Though a concrete jungle, Shanghai has a decent amount of green space in the form of 25 parks. In most you will find an active elderly community of dancers, tai chi and qi gong practitioners, and board game players. Getting outside and exercising is a large part of Chinese urban culture, and locals are usually welcoming if you want to join their activities. Some parks have vast grassy areas with tons of trees and flowers, while others are more known for their river views, or being important cultural meeting points.
Located in the Former French Concession and spanning 25 acres, this large park hosts tai chi groups, chess and mahjong players, kite flyers, calligraphers, and ballroom dancers daily. Though large, the park is peaceful and the environment encouraging for whatever activity park goers decide to undertake. Fuxing’s strengths are its wide variety of activities cultural and athletic activities, central location, and beautiful French-style designs featuring rose gardens, a lake, and several waterways. Most groups are friendly and will let you jump into a class, even if you’re Chinese isn’t very advanced. Also, a large statue of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels is another of the park's claims to fame.
Jing'an Sculpture Park
Small, peaceful Jing’an Sculpture Park surrounds the Shanghai Natural History Museum and offers those who enter it a peaceful respite from the Shanghai hustle. Sixty-one sculptures are on display, some being permanent and others rotating throughout the year, featuring both Chinese and foreign artists. Mornings can be busy with local groups dancing and practicing tai chi, but generally, the park feels spacious, though it’s only 7.4 acres. What it lacks in green space, it makes up for in photo ops like standing under an abstract rainbow or posing with a floating astronaut.
Shanghai Botanical Garden
Go here for verdant landscapes, specialty gardens, a good place to picnic, and cool forest walks. Admire stunning orchids and miniature Penjing (similar to Bonsai) landscapes in the greenhouses. Wander through its bamboo forests and enjoy the fragrant scents of the Osmanthus and Rose Gardens. Springtime covers the park in pink peach and cherry blossoms, and romantic couples come to kiss under their boughs, long-regarded as symbols of love and prosperity. To reach the garden, take the Shanghai Metro line 3 to Shilong Rd. Station and walk five minutes. Entrance is 15 yuan ($2.15) for general admission, and some greenhouses charge an extra fee.
Gongqing National Forest Park
Measuring in at whopping 324 acres, Gongqing National Forest Park in Yangpu district is Shanghai’s second-largest park. Here you can ride horses, boat on the lake, zip line, or play soccer. Bring a picnic lunch or have a barbecue at one of the grills. Over 200,000 trees, lots of gardens, and multiple lakes make it easy to forget you’re in one of the world's largest cities. Because it’s a trek from the city center, weekdays are the perfect time to come to avoid crowds. The entrance fee is 15 yuan ($2.15). Plan on going early as the park closes at 4:30 p.m.
The top basketball players in the city play on this park’s courts. Located near the Former French Concession and open 24/7, the park is free, central, and large. Swans preen themselves by the pond and magnolia and sycamore trees offer shady places to relax. Its waterways were built to resemble the Huangpu River, and can be enjoyed from the park’s skybridge. The Shanghai Conservatory of Music holds concerts in Xujiahui Park and families often bring their children to play at the playground. A tower and old office building have been preserved from when the area was the headquarters of China’s first record company, as well as a rubber factory.
Xuhui Riverside Green Space
This park was made for athletes and dog lovers. Free, open 24/7, and a pedestrian-only area, it runs 3.1 miles (5 kilometers) along the Huangpu River. Runners come here to use the springy, built-in running track and you'll often spot acro yoga groups and slack-liners practicing here on the weekends. Dog owners are also regulars, due to the grassy areas perfect for picnics and nearby dog park. The park also has a rock-climbing wall and skatepark (conveniently lit up at night). To experience it for yourself, take the Shanghai Metro line 7 and get off at the Longhua Middle Road stop.
Over on the Pudong side of the river is the largest park in Shanghai: Century Park. Its 346 acres contain running trails, tennis and basketball courts, a nature reserve, and electric boat rentals for exploring its lake and river. Century Park is the best birding spot in the city, and has its own nature reserve with over 50 types of trees. See hoopoes, kingfishers, and over 30 other species of birds here, and check out the Century Clock, a giant satellite-controlled clock surrounded by bright red and yellow flowers. Part of the park charges a small entry fee of 10 yuan (about $2).
Located near Suzhou Creek, this park offers great areas for kite flying, lots of running trails, and a lake with boats for rent. Groups of musicians and dancers (some with swords) meet in the pagodas, and over 260 species of plants cover the 49 acres of the park. Walk through its gardens, bask in the sun on the Great Lawn, and see a concert at the nearby Yuyintang Livehouse. Free, clean, and open 24/7, expect it the park be busy, unless you come in the early morning.
A well-cared-for accessible park in the center of Shanghai, People’s Park is to Shanghai what Central Park is to New York. Plus, there’s a weekend marriage market. Matchmaking parents affix advertisements with their unwed children’s info to umbrellas and hang out in the park by gate 5 from about noon to 3 p.m. The marriage market makes for great people-watching, as do the perennial exercise groups of old-timers. People’s Park has lots of ponds with turtles and goldfish, grassy areas for lazing, and walking paths, and boardgame meetups.
Lu Xun Park
This park is named after the Chinese writer Lu Xun and contains his tomb. Explore the plum garden and enjoy the small lake by renting a boat. Lots of friendly locals exercise here, and some even sing opera. Check out the museum (for a small fee) which contains some of the author’s works and personal things. In the spring, the park bursts into pink when its hundreds of cherry trees bloom, making for pleasant walks.