Longhua Temple & Pagoda

Buddhist Temple in Xujiahui & South Shanghai

Shanghai's oldest and largest monastery is named after the pipal tree (lónghuá) under which Buddha achieved enlightenment. Trees are decorated with red lanterns, incense smoke fills the front of the grounds and monks can regularly be heard chanting, making this one of the city's most atmospheric sites. The much-renovated temple is said to date from the 10th century.

The main halls to visit on the complex are Mile Dian (Maitreya Hall), Tianwang Dian (Hall of Heavenly Kings), Daxiongbao Dian (Grand Hall of the Great Sage), Sansheng Dian (Three Sages Hall) and the Laughing Buddha Hall; note the four huge Heavenly Kings, each in charge of a compass point. The temple is particularly famed for its 6500kg bell, cast in 1894.

A large effigy of Shakyamuni seated on a lotus flower resides within the main hall (Daxiongbao Dian), while the Sansheng Dian holds a golden trinity of Buddhist statues. Also on the complex is the Thousand Luohan Hall, sheltering a huge legion of glittering arhat.

Opposite the temple entrance rises the seven-storey, 44m-high Longhua Pagoda, originally built in AD 977. Visitors are not allowed to climb it, but may recognise it from Steven Spielberg's Empire of the Sun.

The best time to visit is during the Longhua Temple Fair, in the third month of the lunar calendar (usually during April or May); entry may be more expensive during festivities.