Century Park

Shanghai’s largest park, Century Park (Shìjì Gōngyuán, 世纪公园) sprawls across some 1.4 sq km (0.5 sq mi) of landscaped parkland that provides welcome relief from the ranks of high rises that have sprung up in Pudong (the east bank of the Huangpu River) as the city’s building boom pushes the city eastward across former farmland toward the East China Sea.

Century Park is home to manicured gardens in tradititional Chinese, English and Japanese styels, as well as stretches of open lawn, pleasant wooded patches and a large urban lake. In spring, the park is at its best, as fields of yellow mustard-seed flowers, cheery plum blossoms and violets welcome the warmer weather with a riot of color.

Runners enjoy Century Park for its relatively clean air, its four to six kilometer circular routes and its relative emptiness. A pavilion area flanked by fountains and wide walkways, is located at the western end of the park near Century Square, the Oriental Arts Center and  Shanghai Science and Technology Museum often plays host to roller bladers, kite flyers, tai chi practitioners and other outdoor activity enthusiasts.

Century Square, where Century Avenue, which runs from the heart of the financial district of Lujiazui, terminates, is marked by an iconic sculpture by Shanghai’s own Chen Yifei. Going by the name of “Light of the East,” it resembles an enormous satellite dish or Transformer-style umbrella lying on its side and makes for a fascinating visual counterpoint to the equally futuristic architecture of the Oriental Arts Center and Science and Technology Museum.

Though the recently constructed area–most of the buildings and streets are less than 15 years old–lacks much in the way of the street life and selection of restaurants and entertainment spots that make Shanghai’s Puxi (the west bank of the Huangpu River) such an urban delight, the area’s demographic profile is beginning to change. Since 2010, the park has hosted the annual JZ Music Festival, for example, drawing a mixed Chinese-expat crowd to the park, and some 3,000 college students are slated to take up residence in the area by 2014, when the NYU Shanghai campus becomes operational.

Park activities include boating in paddle boats, low-power four-seater motorboats (30 RMB per hour, 100 RMB deposit) or six-seaters (50 RMB per hour plus deposit) that make for an enjoyable hour or two of tooling around the lake and adjoining canals. The park also features a small selection of amusement park rides perfect for families with children, and plenty of space to relax with a picnics–just bring a blanket, something to drink and your favorite snacks. Mini-golf is also available Locals often pitch day tents on the grass to keep out of the sun over the course of a lazy summer weekend day.

All told, if you find yourself in Shanghai for more than a few days and have tired of the hectic pace of the city as you chase down taxis and “must-see” attractions, Century Park makes for a fantastic mini-getaway, especially if you have kids in tow (start them out at the Science and Technology Museum and then let them run around in the park and you’re almost guaranteed a decent night of sleep for young travelers).

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