what to do in Shanghai

Stroll the calming paths of Yu Yuan Garden. (Photo: Getty Images)

Tips + Trends

Peaceful Paths, Temples and Tea: Where to Find a Soupçon of Old Shanghai

Whether you’re grappling with a PowerPoint presentation, the minutiae of banqueting etiquette or the finer points of fabric sourcing, doing business in Shanghai is always an adventure.

Yet find a free day away from the Delta Hotels by Marriott Shanghai Baoshan, and the legendary culture shock of modern-day Shanghai transforms into a whirlwind of discovery.

Of course, it wasn’t Shanghai’s (undeniable) architectural charms that earned the city the title “Paris of the East” in the early 20th century, but instead it was its colorful culture and decadent nightlife.

Today, travelers willing to dig between the timeless international glamour of the waterfront, known as the Bund, and the city’s epic neon skyline can still unearth reminders of Shanghai’s past glories. Embrace ’em.

Stroll Shady Paths

Taxi time from Delta Hotels Shanghai Baoshan: 35 minutes

Duration: 2 hours

More than 400 years ago, a wealthy government official spent decades creating the five-acre Yuyuan Garden, an abstract wonderland of gnarled rockeries, weeping willows, shady pavilions and reflecting pools. But between paying for the celebrity landscaper, the hired performers and the lavish feasts, he ended up virtually bankrupt.

Be there when the garden opens — 8.30 a.m. — to beat the weekend crowds, which can make rush hour on the Shanghai Metro feel like a quiet walk on the Appalachian Trail.

For a handle on how very different Chinese gardens are from Western interpretations, don’t miss the 13-foot boulder known as Exquisite Jade Rock. It’s one of the three most prized rocks in China — and yes, there is a list.

Tap Into History

Taxi time from Yuyuan Garden: 10 minutes

Duration: 1.5 hours

what to do in shanghai
Get a crash course in history at the Shanghai Museum. (Photo: Getty Images)

With a whopping 3,500 years of written history, China is the world’s oldest continuous civilization. When most of Europe was painting itself blue and howling, the Middle Kingdom’s artisans were producing enduring works of art.

For a crash course in China’s history and culture, from the mysteries of jade and delicate ceramics to detailed bronzes and surprisingly exuberant calligraphy, the Shanghai Museum can’t be beat. World-class touring exhibits also swing by from time to time.

Marvel at the Marriage Market

Walking time from the Shanghai Museum: 5 minutes

Duration: 1 hour

Single? Celibate? LGBT? You’ll look at your parents with fresh eyes after a trip to Shanghai’s weekend institution, the Marriage Market at People’s Park.

On Saturdays and Sundays, between noon and 5 p.m., parents and grandparents meet and mingle in search of spouses for their adult spawn. Cards, umbrellas and professional matchmakers all work to deliver significant others for what is generally their only hope of grandchildren (no pressure!).

Some requirements — like height and age — will be recognizable from the world of Match.com or Tinder. Others, from minutely detailed zodiac matches to incredibly specific income ranges, are decidedly unique.

Take in a Temple

Taxi time from People’s Park: 10 minutes

Duration: 45 minutes

what to do in shanghai
Find a moment of peace at the Confucius Temple. (Photo: Getty Images)

Understated is not a word most associate with Shanghai. Yet the Confucius Temple, complete with 300-year-old elm tree, delivers a serenity China’s most celebrated philosopher would have prized.

In the old days, this was Shanghai’s premier seat of learning, and as you stroll the shady courtyards and inhale the scent of incense, it retains that monastic, university feel.

Time for Tea

Walking time from Confucius Temple: 15 minutes

Duration: 1 hour

There’s nothing old about either the Old Shanghai Teahouse or the Old Street that it sits on. In 1999, the powers that be found Shanghai’s old city ready for an update and chose to build something more photogenic.

That said, the bric-a-brac and antiques that fill this intimate teahouse are 100-percent authentic. Elderly typewriters, knackered records, cheongsam-clad waitresses, fine teas and dim sum deliver bags of ’30s appeal. Opt for a cup of longjing, grown in neighboring Hangzhou, perhaps with some quails’ eggs on the side.