The name of the Yuyuan Garden means 'Garden of Peace and Comfort', a slightly ironic moniker these days. Owing to its position in the center of the Old Town and its reputation as one of China's finest and best-preserved gardens, Yuyuan is crowded to bursting point every day. And yet, somehow, it manages to maintain something of its air of serenity.
The garden has a touching history. It was built in the 16th century by a government official. He spent 20 years perfecting the garden as a haven for his father in his old age.
Flowing dragon walls encircle a relatively small space - the garden measures up at only 2 hectares (5 acres). And yet, what a lot is packed in to that space! Tall rockeries emulate cliffs and crags. Ming-era pavilions invite repose. Bamboo sway in the wind. Koi thrash the waters of the pools in their feeding frenzies. Zig-zag bridges foil evil spirits (who can only travel in straight lines).
Don't miss the Exquisite Jade Rock. Legend has it that this rock was on its way to the court in Beijing when it went down in a shipwreck. It was later retrieved from the Hupuang River and ended up here. It's weathered and honeycombed, so much so that water and incense smoke will flow through holes in its surface.
The Yuyuan Garden is at the center of Nanshi, Shanghai's Old Town. To get there, take the subway to Henan Zhonglu station or Yuyuan station.