Free and low cost things to do in Shanghai, China: a leisurely day out around Yu Yuan 豫园 Yu Garden

Free and low cost things to do in Shanghai, China: a leisurely day out around Yu Yuan 豫园 Yu Garden

Last Updated on: 25th April 2024, 12:54 pm

Are you looking for things to do on a leisurely day out in Shanghai? Visit a traditional Chinese garden within easy access to public transport.

Yu Yuan 豫园, (‘yuan’ meaning ‘garden’) in Shanghai is a traditional Chinese Garden and is also the name of the general area around it. Yu Yuan is a 10 minute stroll from Yu Yuan Garden Metro Stop. The garden itself is a ticketed site, but you can stroll around the Chinese lotus pond outside for free and pick up some tasty steamed buns nearby or dine at the famous Nan Xiang Steamed Bun Restaurant.

At a glance:

  • Around 10 minute stroll from Yu Garden metro stop
  • Garden entry fee is ¥40-30 for adults depending on season
  • Surrounding Chinese corridors ‘chang lang’ are lined with restaurants and stores that sell artistic product stores
  • Lots of Chinese restaurants that sells Shanghai specialties – steamed buns, pastries, great for afternoon tea
  • Open air lotus pond and the walkway over it are good photo spots
  • Public toilets in the food court
  • Note there are no public seating areas

Yu Yuan area has traditional style buildings (but not necessarily actually historic) that house artistic stores selling art products like Chinese tea cups, decorative items like lamps and carvings, and traditional Chinese pastry/steamed bun/afternoon tea type restaurants (you won’t be finding McDonald’s or KFC here!), which overlook the lotus pond in the middle. This is a great place to spend a leisurely day out in Shanghai, close to conveniences like public transport, restaurants, shops, and food courts, while still being able to admire traditonal Chinese architecture and gardens.

Stroll through the crowd on the walkway over the pond for some nice photos. This area of the city is far better than any Chinese garden you’ll find in western cities.

As you make your way to there from the metro stop, the area around it is full of buildings in the style of traditional Chinese architecture so you know you are in the right area. See a short video of the area here. (opens an external tab) when you see them. It was about a 10 minute walk due to construction work at the time, and I personally found it a little hard to find even though I went twice.

The streets are all over the place, from newer, large roads to interweaving, old/ancient small alley ways so sometimes specific addresses in an alley way might be a little difficult to find, but if you wander around, you’ll find it. These small alley ways often do not permit and are not physically accessible to vehicles, such as the Old Street in Jia Ding. While Google Maps app works (with a VPN), I’d recommend using the local maps to get around if you can use it, either GaoDe Di Tu (‘高得地图’, Di Tu meaning ‘Map’) or BaiDu Maps (百度地图) as they are designed in China specifically for China. Both are available as a free smartphone app or you can access them online, with verbal (in Mandarin) and visual directions given (the map is in Chinese though).

Once there though, all the lanes are organised into an orderly grid like fashion with easy to read signs. Follow the signs and you won’t get lost.


There are addresses at the end of each alley way on the wall, and numbers on the wall outside the shops.

(Keep reading to find out more about Millions of Gourmet)

Anyway, so after winding my way to the area, there are plenty of things to see and do. I visited in July which is smack bang in the middle of summer, but being a summer person I didn’t mind the heat nor getting wet from the rain that day, which also provided me with some nice photo opportunities.

The area

Traditional style buildings


The area is full of long Chinese corridors (长廊 chang lang) lined with new but traditional-styled rooms that sell Chinese arts and craft objects, like ceramic tea cups, bamboo brush holders, bamboo carvings, clay figurines, modern figurines and souvenirs. There is lots of places to eat, from hole-in-the-wall style food outlets to dine-in restaurants, fancy or not. The good thing is there are almost no cheesy touristy souvenirs to be found (except some magnets and toys directly outside the south entry to the actual Garden and some in a large crafts store). If you are a fan of t-shirts, there is a t-shirt shop that looks nothing like your typical touristy t-shirt shop. Choose a size and colour (white or black) and a design which they will print on your shirt for you. The T-shirts aren’t even poor quality wearable cloths used for printing lame designs. The designs are artistically drawn vector pictures of animals and people. Much better than any other cheesy tourist T-Shirts I’ve ever seen anywhere else. Unfortunately (and understandably) pretty much all of these shops don’t allow photographs.


Luckily for you, here are some photos I managed to get:

Tea cups


More Tea cups


Even beautiful Turkish mosaic lamps:


Staff at one shop assured me that they are very familiar with overseas or interstate visitors and can package your item appropriately.

Bamboo carvings, as promised


Ceramic incense or skinny plant holders (ie, skinny Bamboo plant holders), tea cups, bottles, really just a whole bunch of pretty ceramic things that I would love but have no use for except dust collecting. Trust me, they’re a lot prettier in real life, can’t expect a camera phone to capture a good picture (Call me an old fashioned photographer who prefers a fully functional camera).IMG_3514

Maybe something like this:

Blue tea cup with a cute goldfish inside. Chinese art do not contain octopuses!


Or this:

Green tea cup with a carp inside


When the sun came out slightly and it was still drizzling:



Garden entry price

The entry price for the Yu Yuan garden is ¥40 in peak season (April 1 to June 30th and September 1 to November 30) or ¥30 in low season (all other times). Children shorter than 1.4m are ¥10 each.

However, it is entirely possible to experience the same ambience for free by strolling around the outside and in the lotus pond garden. Visitors can see lotus flowers, ponds, walk across Chinese zig zag bridges, and view Chinese architecture, under the canopy of trees.

The lotus garden:

DSC07480In the very right of this photo you can just see some red, blue and yellow plastic umbrellas. These are part of the aforementioned kiosk, that faces one of the garden’s entry.


You can buy fish feed at the little kiosk opposite the south entry to the Garden to feed the fish in the pond.



There is a very popular restaurant upstairs from the lotus pond called 南翔馒头店 Nan Xiang Steamed Bun Restaurant that serves lots of pastries and dishes, great place for an afternoon tea with friends or alone. I was very lucky to have been invited by friends to have afternoon tea there. For someone who does not like dumplings, buns, and pastries, it was really good and I highly recommend it.

Entry leading to the restaurant

The people in the black uniform are police. They are around many popular tourist areas/high people traffic areas.

Prawn Xiao Long BaoDSC07485

Sesame pastries


Sticky rice-filled lotus root slices in syrupDSC07487

Tea and shao maiDSC07486

Brown rice shao mai


Snow pea sprouts


Curry pastries


Shanghai is known for its steamed filled buns, in particular, Xiao Long Bao 小笼包. A popular steamed bun around Yu Garden is the crab meat soup bun. These are quite large, about 8-10cm in diameter and as the name suggests, filled with crab meat mixed with pork, and soup. They are sold in a lot of places at Yu Garden, usually around ¥20 give or take a few Chinese Yuan. A little secret is this nice 2 level food court called Millions of Gourmet that is more like a buffet with a huge variety of food. When I say variety I mean variety. They have noodle soup, vegetables, seafood, meat, deep fried food, cold salad, soup, stirfrys, rice, beverages, steamed buns, pastries, cold food, plus an array of Chinese food that do not fit in any of these categories. They also sell the crab buns.


The way the food court works is like a pay per serve buffet. Grab a tray, then walk along each section, choose your own ready-made dishes or choose for freshly made noodle soup, and pay at the end of the section. Each dish type is labelled with their price above the counter.

These signs above each set of dishes tell describes the dish name and price. I’m actually quite impressed with the organisation and signage.




Chilli Prawn


Crab claw and steamed egg puddingIMG_3516

Crab steamed buns! Crab steamed buns are really popular in this area, lots of restaurants sell them and prices can vary between ¥18-25 each. These ones in the food court are cheaper and come in little plastic steamers with holes in the bottom for ventilation. The skin of the bun sticks to the bottom of these so if you aren’t careful when lifting it out, all the hot soup will leak out of the holes in the bottom. Best way to eat it is slowly from the top, poke a hole to let out the steam, and suck the soup with a straw they provide.


Pickled vegetables


This is a vegetable dish, called Bao Ta Cai 宝塔菜, or literally, ‘treasure pagoda vegetable’. It’s solid and crunchy like a radish but takes on the flavour of the sauce its in. This one is pickled but I have seen it stirfried in other places.

Sugar crystal coated fried pear.

Assorted pastriesDSC07727

Highly recommend coming here with a bunch of friends so you can try a bit of everything. Also the food court has seats and tables, which the same cannot be said of the outside Yu Garden area. There are no seats around the Yu Garden lotus pond or shops unless you eat at a restaurant. This is probably where probably the only public toilets are available around this area.

To see videos of the food court, visit here and here (opens external tab).

To more photos, click here.

For more things to do in Shanghai, check out my other posts here.

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