Escape to Anji Bamboo Forest of “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” fame or Longhua Temple in Shanghai. (Photo: View Stock / Alamy Stock Photo)
With more than 20 million people, 14 metro lines and hundreds of skyscrapers, Shanghai is the picture of a busy city—even if you’re not there on business. If you are, finding a place where you can relax and unplug is not only helpful, but sanity-saving. Whether you’re in need of greenery, scenery or just plan peace and quiet, here are five fine spots to shed the stress of doing business in Shanghai.
The first thing Xiangyang Park has going for it is its location, just off busy Huahai Road and minutes from the South Shaanxi Road station of Shanghai’s Metro Line 1. The second thing it has going for it, plentiful foliage notwithstanding, is that each morning, elderly men paint Chinese characters onto the pavement with water. The artistic cycle, from the first calligraphic strokes soaking the pavement to the last traces of them evaporating away, is as hyponotic as it is fleeting. Stand behind one of the painters to watch the entire spectacle unfold. You might even contemplate joining the ever-present “dancing grannies” in their morning workout routine, but even if you don’t, a visit to Xiangyang Park is a soothing, almost spiritual way to start your day.
On the other hand, location isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. If you visit Jing’an Temple, for example, which sits in the shadows of Shanghai’s tallest buildings, you’re almost certain to contend with crowds. Ride the Metro a few stops south to Longhua station and you’ll not only arrive at a temple that’s older—the station’s namesake Longhua Temple dates back to the 10th century—but decidedly quieter, especially in the mornings and evenings. The temple’s exterior architecture is impressive, but for a lesson in zen, go inside to view the many different incarnations of the Buddha.
It’s difficult to argue that the Bund, the promenade flanked on one side by futuristic skyscrapers and the other by pre-war low rise buildings, is Shanghai’s most iconic stretch of waterfront. For a more tranquil time, walk north from the Bund, then hang a right at Suzhou Creek, a tiny tributary of the Huangpu River that bisects Shanghai, one that’s just as perfectly for a stress-free soul as it is for a stationary soul-searching session. Here’s an insider tip: Visit at night to enjoy the vibrant bridge near the creek’s mouth, which strobes through a sequence of bright colors just after sunset.
A quiet spot to read a book in Shanghai sounds like Orwellian Newspeak, right? Appropriately, the name of the bookstore in question is called 1984. Hidden in Shanghai’s charming French concession (take the Metro to Shanghai Library station, then follow Hunan Road to its intersection with Wukang Road), this tucked-away café is a great getaway anytime of day.
If you can find it, access 1984 by buzzing at an unmarked metal gate, so you might want to practice your Mandarin before you leave your hotel in case you need to ask a local. To give you a quick primer: 1984 Bookstore” is yi diu ba si nian shu dian (pronounced “ee-de-yo-bah-suh-nee-yan-shoo-dee-yan”) in Chinese.
Anji Bamboo Forest
If you’ve got more than a morning or afternoon free—say, a whole day—you can experience a level of relaxation that’s positively cinematic. Among several Chinese films, Anji Bamboo Forest served as a backdrop for the international blockbuster “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.”
Breathtaking scenery is but the beginning of all there is to love about Anji Bamboo Forest, which is about four hours from Shanghai by bus. Snack on delicacies made from the bamboo, climb the observation tower and even ride a rollercoaster though the forest.