For all its glitzy modern skyline, perhaps the real jewels of Shanghai can be found at street level, away from the hustle and bustle in the captivating back alleys. One of my favourite things to do in Shanghai is to explore the backstreets, either on foot or by bike. The narrow lanes behind the main streets are soaked with tradition and colour which offer a unique glimpse into local life.

In these narrow lanes, below masses of tangled electric wires, hanging laundry and meat hung out to dry, the slower paced life of the real people of Shanghai awaits to be discovered.

The small area around Yuyuan Garden area has the oldest type of alleyways you’ll find in Shanghai. As It feels like I have stepped back into time as I leave the touristy Yuyuan area and enter these old forgotten alleys.

A walk through these grungy streets is always filled with surprises, and most importantly unexpected encounters or finds. Though lacking many amenities, people still live here, going about their lives, brushing their teeth, hanging up laundry, chatting and chopping vegetables for dinner.

Unfortunately as the city grows exponentially, these lanes gradually get demolished, year after year, month after month. It saddens me that the unstoppable onset of modernism in Shanghai is unable to make room for the existence of alley life. Very soon, more and more high rise structures will invade the old city streets destroying a piece of what makes Shanghai so special.

Gritty Alleyways of Yuyuan

Washing, electrical wires, bicycles, motorbikes and even discarded matrasses fill the alleyways of Shanghai.

An invitation of a beautiful street is an invitation to walk within a dream!”
― Mehmet Murat ildan