The new skyscrapers, french art-deco villas and buddhist temples that can sometimes be found on the same street demonstrate the long and thrilling history and the city’s ever-continuing transformation. Shanghai is business and commerce but also art, culture and creativity. Just turn around the corner and find yourself in a completely new area in this truly endless city.
Stay: The URBN Hotel is a pretty designed eco-friendly boutique hotel in Jing’an. It’s nice because it’s on a smaller tree-lined street with shops and cafes but also just five minutes away from the bustle on West Nanjing Road and the Jing’an temple. Another good hotel is The One Executive Suites. The apartments have a living room with kitchen unit, are quite spacious and also in a nice, central area.
The Bund: Shanghai’s famous waterfront at the Huangpu river. The clash of the restored heritage buildings and the hypermodern architecture on the Pudong side is splendid but the promenade and the pedestrianized East Nanjing Road get extremely crowded, especially in the evening. Further down south along the river old, large warehouses and hangars were transformed into exciting, modern museums which are part of the West Bund Art Area. The Power Station of Art, Long Museum and Yuz Museum all are around the newly designed riverwalk. Also the Rockbound Art Museum on the northern end of the Bund shows interesting contemporary installations. It’s worth exploring the area around the museum because it still feels quite authentic and you can discover some art-deco gems, for example around Beijing Road. Even a bit further north on top of the Joy Mall you can enjoy a ride with the SkyRing, a Ferris wheel on the roof of the mall. The central place in the city is People’s Square, where you find many fantastic and futuristic architectonical specialties. The Shanghai Museum is one of them, it also has a big shop for quality souvenirs.
Jing’an: This is maybe the nicest neighborhood in Shanghai with the most and diverse attractions, it’s not surprising though, considering it’s as big as a small city itself. The Jing’an temple is a huge temple in the middle of new malls and skyscrapers. In the Jade Buddha temple you can see an impressive and wonderful jade sculpture. A contrast to the mystic temple is the M50, Shanghai’s art quarter with small galleries and stylish people. It’s also nice to walk around the Jing’an Sculpture Park where you find the Shanghai Natural History Museum as well. It’s an example of a perfectly designed public art space. Or walk around the old housing complex Zhang Garden on Taixing Road just around West Nanjing Road Metro station for a lovely example of lilong architecture and shikumen houses and the people’s everyday life who still live there. Close by you can also enter such a classic residence, a former home of Mao Zedong.
Old Town: The Confucius temple and the residential area between Fuxing East Road and Henan South Road (around Dongtangjia Alley) give an impression of the old, simple life that seems so far away from the fancy modern skyscrapers and is at the same time more and more encircled by them. The area around the Yuyuan Gardens gets extremely crowded but the garden is still very beautiful and you’ll always find a calmer spot to take in the lovely combination of traditional buildings and nature. The narrow lanes around the garden form the Yuyuan Bazaar where you can buy souvenirs and snacks. But because the traditional looking buildings are actually new and the shops sell mostly mass market products it feels more like a theme park than an actual old part so you don’t have to spend extra time here.
French Concession: Xintiandi and Tianzifang around the Luwan area and South Huangpu Road are two shopping complexes which look like the traditional shikumen stone-gate houses. You find nice boutiques and entertainment here but they are newly build or renovated and just feel like crowded shopping villages. It’s more interesting to walk down Middle Huaihai Road in the western direction from Xintiandi and experience a bit of local life and Chinese shops and restaurants.
Also the western part of the French Concession with its calmer tree-lined streets is much nicer. Typical are Anfu or Wukang Road, where you find small shops, lovely examples for the lilong residential areas or gems like the former residence of Ba Jin the famous writer and poet. His house with garden is now a small charming museum.
Pudong: The China Art Museum, the former Expo landmark is a truly unique building, its sheer size is impressive. They show a mix of international and Chinese art.
Eat: We absolutely loved Jen Dow Vegetarian Restaurant right behind the Jing’an temple, you can grab a bite at the counter or have a more sophisticated meal on the second floor, it’s delicious! On Huanghe Road near People’s Square you find many Chinese eateries, for example the crowded but delicious Yang’s Fry Dumplings where you eat dumplings and noodle soups out of simple plastic bowls and Jia Jia Soup Dumplings right across. There is also the Park Hotel Deli, a bakery with delicious cookies and butterfly pastries. We also love the endless Aisan bakery chains, especially Lillian Bakery and Tous les Jours. But the historic Kaisiling dessert and cake bakery is even better. In the French Concession you rarely find traditional Chinese places but many stylish international cafes and eateries, like Alimentari, Diner, Fine Cafe & Canteen, Baker&Spice or SunFlour. Yongkang Road between Xiangyang and Jiashan Road is filled with bars and cafes and gets especially lively in the evening. Crystal Jade serves delicious but a bit pricey dim sum right in the New World mall. In the Xintiandi mall next door you find the always great Din Tai Fung, or go to Tsui Wah, for example on South Xizang Road. The Cantonese diner Cha’s serves yummy classics like milk tea, curries and pineapple buns. In Jing’an close to the Jade Buddha temple you find the calm Jing Si buddhist cafe and book store. Or relax at J Cafe which is close to the M50 and where you can take pictures in front of the graffiti walls. Another fun cafe is Zoo Coffee, where you sit in-between stuffed tigers and zebras. Having a drink on a rooftop bar with views on the Pudong skyline is just great. If you don’t like the sleek hotel bars check out the great Captain Bar on top of the Captain hostel. Here you find a laid-back atmosphere, great views and decent cocktails. Right across the street there is the House of Blues & Jazz, a live music venue with good drinks.
Shop: For an Asian city it’s refreshing to see so many actual boutiques and shops and not just malls, even though there are of course also impressive, crazily big malls in Shanghai. For a nice, relaxed shopping stroll walk along the streets in the French Concession neighborhood, like Anfu or Wulumuqi Road where Culture Matters sells the great Feiyue sneakers. For interesting designer fashion check out Autumn Sonata, DongLiang and the lovely Shanghai-based ZucZug. For souvenirs or presents go to Madame Mao’s Dowry and the tiny but lovely Eco Shop. The Italian concept store Corso Como has a fantastic outlet on Nanjing Road. I also liked to discover some Chinese brands like Siastella.
Getting around: When arriving in Pudong airport, the fastest way into the city is via Maglev, the transrapid high-speed train that connects to the Metro system. Shanghai is huge, what looks close on a map usually isn’t, even in one neighborhood the distances can be epic. The fastest and easiest way to get around is the Metro. The Transport card can be bought in metro stations or convenience stores, top up credit and use it in the metro, buses and taxis. Often, the places you want to go are still far away from the next metro station so combine it with taxi rides. Helpful were the apps Explore Shanghai and MetroMan for navigating through the Metro system. Also, the buses can be a good alternative, they are slow and difficult to use if you don’t know Chinese but it’s possible to figure out one or two lines that go to your hotel, for example. Because the city is big and ever changing, it can be hard to find a good map. Google Maps doesn’t really work and the Chinese equivalent from Baidu is only in Chinese, we used a combination of maps.me, offmaps2 and two paper maps.
Notes: It’s most convenient to buy a Chinese SIM card because so much, like paying, using public WiFi or renting bikes, can or must be done with your phone. If you want to use any Google service make sure to download a VPN for your laptop and phone before you go to China! ProXPN worked pretty well most of the times. For the latest events and openings get the magazine city weekend or check smartshangahi.com. It is also very helpful to know a little bit of Mandarin, helpful can be the apps KTdict, Learn Mandarin and Google Translate. At least for orientation in the city it’s best to know a few words, because the cardinal direction is always added to the street name and helps to orientate: Lu-road, jie-street, bei-north, nan-south, dong-east, xi-west, zhong-middle.