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The best things to do in Shanghai’s Old City are exploring what’s left of the Old City and visiting Yu Garden.
As the international concessions developed following the Opium War in 1842, the Old City became known by foreigners as the Chinese City, as local Chinese were not permitted to live in the foreign concessions. The Old City is (and remains) circular in shape, but the defensive wall that once surrounded it is long gone. Today, the Old City’s housing and back alleyways are disappearing quickly, but if you venture off the small roads around Yu Garden, you’ll be rewarded with a picture of traditional Chinese life that hasn’t changed much in the last hundred years.
Yu Garden (yuyuan) is Shanghai’s answer to Suzhou’s beautiful classical Chinese gardens. Yu Garden dates back to 1559 but has been renovated several times since. Today, the garden covers five acres and is designed in traditional Suzhou style, with lots of rocks, greenery, and pagodas. Yu Garden is mobbed at the weekends and in the afternoons, so it’s best to come on weekday mornings. Within the Yu Garden complex is a bazaar selling all sorts of tchotchkes and the City God Temple, where you can light incense and watch as locals pay their respects to deceased relatives.