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What to see in Shanghai—Shikumen buildings

If you are tired of the “cookie-cutter” high rises and wonder what else to see in Shanghai, go to explore the old buildings in Shanghai. People are always attracted by the old buildings, from the splendid ancient castles and palaces to the old houses where ordinary people once lived, and it is the main reason of travelling for many people. In Shanghai there is a type of building called "Shikumen building", which appeared first in the 1870s and has over 100 years' history up to now. These two- or three-storey buildings feature stone door frames with pediment, arch, black lacquer wood door and red brick wall, applying both eastern and western architecture aesthetics and technique. The buildings stand straight on two sides with a narrow alley called longtang between them.

For now Shikumen buildings are mainly scattered around in Huangpu District, Jing’an District and Luwan District and normally are hidden from the high buildings, thus presenting much difficulty in finding them. However, fortunately there are two famous Shikumen building clusters which are easy to access: Xintiandi and Tianzifang. 


Xintiandi is located at Lane 181, Madang Rd, Huangpu District. To get there, you can take metro line 10 and get off at Xintiandi station. In Xintiandi you will find the traditional and the modern elements set harmoniously in one building in an extraordinary way. These red-walled Shikumen buildings stand quietly and calmly in the surrounding of the high buildings. Strolling around in the narrow alleys, touching the stones of the wall, images of old Shanghai just appear in front of the eyes: A young woman with light make-up dressed in Qipao coming near, bell of the tram on the street ringing at the ears, the rickshaws running on the street with the well-dressed lady and gentleman seated in the back...When you step into one of the shops and stores, the modern design and decoration bring you back into the modern world. For those who don’t know what to see in Shanghai and are not interested in this kind of old building, they can still have a good time here. Now many cafes, restaurants, bars and stores live in these Shikumen buildings. Some cultural and art activities are held here from time to time. In the afternoon, you can have a cup of coffee bathing in the gentle afternoon sunlight and enjoying the indolent moment. At night, the colorful lights are turned on inside these buildings, which are very beautiful. It will be very nice to drink, shop around, have dinner or just for sightseeing at night here.  


If you want to experience authentic old shanghai life, you can go to Shanghai Shikumen Museum, which is located at No. 25 the same lane. The ticket is RMB 20. This museum is actually adapted from an ordinary house. In this typical three-story Shikumen building, you will see the things and items used by the owners decades ago, such as the brush pen and papers on the desk, photos on the table, tea pot and the teacups, which are displayed just like a real family is still living there. There is an interesting space sandwiched between the kitchen and the terrace called Tingzijian which was originally used for storing sundries. But in later days, because of the tight housing resources and influx of migrant population, Tingzijian was rent to the people like impecunious writers and artists. Many of Chinese famous writers have lived there like Lu Xun, Xiao Jun.

Another place to see Shikumen buildings is Tianzifang which is located in Lane 210, Taikang Rd., Luwan District. You can take metro line 9 and get off at Dapuqiao station.

Tianzifang was just a group of ordinary Shikumen buildings which might have been torn down like others at first, but with more and more artists and studios from different countries gathering here, it gradually becomes a creative industry zone and attracts more and more visitors, thus preserving the old Shikumen buildings and giving them a new life. Now, there are lots of handicraft stores selling traditional fans, silk scarves, paintings, paper cuttings and so on, some other cute stores, cafes, restaurants and bars lining on both sides of the narrow alley. You will love this place if you come here!

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