Step through the gate of Shanghai’s premier classical gardens and into a tranquil world of bamboo groves, koi-filled ponds and Ming Dynasty pavilions.
Yu Yuan Garden was lovingly created in the 1500s by a government officer as a retreat for his parents. Yu Yuan means “peace and comfort,” and despite the popularity of the attraction, the gardens remain a serene sanctuary. Set aside an hour or two to explore the gardens, pavilions, courtyards, chambers and halls. The ponds, bridges and streams also provide perfect spots for reflection, while the protective dragon wall that encircles the garden keeps Shanghai’s bustling Old Town at bay.
The gardens are a firm favorite with tour groups, so arrive early if you’d prefer to avoid the crowds. Set over 5 acres (2 hectares), the gardens are arranged into six main scenic areas. When you first enter the garden, head to the top of the Great Rockery for views of the whole garden. Then follow the main path in a clockwise direction to visit the garden’s main sections before arriving at the Inner Garden.
You’ll find that the garden’s pavilions have poetic names. Three Ears of Corn Hall is the largest of the garden’s grand pavilions and features intricate carvings depicting a bountiful harvest. While nearby at the smaller Pavilion for Viewing Frolicking Fish, gaze down at the teeming schools of koi, just as visitors have for centuries. At the Pavilion of Ten Thousand Flowers, look for a giant maidenhair tree, reputed to be planted 400 years ago.
Not far from the Inner Garden is the Hall of Jade Magnificence, home to one of the garden’s star attractions, the Exquisite Jade Rock. The Inner Garden is the final and quietest section of the complex and contains the aptly named Hall of Serenity and the Tower for Watching Waves. Pause to admire the works of local calligraphers who often display and sell their works in these and other pavilions throughout the garden.
When it’s finally time to leave the tranquility of the koi ponds and pavilions, step back out into the teeming markets and stores that surround the garden.
There is a small admission fee to visit Yu Yuan Garden, which is open daily and is just a 30-minute walk from downtown Shanghai. The area is serviced by public transport.