Tian Zi Fang is part of Old Shanghai. Instead of being knocked down, these old alley ways of residential buildings (not ancient, but old) have been repurposed to shops selling arts and crafts, restaurants and bars. Unlike the shops in Wuzhen scenic area (see my review there), these products sold here are more modern adaptations of traditional arts, along with modern arts and crafts. You can find traditional things like tea cups, handmade leaf vein bookmarks to more modern things like small glass and clay bottles of perfume, postcards, drawings, photography, sand art in a bottle, paper cut lanterns, puzzle vases, ceramic decorations and unique furniture pieces, handbags (pretty printed ones rather than luxury brands, and not the boring "I love Shanghai" ones), wallets, phone covers, magnets, along with an array of international cuisine and modern Chinese food restaurants. As such this is a commercial attraction, not so much a historic one, another common complaint I have read here (that it is not historic enough).
The alley ways are lined with such shops, which are fitted more ‘modernly’, bright retail lights, glass windows, shelves, and aircon. It is more of an open air arts and crafts market. Therefore if you go in July or in the summer of course it will be hot (a common complaint I read here in the reviews) as only the shops are indoors.
As such obviously there would be a lot of tourists here, but where would you go that has no tourists? You are in China for sightseeing and shopping so there will be tourists, is that not why you are researching reviews of this place?
If you really wanted to go to a place with no tourists, go to a local's home or a shopping center in East Nanjing Pedestrian shopping street, there are hardly if any non-Chinese people there.
The reason I am giving this place 5 out of 5 stars is that it is terrific for what it is. It is for shopping and eating. I would not say it is a tourist trap because there a LOTS of non-touristy souvenirs that can be bought here and you can come here for a meal, restaurants here are enjoyed by locals alike. I can almost even guarantee there are no pick pockets here either, there are police at the intersections directing people to move on so as not to block the space there.
Apart from shopping there are a variety of international cuisine, American, Indian, Italian inside the lanes, and restaurants (which is modern Chinese, and is good) across the road.
There are public toilets here, which I did not go to, so I am not sure if they are squat toilets or not. There is an international currency exchange ATM at one of the entries.
There are very few seating for resting (saw one bench outside the public toilets), and when going in the summer, it is important to stay hydrated and cool, as the lanes are open air (Shops are indoors) and you will get quite hot wandering through the lanes.
Due to the narrow lane ways, wheelchairs and strollers may have trouble fitting through, although the paved areas are all flat.
The paths are paved, comfortable shoes are recommended if you plan to spend several hours here as there really aren't any seating or rest areas, cameras aren't really necessary as the only things to photograph are the alley ways, the products are generally not allowed to be photographed. You can bring water during the summer but there are plenty of places that sell drinks, like freshly squeezed fruit juice or outside on the street, milk tea.
Who this is for:
If you like shopping for more modern arts and crafts in boutique stores, then this is great, but if you like antiques or history, then you may be in the wrong place. Some of the complaints were that it is too commercial and not historical enough. Yes, this place is commercial, but that's because the buildings have been repurposed purely as shops and restaurants. Historic places are for historic attractions and shopping places is for shopping, this was made particularly for shopping, so don't expect the wrong thing at the wrong place then complain when it is not there. A suitable complaint would be if a place promoted for historic values had too much commercialism going on but this place is never promoted as a historic attraction.
Young people tend to really like this place, I really like the atmosphere here, its really lively and a bit noisy but there are no loudspeakers used in the shops like the ones near Yuyuan. Little children may also like it as there are many arts and crafts to look at, and snack foods to eat.
The area is free to enter, and outside across the road there is a shopping center with some great food, there are some lines there so go early.
The entries are numbered and are along Taikang Road. The nearest Metro stop is Dapuqiao, about 200m away across the road.
Each lane intersects another lane; to make things easier each entry/exit is labelled with a number and there are plaques on the walls at each intersection to show the store numbers along that lane.
A non-touristy souvenir you could buy is probably the postcards depicting Old Shanghai, or the Old Shanghai facial cream that comes in small jars with Old Shanghai designs on it.
You can spend about 3-4 hours here if it is a first visit (you'd be walking the entire time, see 'facilities' below). 2 hours might be pushing it a little if you like shopping and it is your first visit as is sort of easy to lose your way here. I once found a shop selling delicious mango puree juice in a fake IV drip bag (I was told it is a fad), but could not find that exact shop afterwards, (other stores also sell drinks in an IV drip bag but they aren't 100% fruit juice judging from the fact that they are clear, watery and blue) so best to remember the alley name and shop number (signs on the walls at each intersection).
Feel free to have a look at the photos or read more on my blog.