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Taikang Lu (Tianzifang)


Walking south to the end of Sinan Lu then turning right onto Taikang Lu (泰康路, tàikāng lù) will bring you to the latest fashionably artsy shopping and lunching quarter, Tianzifang (田子坊, tiánzifāng). You’ll have to look hard to find the unassuming entrance, an arch over alley 210, which stretches north off Taikang Lu. It leads onto Taikang Art Street, a narrow north–south alleyway that is the central artery for an expanding web of alleys filling up with trendy boutiques, coffee shops, handmade jewellery stores, art galleries, interior design consultancies and the like, all housed in converted shikumen houses. At its northern end, it comes out at Sinan Lu, but don’t even try to come in from there – the entrance is really tough to find.

Inevitably, the place gets compared with Xintiandi; but whereas the architecture there is modern pastiche, this is a set of real, warts-and-all longtangs, with the result that it’s quainter, shabbier and more charming. There are still plenty of local families around, who continue, boutiques or no boutiques, to hang their woolly underwear out to dry, and old folk shuffle round in their pyjamas, studiously ignored by the chic ladies who lunch. If you’re looking for an artsy knick-knack or accessory, quirky souvenir, tasteful homeware or a designer original, this is the place to come; an emphasis on local design and creativity rather than brands makes this the best shopping experience in the city. There’s a tourist information booth just inside the entrance and next to that, a map shop; you might balk at paying ¥5 for a glossy sheet of paper, but really the map is invaluable as the alleys are something of a warren.

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