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5 free things to do in vibrant, historic, arty Shanghai

Art District

The Hongfang Creative Industrial Zone, created in 2005 out of a cluster of renovated factories, houses galleries including the Shanghai Sculpture Space, open Tuesday-Sunday, which shows work by Chinese and foreign contemporary artists. The building surrounds a grassy courtyard with sculptures that include bulls and horses made of auto parts and car-size heads of Albert Einstein and former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping. The creative zone is on Huaihai Road W., a five-minute walk east of the Hongqiao Road station on the No. 3 subway or 10 minutes west of Huaihai Road West station on the No. 10.

The Moganshan Road Art District, on the bank of Suzhou Creek, is older, grittier and more commercial. The city's most prominent contemporary galleries - locals as well as outposts of European and US galleries - are housed in converted textile factories and warehouses dating to the 1930s. Moganshan's mix of industrial and arty is a favorite backdrop for Chinese fashion photographers. It's a 20-minute walk south of the Zhongtan Station on the No. 3 or No.4 subways.

The Bund

A walk along the Bund is an introduction to the essence of big, bold, fashionable, commercial Shanghai.

The avenue is lined with art deco buildings from the 1920s and 1930s, when Shanghai was the New York of the Far East. The Bund was its Wall Street, home to international banks and trading houses. A handful of foreign and Chinese entrepreneurs made fortunes.

Despite many changes in the city, the Bund's classic appearance has been preserved and its buildings renovated.

At the Bund's north end is the Peace Hotel, one of Shanghai's most famous buildings, where celebrities such as Cole Porter stayed before World War II. Nearby is a statue of Chen Yi, the city's first mayor after the establishment of New China.

Farther south, buildings have been renovated and now house designer shop. At the corner of Guangdong Road, the seventh-floor terrace of restaurant M on the Bund offers a panoramic view across the river to Pudong, the financial district constructed over the past two decades.

The Bund's name comes from the Hindi word for barrier and refers to the riverside embankment where ships were loaded and unloaded.

Today, the commercial piers are gone and the view of the river is blocked by a floodwall built in the 1990s. Visitors can climb to the top of the barrier for a view of the river and Pudong's forest of skyscrapers, such as the Oriental Pearl Television Tower.


Sculpture park

Jing'an Sculpture Park, on Beijing Road West west of the North-South Expressway, is an oasis of green among high-rise apartment blocks. The six-hectare park has monumental works in stone, steel and other materials by artists including American Jim Dine, Belgium's Wim Delvoye and Ram Katzir of Israel. Some are sturdy enough for children to climb. On weekends, kids skate on the sidewalks while adults play badminton on the grass.


People's Square is the heart of modern Shanghai. Built on the site of a colonial-era horse race track, it was the only large open space in the city for decades, until a wave of parks were created in the 1990s.

On the square's southern edge is the Shanghai Museum. Many items from its extensive collections of porcelains, jades, paintings and bronzes were donated by families that fled to Hong Kong following the 1949 communist victory but have since reconciled with the mainland.

To the northeast is the Urban Planning Exhibition Hall, with a scale model of Shanghai's fast-changing cityscape and exhibits on its evolution. The square is just south of People's Square Station on the No. 1 or No. 8 subways.

Fuxing Park, southwest of People's Square on the opposite side of the North-South Expressway, is a French-style park with fountains and gardens that once was part of the former French concession neighborhood. In the mornings, locals dance and practice tai-chi or martial arts here.

Lu Xun Park, in the Hongkou district north of downtown, has lawns, trees and a lake. It commemorates Lu Xun, China's most prominent 20th century author, who spent his final years in Shanghai and died in 1936.

Historic sites

The Former Residence of Mao Zedong commemorates the period in 1924 when the future leader of China's revolution was a communist activist living in Shanghai.

The two-story space has period furniture and displays on early Communist Party history.

The building, wedged between small shops, is an example of shikumen, or stone gate, architecture.

The home is open Tuesday-Sunday, 9am-11:30am, 1pm-4:30pm, at No. 120 Maoming Road N., a short walk south of the Nanjing Road West station on the No. 2 subway.

The Memorial of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China commemorates the first Party meeting in 1921 by late chairman Mao Zedong and 12 fellow leftists.

Visitors can see the parlor where the first congress was held.

The memorial on Huangpi Road S. and Xingye Road south of People's Square also has a museum about party history.

The memorial abuts the tony Xintiandi complex of boutiques and restaurants.

Xintiandi is a product of Deng's market-style reforms launched in the 1980s to revive the economy.

Writtern by Joe McDonald

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