If you’re looking for some time out in a cool, relaxing and very different environment in Shanghai, pencil in a day trip to the French Concession.
Visiting the leafy Old French Concession is easily one of best things to do in Shanghai. The area covers about 8 kilometres of cool, tree-lined avenues worlds apart from the skyscrapers and neon lights of central Shanghai. The French Concession also boasts an eclectic variety of trendy cafes, bars, restaurants, boutiques, and art galleries.
A (very) quick history of the French Concession
The history of the French Quarter goes back to 1849. It was built after China lost the Opium Wars. At the time Shanghai conceded land to the French government as part of an international port of call.
Interestingly enough the French, no more than 2,000 in number, were overwhelmingly outnumbered by the Russians, English and Americans who lived in the area. There were also a number of Chinese professionals who migrated into the French Concession. The area reached the pinnacle of glamour in the 1930s.
What to expect in the French Concession
Today in The Former French Concession, trees cast their shadows over traditional shikumen, many converted into quaint boutiques and restaurants. Shikumen are found only in Shanghai. The name literally means stone gate and it refers to the thick stone surrounds on the doors.
These homes uniquely combine European and Chinese architecture. When you step into the French Concession you step into bygone eras of elegance, style and glamour, especially in the popular entertainment, dining and shopping areas of Xintiandi and Tianzifang.
Many of the streets of the French Concession are lined by many bustling shops, restaurants, outdoor coffee shops and boutiques. There are also art galleries and antique shops aplenty.
Charming pedestrian spaces host outdoor restaurants and bars that buzz with activity. If it’s refreshments you seek, there are plenty to choose from. Snack on traditional Chinese street food or fine international cuisine to suit your palate and sip on French wine, German beer or Chinese green tea.
Taking a walk through the French Concession
The shaded streets of the French Concession make this the ideal place to take a gentle walking tour—even if you’ve only got one day in Shanghai. There’s no better place to start exploring than Fuxing Park.
At 92,000 square meter, Fuxing Park was once the biggest park in Shanghai. The French-designed and laid out the garden in 1909 and it has a decidedly French feel.
The gardens include a sunken flower bed, cool meandering paths and pretty pavilions. In the early morning, it comes alive with dancers, groups of singers, tai chi practitioners and mahjong players.
The Longhua’s Martyrs’ Cemetery is also good for long, tranquil afternoon walks. There are not many people buried here and it is more of a memorial and museum than a cemetery.
Plan a stopover to the Propaganda Poster Art Centre. It is a privately-owned museum that contains a fascinating collection of propaganda posters dating back as far as 1940.
Explore the former home of the children’s cartoonist Zhang Leping. Entry to the two-storey museum is free. It contains a fascinating collection of artefacts and his well-preserved studio. The 1920’s home surrounded by a tranquil garden offers insights into French Concession life several decades ago.
Whilst you’re visiting homes you may want to drop into the former residence of Soong Ching Ling. It contains a small museum filled with mostly political artefacts. The house contains many of the original furnishings and the garage is still home to the vehicles used for government work at the time.