Shanghai's arts and crafts enclave, Tianzifang, is a labyrinth of narrow lanes bursting with diminutive shops, restaurants, and bars. Most of the shops here are located inside shikumen, stone gatehouses dating to the early 1930s. Gear up for your shopping spree with a coffee alfresco at Kommune before checking out Xingmu Handicraft's gorgeous handmade leather notebooks or Shanghai Code's vintage Chinese glasses and watches. Pick up delicate stationery at Dongxi Workshop, Shanghai's very first boutique, and head to Sky Music Box for—you guessed it—music boxes from all over the world.
By Sophie Friedman, AFAR Local Expert
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Les Enfants in Shanghai
The former residential suburb and French concession, Tian Zi Fang, is a maze of overflowing shops and cultures. The unexpected blend of European charm overlaid by Chinese chaos makes the area uniquely inviting. This is such a great area for people watching and art shopping! While in the neighborhood we spotted this adorable little girl and I was impressed by her mother's ability to switch from French to English to Mandarin Chinese with such ease. Shanghai is truly a melting pot!
By Gina Longman
Arts and Crafts Shopping in Old Shanghai
This was my favorite area to walk around and shop. Great tiny boutiques in a historic longtang, which is a traditional urban alley-community in Shanghai. These longtangs are not long for this world -- disappearing with each new building that is erected. Residents are usually offered relocation outside of Shanghai, but this area is a success story where residents were able to lobby to keep the area preserved by making it an artist community. It's nice to see what it's like between the giant office buildings and shopping malls that now dominate most of Shanghai. And fun shopping! Despite the record high temperatures, I was tempted to buy a cashmere sweater with fur trim at one high-end store, Shanghai Woo Trading Co --that's how gorgeous and handmade it was, check out www.shanghaiwoo.com/en/. Also fun is Candy Lab (www.thecandylabs.com) to see the artistry of candy in progress. Shoubai Art Gallery (www.shoubaiart.com) is like a museum gift shop full of gorgeous paper cutting. Spend a couple of hours just getting lost in the alleyways of this little gem of a district.
Portrait of Chliodhna Ztoical by Jin Yu
According to an email I got from Chliodhna (an artist I met Shanghai): "I had my portrait drawn by that artist we saw (Jin Yu, in Tianzifang) and he got a massive kick out of me drawing him as well. Thankfully a crowd gathered that included some school girls who had limited English so I had a small bit of conversation with him."
A Sketch-Off in Tianzifang
The artist I met while travelling, Cliodhna, drew this sketch of Jin Yu, a local artist in Shanghai, while he sketched her! She wrote: "My drawing of Jin Yu (plus I got a stamp made in a shop down the way with my name plus the Chinese characters for it or so the guy claims)!"
Street Food and Shopping in Tianzifang
Shopping in Tianzifang may feel a little kitsch at times. The area certainly has its fair share of junk for sale. But look a little harder and you will find the authentic mixed in with the commercial. The best way to experience Tianzifang might just be to search out some street food, find a bench or even a step where you can eat it, and spend some time people watching. You'll be pleasantly surprised by what you see and find.
Expats came up with the nickname “Tons of Fun” as much for the similar sounding phrase as because you can get happily lost within Tianzifang’s lanes. It’s a historically preserved enclave within the French Concession, where many of the low-slung residential buildings now house bars, shops, and art galleries. Each alleyway has a distinct feel; dozens of paper umbrellas create a canopy above one lane, while another has jaunty red lanterns. As you wander, keep an eye out for the eclectic shophouse restaurants hidden up staircases. Photo by Madeline Ball.
By Jenny Adams, AFAR Local Expert