Think London’s Camden Market meets Brighton’s laines, stick it in the middle of Shanghai, and you have Tianzifang. Whether you’re after cute lil’ nic-nak presents to take home, picking up some boutique fashion finds or just a looking for a hip place to grab a drink, this is the place for you. I mean, sure, the place is absolutely heaving at the weekends and the early evenings, but if you time it right you can have a good mooch around without too much difficulty, as long you don’t mind the odd elbow here and there.
Tiánzǐ Fāng （田子坊）is built into part of the Former French Concession area of Shanghai, and from the main road you may not even realise it’s there – it just looks like a standard, bustling Shanghai street. But delve through one of the entrances and you will find a labyrinth of alleyways packed with all sorts of goodies.
There are around 200 stores tucked into every nook and cranny of this compound, ranging from cheap little souvenirs to glittery jewellery pieces, and many of the artists can be seen crafting their wares in their shops. You can spend hours winding through the lanes admiring the arts and crafts – some of the pieces on offer are truly beautiful, it’s a miracle I managed to resist buying the whole place! As it is like a market place, many of the shops are open to bargaining, and a lot of the stall owners have enough English to barter with you over the cost and often have a small calculator with them to use to show you the price in figures. I listened to one girl driving a hard bargain over some pieces of jewellery, and she managed to get two pieces for the original price of one! I was super tempted by the gorgeous cups and tea sets in one particular store tucked in a corner of one of the back lanes, but at this point in time I still had 5 flights to put my suitcase on so I didn’t want to risk it (and, given the state of my bag when I got it back after my last flight to Heathrow, it’s a damn good job I didn’t buy anything fragile, it definitely would not have survived!)
Some of the stuff you will find very samey – just like Camden. For example, there must have been up to 10 shops throughout the compound selling the miniature dim sum dish key rings and/or models, as well as multiple stalls selling sweets and candies in various forms. But dig a little deeper and you’ll find the boutiques with beautiful paper umbrellas, exquisite scarves and delicately decorated chopsticks. I was this close to buying the chopsticks below because I was (and still am) a little bit in love with them, but they’re so pretty I know I would never use them and figured I should save my money for more practical things… I’m still a little bit mad at myself for my sensible decisions to be honest!
If you’re lucky enough, you can to catch some of the artists at work (the busier it is, the more likely it is they will be out showing off their crafts). The day I visited, I saw ladies making space ship shaped candyfloss, a couple of artists painting names on boards and even a guy creating these jars of sand depicting various ‘scapes and famous characters! There was also jewellery sellers creating personalised pieces for customers – you can pick up a Pandora-style bracelet with your own assortment of charms and beads for a fraction of the price of the real deal.
And have no fear if you get a bit peckish whilst you’re wandering the alleys, there’s a multitude of coffee shops, cafes, snack windows, bars and even proper restaurants tucked in amongst the stalls. You can dine alfresco if you can nab a seat in one of the courtyard areas, or take your snacks and drinks to go and keep exploring. I opted for a mango smoothie (obviously) and some ice cream because it was mad hot, but there’s churros, steamed dim sum, bubble teas, cakes, Western style restaurants, pretty much anything you could want! There’s Wifi everywhere too, in typical Shanghai fashion.
It’s super easy to get here, hop on Line 9 of the Metro and get off at Dapuqiao station, head out Exit 1 and then you’re literally right in front of Tianzifang. Overall, definitely one to check out if you have a spare afternoon in the city – especially if you’re looking for cute gifts or memorabilia from your China trip! I will certainly be taking another trip there when I return, I am dying to get my paws on those tea cups!!
All photographs used in this post were taken by myself and all rights are my own.