Yuyuan Gardens & Bazaar

Top choice in Shanghai Old City

My only regret is that the moment was almost too perfect...

With its shaded alcoves, glittering pools churning with fish, plus pavilions, pines sprouting wistfully from rockeries, and roving packs of Japanese tourists, the Yuyuan Gardens is one of Shanghai's premier sights, but becomes overpoweringly crowded at weekends. The spring and summer blossoms bring a fragrant, floral aspect to the gardens, especially the luxurious petals of its Magnolia grandiflora, Shanghai's flower. Other trees include the luohan pine, bristling with thick needles, plus willows, gingkos, cherry trees and magnificent dawn redwoods.

The Pan family, rich Ming dynasty officials, founded these gardens, that took 18 years (1559–77) to be nurtured into existence before bombardment during the Opium War in 1842. The gardens took another trashing during French reprisals for attacks on their nearby concession during the Taiping Rebellion. Restored, they are a fine example of Ming garden design.

Next to the garden entrance is the Mid-Lake Pavilion Teahouse, once part of the gardens and now one of the most famous teahouses in China.

The adjacent bazaar may be tacky, but it's good for a browse if you can handle the push and pull of the crowds. The nearby Taoist Temple of the Town God is also worth visiting. Just outside the bazaar is Old Street, known more prosaically as Middle Fangbang Rd, a busy street lined with curio shops and teahouses.