanshi), located just southwest of the Bund, was the first part of Shanghai to be settled. In the early days, Shanghai had a city wall (which followed the course of today's Renmin Lu and Zhonghua Lu) that came down when the last dynasty fell, in 1911. During the colonial era (1842-1949) when Westerners had their own enclaves (concessions), this was the main Chinese district, where foreigners almost never ventured. Considerably more frequented by foreigners these days (though mostly around the Yu Yuan Old Town Bazaar area), Nanshi, with its narrow winding streets and old houses, is still one of the lesser-explored parts of town. Although this walk focuses mainly on the Old Town Bazaar (bounded by Renmin Lu, Henan Nan Lu, Fangbang Zhong Lu, and Zhonghua Lu) with all its tourist attractions, hopefully you'll get from it a sense of traditional life around the old Chinese streets as well. Entire sections of the district are being torn down and replaced with new developments as quickly as this is being written, so hurry and get your walking shoes on.
There are many entry points into the maze of the Old Town Bazaar. To avoid congestion, begin your stroll at the intersection of Henan Nan Lu and Fangbang Zhong Lu on the southwest side of the Old Town Bazaar, where you'll pass through a traditional-style Chinese gate and enter:
1. Shanghai Lao Jie (Shanghai Old Street)
This stretch of Fangbang Zhong Lu was renovated in 1999 as an Old Town theme street. The traditional shop houses, selling antiques, collectibles, ethnic crafts, and tea, reflect the architectural and cultural evolution of Shanghai as you walk east, from the Ming Dynasty through the Qing Dynasty into the Chinese Republican era.
Just inside the entrance and immediately to your left is the irresistible:
2. Fuyou Antiques Market/Cang Bao Lou
This is still the best and liveliest antiques market for browsing in Shanghai (especially early Sun morning), where four floors of vendors sell everything from coins and ceramics to jewelry and Russian cameras. Be prepared to stay awhile; there's a lot of junk to sift through, but also the occasional real find.
Continue east, entering or bypassing the shops as your interest warrants. In the second block after the Houjia Lu intersection, the two-story Old Shanghai Teahouse (Fangbang Zhong Lu 385) can provide a refreshing cup of tea or juice if you're already fatigued from shopping. Otherwise, continue your way east past the Yu Fashion Center and Dragon Gate Mall to your right until you come to the street Si Pai Lou (right) with its :
3. Food Stalls & Lane Housing
Having been spared the bulldozer as of press time, this street allows a wonderful glimpse into the daily life of ordinary Chinese around the old city. Very basic food stalls sell everything from fresh vegetables and meat to local specialties like chou doufu (stinky tofu) and shengjian bao (pan-fried dumplings). You'll also find little lanes branching off the street (such as kangjia long/Kangjia Lane about 50m/164 ft. down Si Pai Lou running east) that lead to the lane housing so common in Shanghai. The houses here are considerably older and more dilapidated and cramped than the lane houses in the foreign concessions. Wander around and you might still stumble upon the night-soil worker making his rounds in the morning or residents playing mah-jongg outdoors.
Head back to Fangbang Zhong Lu and retrace your steps west (left) past Anren Jie. On the north side of the street is the stone arch entrance of:
4. Chenghuang Miao (Temple of the Town God)
This Daoist temple, rebuilt many times since the early-15th century and most recently in the 1990s, can be quickly toured from 8:30am to 4:30pm daily (admission ¥10).
Exit the temple and zigzag your way north by following the lane along the west side of the temple. Along the way you'll find a series of:
5. Curiosity Stores
Here, you'll find novelty stores such as the Pear Syrup Shop (selling old China's answer to cough drops) and the Five Flavor Bean Shop (selling a famous Shanghai snack, wuxiang dou [five-flavor lima beans]) right next to a not-so-novel Starbucks. By now, you should be in the main square with the teahouse floating on the artificial lake to your north. To get there, follow the:
6. Bridge of Nine Turnings (Jiu Qu Qiao)
This zigzag bridge is supposed to be propitious, as demons were believed to be afraid of corners. By contrast, camera-wielding tourists appear addicted to them.
The bridge leads to the fine:
7. Huxingting (Mid-Lake Pavilion) Teahouse (Yuyuan Lu 257)
More than 200 years old, this is Shanghai's most famous place to drink tea (open 8:30am-10pm). Step inside, take a look at the teas for sale on the first floor, and head upstairs for a cup and a Shanghai snack.
8. Take a Break
For a more substantial repast, lunch on a variety of Shanghai dumplings and noodle dishes at the Nanxiang Mantou Dian that lines the west shore of the lake.
The north side of the lake is the location of the main entrance to Shanghai's most complete classical garden:
9. Yu Yuan (Yu Garden)
Completed in 1577, this pleasant private garden (Anren Lu 218) is a maze of ponds, bridges, pavilions, and small gardens, but it's impossible to get lost for long. The garden is open from 8:30am to 5:30pm and is usually quite crowded (admission ¥40). Exit at the southern Inner Garden (Nei Yuan) and find your way back to the Huxinting Teahouse by walking west a block on Yuyuan Lu. If you haven't had your fill of shopping, the whole northwest part of the bazaar complex is chock-full of large and small stores selling everything from glittering gems to Chinese medicinal herbs.
Those seeking more curios can follow the lane outside the Nanxiang Mantou Dian as it winds north. Take a left onto:
10. Small Commodities Street (Xiaoshangpin Jie)
Along this street (Yuyuan Lao Lu), you'll find shops specializing in everything from musical instruments and chopsticks to scissors and bamboo crafts.
At the northern end of the street, take a left onto Fuyou Lu (west), passing the Shanghai Old Restaurant, then take another left (south) down Jiujiaochang Lu. West of the Tong Han Chuan Tang Chinese Medicine Store, take a right (west) onto Chenxiangge Lu, where you'll find the temple:
11. Chenxiang Ge (Chenxiangge Lu 29)
While Yu Yuan was built to honor Pan Yunduan's father, this small Buddhist temple was built for his mother.
Continue west along Chenxiangge Lu, take a left (south) onto Houjia Lu, then a right (west) onto Zihua Lu, at the end of which is Henan Nan Lu, marking the western boundary of the Old Town Bazaar. Cross Henan Nan Lu, then jog slightly north and turn left (west) onto Dajing Lu. This area used to be full of old houses, many of which have been bulldozed to make way for the brand-new apartment complexes you see around you. All down the street you can still find various:
12. Dajing Lu Markets
There was a delightful open food market at Dajing Lu 150-160 that was in the process of being dismantled at press time, but there are still plenty of makeshift markets and smaller stalls selling everything from fresh fish and meats to spices, tea, and tofu. This is another wonderful street to catch a glimpse of daily life in the old Chinese city as housewives and grandmothers make their daily shopping rounds.
Farther west on the north side of the street is:
13. Baiyun Guan (White Cloud Daoist Temple, Dajing Lu 239)
Peek inside this Daoist temple, identifiable by its red walls, for a look at the hundreds of statues of Daoist deities and possibly even a Daoist service.
West of this temple on the same side of the street is the:
14. Ancient City Wall (Guchengqiang Dajing Ge, Dajingge Lu 269)
Here is preserved the only remaining 50m (164 ft.) of Shanghai's old city wall, originally built in 1553 when it measured 8.1m (27 ft.) high and 4.8km (3 miles) around. There's a small exhibit on life in the old Chinese city for those who can't find enough signs of it in today's streets.
Although this is the end of the walk, options abound for those who have energy to spare. About 20 minutes by foot to the south is Wen Miao (Temple of Confucius), the Xiaotaoyuan Qingzhen Si (Peach Orchard Mosque), and more back streets and alleys for exploring. If more shopping is in order, Huaihai Zhong Lu, the favorite modern shopping street of today's Shanghainese people, is about a 30-minute stroll to the west, while the Dongtai Lu Antiques Market is an even closer 10-minute walk to the southwest. If food is all you can think about at this point, cross Renmin Lu, then head north on Yunnan Nan Lu.
15. Winding Down
Yunnan Lu Meishi Jie (Yunnan Lu Food St.), only a quick 2 blocks north of the old city wall, is packed with a host of bright and lively Chinese restaurants, though most places don't carry English menus. For Western fare, a 10-minute taxi ride west will land you at the supermodern and chic Xintiandi, a pedestrian mall and a contrasting bookend to a day begun in the old Chinese city.
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.