Chongming Island is only a one-hour drive from the center of Shanghai. There are a few parks, wetlands, fields and such on the island, but Dongping National Forest Park is perhaps the best known and therefore most glamorous choice for a family experience. The park is huge. It would be easy to spend several hours just wandering round, yet they have a range of kitsch attractions to try, mostly at the cost of around ¥50 each. These include bumper cars, horse rides, pedalos, go-karts, grass-skiing and a pendulous fairground-type ride, next to a grassy play area with wooden, obstacle-course style apparatus. As usual in such parks, there is little food and few chairs or benches so bring picnic food and accoutrements for the day.
Find it: Nanmen Harbor, Chongming, Shanghai City; 崇明岛的中北部
Four or two-person cycle-cars are available to hire at the entrance of Binhai Forest Park, for ¥50 (with a ¥200 deposit, so be sure to keep your receipt). Inside the park they have pedal-boats, which are also at the ¥50 mark. The pedals are connected to large, ridged wheels which sit either side of your boat. The horses are of course the highlight, and you can pay from ¥50 to ¥250 depending on how far and how long you want to ride. The horses are in excellent condition. Though most attractions here could be called old or even rusty, that is somewhat to be expected at a rural park which is further out of the city center. Yet the more distant location, near the end of Shanghai's land, gives it a fresh and green feel, with empty roads for miles around.
Find it: 118, Dongda Highway, near Hongxiang Bei Lu; 东大公路118号, 近宏祥北路
As the name suggests, Dongtan Wetland park is a wetland-themed ecological park. Diligent attention to natural conservation, scientific research and ecological tourism have transformed a muddy estuary into a scenic natural conserve. The perennially moist area is on Chongming Island, a one-hour drive from the city center (though that can turn into two hours with traffic — always and only travel to local places outside public holidays and summer weekends). The park is a key stopover for migratory birds with more than 150 species, offering premiere bird-spotting opportunities for the avian-inclined. It may not match your idea of perfect natural beauty, but it's worth a quick city escape.
Find it: Lane 799, Lan Hai Road, Chenjia Town, Chongming County, Shanghai, China; 中国上海崇明县陈家镇揽海路799弄
This sprawling, state-run park (¥130 for adults, ¥65 for 0.8m-1.2m kids, free for smaller ones) covers more than 200 hectares of land and is home to giraffes, elephants, lions and more. See tigers, lions and bears from the safety of a bus, or get up-close and personal with more docile animals during a walking tour. Kids can ride horses, camels, donkeys, and even elephants(!) should you feel comfortable with potential animal-welfare issues, while monkey and lemur shows coax "oohs" and "aahs" for nature's cuties.
Find it: 178 Nanliu Highway, near Xiayan Highway; 南六公路178号, 近下盐公路
Cherry blossoms are synonymous with Japan; and the country takes advantage of this, doing a brisk, booming tourist business, with hotels and flight prices skyrocketing during the sakura season. For those of us that can’t really afford a trip to Japan, fret not, Shanghai’s Gucun Park, the largest cherry blossoms park in the city, is a great local option. There are thousands of trees, spread out across 28 different species, covering everything from the early to the late bloomers. They also play host to the annual Shanghai Cherry Blossom Festival. This year's festival recorded 430,000 visitors.
Find it: 4788 Hutai Lu, Baoshan District, Shanghai, China; 顾村公园, 上海市沪太路4788号