Shanghai Neighboring Cities
Should the hustle and bustle of city life wear you down, there are several options for a weekend escape. The tributaries along the Yangtze River are dotted with traditional water villages, each one vying for the dubious title of "Venice of the East." Xitang 西塘, Wuzheng 乌镇, Zhouzhuang 周庄 and Zhujiajiao 朱家角 are the closest to Shanghai. They're all admittedly a bit touristy. Some of them even charge admission and make you walk through a turnstile. Still, strolling along the canals and being ferried around on a gondola can make for a fun, relaxing day out. Word to the wise: these places are crawling with tourists on the weekends. If you can, opt for a weekday excursion. Bus transit to all four villages is available at Shanghai Stadium 上海旅游集散中心 in Xujiahui.
The recently built high-speed rail system has also made second-tier cities in nearby Jiangsu and Zhejiang Provinces even more accessible now. Among them, Hangzhou 杭州 in Zhejiang is a standout. This beautiful lakeside city boasts a history dating all the way back to at least AD 589. For over a century it was even the seat of Chinese imperial power under the Southern Song Dynasty. The heart of the city is West Lake (Xihu西湖), with its elegant causeway built by famed 11th century poet and governor Su Dongpo. Around the city there are endless opportunities for hiking, biking and exploring. Don't miss the famed tea plantations of nearby Longjing. The Lingyin Buddhist Temple is also worth a visit. You could easily cover the Hangzhou basics within a day, but it's also worth a leisurely weekend.
In neighboring Jiangsu Province, Suzhou 苏州 is a popular Shanghai getaway destination. You can see all most of its highlights, like Tiger Hill 虎丘 and its many canals, gardens and temples within a day, and the city can be reached well within an hour by high-speed train.
Slightly further afield is Nanjing, which, like Hangzhou 杭州, also once served as China's capital. You could easily spend a few days here soaking in some history at the National Palace or the Mausoleum of Sun Yat Sen, the Father of Modern China. Do be sure to take a half a day to see visit the Nanjing Massacre Memorial, an emotionally powerful monument and museum dedicated to the memory of the estimated 300,000 lives lost during the brutal Japanese occupation of the city during World War II.
For some serenity outside of the city, look no further than Mogan Mountain (Mogan Shan)莫干山. During the turn of the 20th century, this mountain community ensconced among the bamboo forests of Zhejiang was a popular summer retreat for Shanghai's well-heeled foreigners. Today it's enjoying a renaissance. Its peak is dotted with lodges and guesthouses accommodating most budgets. The surrounding areas offer plenty of opportunities for hiking and sightseeing.
For the culture vulture, there is Putuoshan 普陀山. This island off the Zhejiang coast is regarded as one the four holy mountains of Chinese Buddhism. It is believed by many Buddhists to be the site where the Bodhisattva Guanyin achieved enlightenment. The place is dotted with temples in honor of the revered bodhisattva, and monks and nuns flock from around the country to study there. Three times a year, the faithful take part in a pilgrimage to celebrate her birth, ordination as a monk and her achievement of enlightenment. The rest of the year, it's a prime spot for a tranquil weekend away. Bus transit is available from Nanpu Bridge and Shanghai Stadium long-distance bus stations.