China's glamorous eastern city shimmers with all the excitement and promise of a supercharged metropolis, but beneath its bluster lies plenty of old-world charm. Get lost in the Old City’s maze of lanes, shop your way around the French Concession and, when dusk falls, head to a bar on The Bund for panoramic views of the skyline by night.
1/6 The Bund’s historic waterfront has been a symbol of Shanghai for centuries Photo: Getty Images
2/6 The fashionable pedestrian street in Xintiandi boasts 1920s architecture, ultra-modern galleries, and bars Photo: Getty Images
3/6 Head to Shanghai’s premier shopping street, Nanjing Road, for big brands and bright lights Photo: Getty Images
4/6 Futuristic skyscrapers in the Pudong district lend Shanghai its distinctive skyline Photo: Getty Images
5/6 Wander the leafy streets of the Former French Concession Photo: Getty Images
6/6 Eat your way through Shanghai’s vibrant street food culture – including its famous xiaolongbao Photo: Getty Images
Things to do
We've chosen the must-see highlights of this fantastic city.
Things to do
We've chosen the must-see highlights of this fantastic city.
The Fairmont Peace Hotel
Step back in time at the Fairmont Peace Hotel, a stately landmark which graciously resides over a city that has modernized around it. Built by Sassoon heir Victor in 1929, its Art Deco grandeur attracted superstars like Charlie Chaplin back in the day; now, the glitz and glamour lives on with luxurious rooms and the world-famous Old Jazz Band that plays in its bar. Six restaurants and bars ensure there’s plenty of dining options to choose from or check out their Jasmine Lounge for afternoon tea.
Home decor enthusiasts and design buffs should head straight to Design Republic, a furniture store, event space, restaurant and one-room hotel housed in a former police station. Don’t let the building’s imposing brick facade fool you – architecture studio Neri&Hu transformed the interior into a minimalist sanctuary of white paint, metal sheeting and glass walls. Shop to your heart’s content then grab a bite at The Commune Social, a fashionable restaurant on the ground floor that brings a casual approach to fine dining. Tired after all that? Check into the seriously chic – and exclusive – one-room hotel with 24-hour butler service.
Arts and culture
Housed in a futuristic six-storey building on the perimeter of People's Square, the Shanghai Ur-ban Planning Exhibition Centre showcases the city's metropolitan development and is a must-see for anyone interested in architecture, urbanism and even science fiction. Over by the the Huangpu River, the annual Shanghai International Literary Festival is a heady celebration of English language fiction, literary non-fiction, journalism and poetry. The Yuz Museum is another memorable outing for cultured types, showcasing the private collection of Chinese-Indonesian art collector Budi Tek in a vast former hangar. For the more dramatically inclined, Water Heav-ens melds music and architecture in an exquisite auditorium that mimics an ancient home from the Ming Dynasty.
100 Renmin Avenue, Huangpu District
+86 21 6372 2077+86 21 6372 2077
Historical Shanghainese restaurants
Soak up the ambience at Shanghai Classical Hotel, a charmingly old-fashioned establishment that’s been serving up steaming hot xiaolongbao and other Shanghainese specialities since 1875. Little wonder that its acclaim has spread far and wide – it counts the first lady of Russia, as well as the Indonesian and Singaporean presidents, as guests. Another hallowed institution, Hong Chang Xing was founded in 1891 by a relative of the famous Peking Opera star Ma Lianliang who decided to capitalize on the troupe’s dietary demands with a local joint. These days, its steamy mutton hotpot swimming in a clear broth draws diners back time and again. Dating back to the 18th century, Wang Bao He Restaurant is renowned for two things: its status as one of the city’s oldest restaurants and an impressive number of crab-based dishes.
Hipster fishmonger Little Catch had already built a sterling reputation for its sustainably sourced seafood when the family business decided to serve fish as well as sell it. Pull up a stool at either of their Wulumuqi Lu or Taixing Lu eateries and chow down on the Dynamite Tuna poke. Comprised of fresh tuna, spicy mayo, tobiko roe and cashews on a bed of rice, health nuts will be happy to hear that their rice can be substituted with grains and extra toppings like avocado added.
Yang’s Fried Dumplings
At just six kuai for four dumplings, the shengjianbao at this extremely popular local institution draws the crowds for a reason. With their thin wrappers, tasty pork and soup filling, and a golden-brown fried underside, dumplings don't get better than these. Order a bowl of beef-and-coriander broth to accompany them.
Several locations, one at 2nd floor, 269 Wujiang Lu, near Taixing Lu (Metro: West Nanjing Road)
86 21 6136 139186 21 6136 1391
Shanghai Circus World
Clichéd? Perhaps, but the acrobatic feats performed at multimillion-dollar show "ERA: Intersec-tion of Time" are no less impressive for that. Somersaulting, hoop diving, porcelain-jar juggling and mind-bending bodily contortions are just a few of the highlights at this multimedia extrava-ganza.
2266 Gonghexin Lu, near Guangzhong Lu, Zhabei district (Metro: Shanghai Circus World)
+ 86 21 6552 5468+ 86 21 6552 5468
Speakeasies are a dime-a-dozen in Shanghai, but hidden behind a tiny cocktail supplies shop on Fuxing Zhong Lu, Speak Low is a hit with in-the-know Shanghainese. To enter the bar, simply slide the shop’s bookcase open and be-hold a stylish, dimly lit watering hole. Exacting cocktail lovers are in safe hands – Japanese founder Shingo Gokan worked as a mixologist at another legendary speakeasy in New York City before returning to Asia to establish his own place. The second floor is boisterous and better-priced while the third and fourth floors are sleek and seriously expensive.
Xing Guang Photographic Equipment City
It would be a travesty to visit Shanghai and leave without the photos to prove it so it’s lucky that budding photographers can find the equipment they need at Xing Guang Photographic Equip-ment City. This Aladdin's cave of independently-run stores is crammed full of vintage cameras, like the medium-format Seagull cameras. Manufactured by the oldest camera-maker in China, they are, arguably, works of art themselves.
300 Luban Lu (near Xietu Lu), Luwan District
+86 21 6301 8248+86 21 6301 8248
M on the Bund
M on the Bund has been delighting diners with its extravagant weekend brunches ever since the restaurant opened in 1999. Start with a stiff cocktail before plunging into the menu, which includes sautéed chicken liver, smoked baby octopus, and steak tartare, as well as more traditional brunch fare. Book ahead to secure a spot on the outdoor terrace – its sweeping views across the Bund are worth the hassle.
Sample Yunnan cuisine – an amalgamation of the cuisines of ethnic minorities in China – to challenge your preconceptions of Chinese food. At the much-loved Southern Barbarian, cuisine from China’s mountainous southern Yunnan Province is served up in unpretentious surrounds. Fried goat cheese, "grandma's mashed potatoes", smoky, cold eggplant and tomato, and the mint-leaf salad are all delightful, as are the grilled chicken wings. Mia’s Yunnan Kitchen brings a homestyle approach to Yunnan staples, with traditional ingredients like mushrooms and salty cured ham given loving care. Cheap and cheerful Lotus Eatery pushes its menu in a more adventurous direction with the inclusion of insect-based dishes while the aesthetically pleasing Lost Heaven is a romantic spot to try a few new dishes.
2/F, Area E, Ju’Roshine Life Art Space, 56 Maoming Nan Lu, near Changle Lu, Jingan District (Metro: South Shaanxi Road)
+ 86 21 5157 5510+ 86 21 5157 5510
Start the weekend in style at Bar Rouge, a popular watering hole that captures the city’s vibrant Franco-Chinese identity. House beats, a well-heeled crowd and high-end cocktails make for a fun night, but it’s the outdoor terrace – with views of Shanghai’s futuristic skyline – that really distinguish it. Also located on the Bund, The Nest’s sharp cocktails and seafood-focused menu promises an equally sophisticated evening while shabby-chic vibes can be found at The Water-house, a boutique hotel in a converted warehouse. Its concrete shell exterior hides a modernist interior that includes a hip rooftop bar with panoramas of the river and surrounding neighborhood.
Oenophiles, rejoice – Kartel’s revolving door of high-quality wines will satisfy even the most demanding connoisseur. Focusing on biodynamic and organic vino, the bar’s extensive wine list is supplemented by a monthly selection of 18 wines by the glass. Nab a seat on the rooftop – the best in the former French Concession – order a plate of imported cold cuts and cheeses, and settle in for the night.
The former French Concession, a neighbourhood of leafy lanes and colonial-era villas, is home to many of the best fashion boutiques and quirky indie stores in the city. Changle Lu, Xinle Lu, and Jinxian Lu all boast interesting stores, but Fumin Lu has emerged as the place to be. Shanghai Fashion Week favourite Helen Lee is there, as is concept store The Hive, and Dong Liang Studio, which stocks indie darlings Sankuanz and Guangzhou-based label Ricostru. Around the corner on Julu Lu, Aegis Shanghai and S2VS are two of the hippest stores for menswear.
Dong Liang Studio, 184 Fumin Lu, near Changle Lu, Jingan district (Metro: Jingan Temple)
+86 21 3469 6926+86 21 3469 6926
Hongkou Walking Tour
The Hongkou walking tour steps out from leafy Luxun Park and wanders through colonial quar-ters once favoured by the Japanese during their occupation. Also home to Shanghai’s substantial Jewish community prior to the revolution, this district provides a fascinating slice of local history. The leisurely three-hour amble takes in all the highlights.
Pre-arranged meet at the junction of Jiangwan Road and Sichuan Road (metro line 3), Hongkou District
+86 159 0161 1802+86 159 0161 1802
Book a trip