Some people aren’t fans of old architecture/laneways re-purposed into commercial spaces, but re-purposing them prevents them from being torn down and built into something that will be used the same way anyway.
These places are different to historic attractions like Wuzhen, these areas are essentially shops. If you enjoy shopping and old laneways, and are in Shanghai then have I got the place for you. Forget about the fake markets and big shopping centers, Tian Zi Fang is a cute little place that has more atmosphere than any westernised, air-conditioned shopping center (which Shanghai has LOTS of, and are large).
In any case, let there be no mistake that this is a commercial shopping place, and not a historical attraction, so do not come here looking for history and then being disappointed. (see my tripadvisor review here).
Tian Zi Fang 田子坊 is part of Old Shanghai (life when old Chinese buildings and bicycles were the norm, but not old enough to be ancient China).
It was first converted to shops in 1998 and consists of lane after lane of old buildings. Rather than tearing them down to make way for yet another shopping centre, this area has been converted into an arts and crafts market. If you want some unique souvenirs, it is worth coming here for a look.
At a glance:
- Around 200m from Dapuqiao metro stop
- Entry: free
- Great for a day of souvenir shopping
- Lots of restaurants that sells Shanghai specialties
- Public toilets available
- Next to no public seating areas, one bench was seen outside the toilets
The laneways are lined with shops selling things like preserved leaf vein bookmarks, clay and glass bottles of perfume, sketches, handbags, wallets, silks, clothing, tea and tea sets, to more mass produced things like magnets and postcards. You won’t find any luxury brands or their imitations here, these products are artistic designs. Also available are a variety of snack foods, ice cream, drinks…
The postcards are more representative of its destination for example, sunrise over Old Shanghai, rather than just a pretty skyline slapped onto a glossy card. Some stores sell them in a pack, others, you can pick and choose a pack for a set price, and choose from photos of modern Shanghai or old shanghai, colour, sepia or black and white pictures.
Most of the stores do not allow photos, so here is a limited selection:
These are bookmarks made from leaves, with Chinese art printed (I suspect it is printed). On the reverse side you can see the veins of the leaf.
The glass bottles are small bottles of perfume, and each colour has a different fragrance. The coloured bottle on the right is a glass bottle covered in clay. The clay bottles were seen in YuYuan as well. I am yet to figure out how these are made, as the designs are made from clay.
Chinese blue ceramic design handbag. My mother’s friend, who lives in Shanghai, bought this and another bag for myself and my sister.
She also bought me this, which is a handcrafted ceramic decorative plaque. The design is of a Chinese opera female makeup.
Okay so this might not be a good souvenir, but this store stocked other slightly creepy things, like this tarantula and ceiling lamp made from (I was told and sure hope so) fake deer antlers.
The store was small and dark with an assortment of things stored on the staircase, with other preserved insects, and live pet turtles. I gave the store keeper quite a fright as neither of us knew the other was there.
This might not make a great souvenir either, but stores like these sold portrait sketches, of celebrities or you can get one done for yourself.
Postcard specialty store
Food and Drink
I was told that these were a fad and seen in Suzhou as well. Vendors here sold squeezed fruit juice in fake IV drip bags, and one shop even displayed them on a fake IV pole. I tried this one, cold freshly squeezed mango puree, and was delicious.
I would look out for the place that sold actual squeezed fruit juice because the place I got the mango puree from, theirs seemed to be 100% actual fruit juice/puree, whereas the other ones like the one on the IV pole, seemed to be diluted with water if not also artificial (what flavour is the blue one? No idea). Other flavours/juices include watermelon and lemon.
There are many bars and restaurants in this area, serving international cuisine including Indian, American and Italian.
Across the street there are Chinese restaurants, serving Shanghai style food. My mother’s friend took me to eat there and I really enjoyed it. We went to The Dining Room where we had a platter of Shanghai specialties.
A non-touristy souvenir (such as magnets, t-shirts and baseball caps) you could buy is probably the postcards depicting Old Shanghai, or the Old Shanghai facial cream that comes in small jars with Old Shanghai designs on it.
There are free public toilets here, but next to no public seating areas. There was one bench was seen outside the toilets which I am not sure if they are squat toilets or not.
Due to the narrow lane ways, wheelchairs and strollers may have trouble fitting through, although the paved areas are all flat.
Recommended time here:
3-4 hours. If this is your first time going here, then 2 hours might be a bit tight since you have to find your way around. You can even make it a half day trip and have lunch at one of the many restaurants around here.
English: 210 Taikang Road, Shanghai
The closest metro stop is Dapuqiao, about 200m away, across the road (Taikang Road). When facing the shopping center, the metro station is forwards (walking southernly). Entry is on Taikang Road (泰康路). Click here for a map.
There are multiple entries to Tian Zi Fang and each is numbered. Inside, the alley ways are arranged in perpendicular lanes. There are signs on the walls at each intersection to tell you the ‘street’ number and each shop has their shop number on the wall. If you get lost just remember the shop number.
Outside one of the entries is this Exchange ATM, instead of withdrawing money, you can exchange your currency. Not sure about the currencies available or the rate though.
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