Finding your Z-spot in Shanghai

Finding your Z-spot in Shanghai

When the madness and chaos all gets too much, enhance your Zen at these Shanghai places of peace and quiet

Zen can come in many forms, but to the overstressed and overworked, it’s amazing what a few hours of peace and quiet can do for the Shanghai-weary soul.

When the Shanghai grind needs a gear shift or two but the boss won’t allow it, opt to take the afternoon off or extend a lunch break for some well-deserved peace and quiet. Thanks to Expo metro expansion, in-town getaways do exist and offer a bit of mental R&R, within minutes from your cubicle.


Shanghai Zen for your outer wanderer: Century Park

Century Park - Shanghai Zen

It’s no doubt Shanghai boasts some fabulous parks both in and outside the city, but sadly few can lay claim to that coveted combo of space, peace and green.

Pudong’s Century Park, the city’s largest (all 140.3 hectares of it) has all that and more.

There’s plenty of recreation to be found, be it paddle boating or tandem cycling through its kitschy trails. But most importantly, there are hiding spots galore for you and your thoughts -- minus the blare of Kenny G tunes from the park-wide sound systems found elsewhere.

Bonus Zen points: Park yourself on a shady bench (there are lots of them) with a good book. Concessions are located everywhere should your taste buds scream for ice cream, or even something stronger.

If you’re feeling adventurous, bring a spare suit and take a few runs through the musical fountains with the other brazenly juvenile adults -- refreshing and instant childhood regression all in one (and all without paying a cent of therapy).

Getting there: 1001 Jinxiu Lu, near Minsheng Lu, take Metro Line 2 to Century Park, 锦绣路1001号, 近民生路, +86 21 3876 0588
Times to avoid: Weekends/early evening during good weather and check ahead for concerts/performances
Open: March to November 7 a.m to 6 p.m. (winter closes at 5 p.m.); admission: RMB 10, annual passes (RMB 388) available.


Shanghai Zen for your inner believer: Xujiahui Cathedral

Xujiahui Church - Shanghai Zen

Also known as St. Ignatius Cathedral of Shanghai, this massive Catholic cathedral dating back to ... well nobody seems to know for sure but most dates range between 1905 and 1910 ... has had its share of tumultuous history and was nearly destroyed involuntarily serving as a grain warehouse during the Cultural Revolution.

Thanks to its supporters, its restoration has been a long one starting in the early 1980s with recent enhancements made for the 2010 Expo. (It’s also the site of China’s first mass in 1989.)

With a capacity for over 2,000 worshipers; there’s nearly a full house every Sunday (including an English mass at noon), but come mid-week, it’s a venue of sheer peace, quiet and reflection.

Shanghai Zen tip: If you're religious or not, Xujiahui Cathedral is truly a site to behold and a guaranteed quiet escape -- a rare find in the city’s bustling shopping center of Xujiahui.

Take the time to walk the halls and stumble on historic paintings and newly renovated stained glass windows; or if it suits you, have a seat and enjoy the peace and serenity that you can really only find in a holy place. There’s even an outside seating area for that lunch you smuggled out of the office.

Still not impressed? You could always brag about being on an original set from Steven Spielberg’s "Empire of the Sun."

Getting there: 158 Puxi Lu near Caoxi Bei Lu, Xuijiahui Station, Metro Line 2 (exit 8) 蒲西路158号, 近漕溪北路, +86 21 6438 2595; free admission.
Note: This is a religious site so dress appropriately.


Spiritual Zen fix: Tai Qing Palace (Qin Ci Yang Dian)

Pudong temple - Shanghai Zen

One of the city’s lesser known spiritual spots sits smack in the middle of a bustling Pudong neighborhood (sticking out like a sore thumb among its residential neighbors). This still-practicing Taoist monastery with original construction dating back to the Tang dynasty was re-opened to the public in 2008. 

A serene walk through the divine can do wonders for stress levels, offering an impressive collection of ancient, ornate chambers, halls and figurines. The highlight is the ancient statue of renowned Taoist philosopher Lao Jun carved out of a 10,000 year old block of rose wood.

Shanghai Zen tip: You could easily be in and out in a flash, but take some time to find your own inner peace in a truly beautiful locale. Just avoid too much contact with the gate guard who at times has all the charm of a pack of wild bees.

Getting there: Metro Line 6 Yuanshen Stadium, 476 Yuanshen Lu, near Zhangyang Lu 源深路476号, 近张扬; admission: RMB 5
Note: This is a holy place. Be respectful, mind the monks and leave the camera for outside shots only.


Zen stroll with a side of veggies: Xinhua Lu

Xinhua Lu - Wu Guan Tang - Shanghai Zen

Tucked in the lower corner of the Changing District, this street, like all others, has its share of rush hour traffic and bustle, but come off-hours is an experience worthy of your next Zen moment.

Local life under a leafy boulevard, provides an image of a thriving Shanghai neighborhood -- and many of the city’s historical residences in disguise.

Depending on how much time you can spare, at its far end (crossing Panyu Lu) sits the Shanghai Film Art Center, home of the annual Shanghai International Film Festival, which offers one of the least crowded theaters for weekday matinees (with City Shop conveniently underneath).

A walk along the street also offers a smattering of local eateries and cafes. Just continue down the way for a good (and therapeutic) dose of quiet and libations at Cotton’s.

Ultimate Shanghai Zen cleanse combo: Sometimes the perfect meal and stroll may be all you need to hit your Z-spot. We recommend Wu Guan Tang, the ultimate veg-head venue. If a venue could scream calm and Zen, this place would do it. While the weather's still warm, enjoy your healthy dishes on an amazing rooftop smothered in green and sporting views of Xinhua’s many remaining historic rooftops.

With its menu free of meat, MSG and oil, you’ll be leaving feeling squeaky clean from the inside out. Also note, its neighbor Chinatown Cultural Town serves up a nice organic hot pot as well.

Getting there: Walking distance from Jiao Tong University, Metro Line 10 and Hongqiao Lu Station Line 3/4
Venue: Wu Guan Tang (五观堂素食), 349 Xinhua Lu, near Dingxi Lu 新华路349号, 近定西路, +86 21 6281 3695


Go Zen by going postal: The Shanghai Postal Museum

Shanghai Postal Museum - Shanghai Zen

You might not link getaway with stamps and post boxes, but here’s one exception worthy of your time: the General Post Office building.

Built in 1922, this classic symbol of old-time Shanghai architecture located off of Suzhou Creek, still remains an active post office (and one of the city’s most beautiful) and is one of the lesser-known but best museums in town.

Well organized, this impressive collection of photographs, artifacts and detailed drawings might have you rethinking the cool factor of your daily postal service.

Take an afternoon off from water cooler gossip and delve instead into shady bits of the post’s imperial past including the dodgy foreign guest posts, an inside look at postal celebrities (yes, they do exist) and even the China Post’s North Pole expedition.

And saving the best for last, the elevator trip to a gorgeous rooftop garden will surely convince the grumpiest of skeptics of the museum's Zen rating, sporting some of the best Suzhou River and Pudong views, not to mention the friendliest museum guards around.

Roof-top Zen tip: Take the time to chat with one of the museum staff. Clearly proud of their post, they’re all quick to share trivia and love to test your museum memory while pointing out nearby attractions.

Getting there: 250 Suzhou Bei Lu 苏州北路250号, +86 21 6393 6666, +86 21 6306 0798
Open: Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.


Artsy Zen fix: Duolun Lu (formerly Darroch Road)

Duolun Lu - Shanghai Zen

This early 20th century era hood and home to Shanghai’s ‘League of Leftist Writers’ is one of the city’s lesser known artsy retreats.

Officially reconstructed in 1998 to retain its old Shanghai feel, Duolun Lu (多伦路), a tiny winding street, is home to a slew of historical residences including famous writers Lu Xun, Mao Dun and Ding Ling to name a few.

Just follow the gray brick road for a quick walk, enjoy the messy tangle of art and history merged with daily local life (cars not allowed but that doesn’t stop the crazed motorbikers).

If shopping meets your fix, pop your head into one of many local art and antique shops with wares ranging from the traditional to downright odd (100 trillion banknote from Zimbabwe anyone?) or get a dose of modern art at the Shanghai Duolun Museum of Modern Art. The Hong-de Tang Church (59 Duolun Lu 多伦路59号) is also worth a quick stop as one of the only churches (anywhere) to have both traditional Christian and Chinese temple features.

Tea shops, cafes and restaurants are plentiful so you won’t go hungry.

Artsy Zen fix: This artsy trail, albeit a short one, is one to slow down and enjoy. Also stop at the Old Film Cafe for a caffeine fix and afternoon matinee classic (123 Duolun Lu 多伦路123号).

Getting there: Start at Sichuan Bei Lu (四川北路), closest metro station is Dongbaoxing Lu, Metro Line 3

Best crowd-dodging hours: With a few exceptions only to be ruled by Murphy’s Law, best escape times occur weekdays late morning or mid-afternoon. Never expect peace and quiet during weekends, warm weather evenings and national holidays, where anything goes and everybody goes out.
Stephanie Thomas is a freelance writer of all trades based in Shanghai.
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