Now connected to downtown Shanghai via Metro Line 9, Qibao Old Street (Qībǎo Lǎojiē, 七宝老街)—also known as Qibao Ancient Town (Qībǎo Gǔzhèn, 七宝古镇)—provides a glimpse of traditional China. Within easy day-trip range of the heart of the city an afternoon at Qibao Old Street, whether to visit the sites and museums or simply explore, makes for a great little escape from Shanghai. There is no admission fee for the street itself, but you can buy a RMB 30 ticket that will gain you admission to the individual sites and museums.
Qibao Old Street is actually made up of a number of streets criss-crossing two blocks and bisected by a canal. Traditional Ming and Qing Dynasty buildings have been refurbished and offer museums, gardens, shops, restaurants and tea houses. Sites and museums in the area offer plentiful English signage.
The northern half of Qibao Old Street’s main street, Beida Jie (北大街) leads from the entrance archway (páilou 牌楼) and Beida Jie Square (Běidà Jiē Guǎngchǎng, 北大街广场) down to the bridged canal where it becomes Nanda Jie (南大街). The three-story clock tower (zhōnglóu, 钟楼) sits in the center of Beida Jie Square next to a small pond and pagoda-topped rockery. Beida Jie carries the bulk of the area’s shops hawking more traditional souvenirs.
Entry tickets, which can be bought at a stand on the way to Qibao from the Qibao subway stop or at the corner of Hengli Lu (横沥路) and Qingnian Lu (青年路), cover entry to a number of attractions including the Old Trades Museum (Lǎo Hángdang, 老行当), Cricket House (Xīshuài Cǎotáng, 蟋蟀草堂), Cotton Textile Mill (Miánzhī Fāng, 棉织坊), Zhou’s Miniature Carving House, Shadow Puppet Museum (Píyǐng Yìshù Guǎn 皮影艺术馆), Memorial Hall of the Artist Zhang Chongren and Pawn Shop Museum (dàngpù 当铺). It does not include entry to the Qibao Calligraphy Arts Room (Qībǎo Shūfǎ Yìshù Guǎn, 七宝书法艺术馆), which costs RMB 10.
The Old Trades Museum recreates traditional street scenes with wax models occupying recreated old shops. Similarly, the Cotton Textile Mill features wax models displaying the use of traditional tools used to turn cotton into garments as well as a recreation of a traditional Wedding Hall, which is more a display of furniture than textiles.
Less elaborate, the Cricket House, dedicated to the history of keeping crickets, is home to several cases of traditional cricket houses and feeding dishes as well as a large number of preserved cricket specimens. Live crickets (xīshuài, 蟋蟀) can be found in little wooden or woven cages throughout Qibao.
The Shadow Puppet Museum, or Shadowgraph Museum, follows the development of shadow puppetry in the Shanghai area, with plenty of such puppets on display and a shadow puppet theater that operates 1:00pm to 4:00 daily (RMB 5). The Pawn Shop museum is the least interesting of the museums, consisting of a single room with old money, receipts and pawned items on display.
Visitors can take boat rides from the tiny wharf (yóuchuán mǎtóu,游船码头) at the western edge of Qibao along the canal. Boats run daily from 8:30am to 4:00pm and lovely ride takes around 20 minutes (RMB 10 per person).
Just south of the bridge, Nanda Jie is crammed with snack shops offering a variety of treats including beggar’s chicken (jiàohuà jī, 叫化鸡), stuffed and boiled rice dumplings (zòngzi, 粽子), coconuts spiked with straws (yēzi zhī, 椰子汁), stuffed sweet lotus root (tángǒu, 糖藕), and more.
Also on Nanda Jie, the Qibao Distillery (Qībǎo Jiǔfáng, 七宝酒坊), which has a restaurant upstairs (10:30am-2pm, 4:30pm-9:00pm daily), distills Qibao Daqu (Qībǎo Dàqū, 七宝大曲), a surprisingly smooth liquor. The counter, surrounded by large, brown clay jugs, is easy to miss. Passing the counter, the stairs to the restaurant go up and split in front of the old central courtyard of the building, where large clay jugs store wine aging until ready for bottling. Right next to the stairs, a door provides a glimpse to the small room where the liquor is distilled opposite a glass case detailing the process and ingredients.
Most of the restaurants outside Nanda Jie line the streets hugging the canal, including several larger ones where the northwest lane Jiuqu Long (九曲弄) opens into a small courtyard. Tea houses also follow a similar pattern, including a large second story teahouse, Xiao Tiandi (小天地) off of Beiguo Long (北国弄).
Dating back to the Han Dynasty, the area that is now Qibao Old Street was not known as such until Qibao Temple (Qībǎo Jiàosì, 七宝教寺) was moved just to the northeast during the Song Dynasty. In 2000, investments transformed QIbao into a tourist spot. The current Qibao Temple, at 1205 Xinzhen Lu (新镇路) was built in 2003 and features several temple halls and a seven-story pagoda. Though near Qibao and associated with Qibao, visitors need to use Qingnian Lu (青年路) in the north or Fuqiang Lu (富强街) in the south to go between the temple and Qibao Old Street. Also near Qibao Old Street is the Qibao Catholic Church, built in 1866.
Though modern apartment complexes have surrounded Qibao, traditional dwellings still exist in various states of disrepair between the developed “Old Street” area and the Qibao Temple in the northeast.
During weekends and national holidays, Qibao can get quite packed.