The Yu Gardens, also known as the Yu Yuan Garden, is likely the most celebrated classical Chinese garden in Shanghai. Found in the northeast of the old town and numbering over fives acres in total area, the Yu Gardens of China are one of the country"s most popular natural landmarks, even going so far to being labeled an architectural miracle in the region south of Yangtze River.
Yu Yuan Garden was first built in 1559 and it took workers almost 20 years to complete. The landscape seems to wind on forever—the gardens are purposefully designed to distort space and distance. You can hardly take a step in these gardens of China without coming across some kind of wood carving or engraving. Emblematic of the gardening style of the Ming and Qing dynasties, the Yu Garden is a maze of pavilions, grottoes, lotus ponds, and rickety bridges crossing lazy streams. Though the gardens in Suzhou often get more critical praise, the Yu Gardens Shanghai attract far more visitors each year, and only partially due to their convenient location in one of the largest cities in Asia.
Built in a style that Suzhou gardens often take, Yu Yuan Garden is characterized by the same exquisite layout and intricate architecture. Each hall, stone, pavilion and stream is meant to imbue the essence of South China garden design, a style popularized during the Qing and Ming dynasties.
Many visitors head straight for the Five-Dragon Wall, a bounding monument to the storied mythical creature. The original design had each of the dragons with a total of five claws; legend has it that when the wall was first completed, during the reign of the Qing dynasty the feudal ruler regarded the fifth claw as a sign of unmitigated irreverence, since all the royal palaces featured four claw dragons. He then cut one of the claws of each dragon.
The Five-Dragon Wall subdivides one of the most beautiful gardens of China into six separate viewpoints, the Grand Rockery, Ten-Thousand-Flower Pavilion, Hall of Heralding Spring, Hall of Jade Magnificence, Inner Garden, and Lotus Pool.
Though there is no shortage of tourist attractions in Shanghai, the Yu Gardens is perfect for a relaxing stroll, a chance to get away from the chaos of Shanghai streets. And while it is probably not worth skipping the Bund or the Oriental Pearl Tower for, the gardens are certainly worth a visit, especially in the springtime.