The Ultimate Guide to Exploring Shanghai
China. A country vast in its size, spectacular in its landscapes, divine in its cuisine, yet challenging in its modes of transport and unlike any other country in its language barriers. A country which easily overwhelms. A country which you’ll never see enough of. What better way to start your journey off by easing into the colourful city of Shanghai. Shanghai is a destination which perfectly combines the new and the old, the European and the Asian, the arts and the outdoors. Here are my top spots to explore in the ‘Paris of China’. Whether you are stopping over on your way to Europe or you are getting geared up for wandering the Silk Road, Shanghai will not disappoint.
1. Dive straight into Shanghainese Culture
The concept of having a Buddhist temple in the centre of Shanghai downtown may not add up when you think about it, but, in fact, it embodies the essence of the destination. Surrounded by high-rise buildings, the temple offers a glimpse into a sacred, serene and spiritual culture which can be easily overlooked in a mega metropolis like Shanghai.
Finding a unique souvenir to bring back to your loved ones can be quite a task amongst hundreds of Western stores and a few too many tacky markets. This once beloved stretch of antique stores was one of Shanghai’s true hidden gems. As of a few weeks ago, the area is undergoing major redevelopment which forced most stall owners to either retire or relocate. According to a few major travel forums, many stores can now be found at Fuxing East Road 1121. It’s definitely worth a try!
Shanghai is home to some of China’s best contemporary art collections. Wander along Mongashan Road with dozens of art galleries, including the studios of some major Chinese artists (i.e. Ding Yi) and be sure to stop by ShanghART – one of the oldest and most prestigious galleries in the area. A more centrally located, yet equally as fascinating institution is the Rockbund Art Museum featuring a constantly changing display of both local and international artists.
Jazz at The Peace Hotel
In one of the oldest bar’s of Shanghai inside one of the best hotel’s of this eclectic city, you will be taken back to the 30’s listening (or dancing) to the world’s oldest jazz band. Not convinced yet? Well, if the audience consists of numerous former US Presidents, major Chinese celebrities and officials, I am sure you will not find it so bad either. Here is an arguably very low-quality sneak-peek:
2. Step back and take it all in
When the tour groups are being shifted to dinner, enjoy a moment of peace (which is rather rare in Shanghai) and watch the sun set over the Paris of China. Afterwards, explore the side streets close by for some deliciously fresh street food.
To understand the sheer size of Shanghai, a different perspective is needed. The top floors of most sky-high buildings around the Lujiazui (financial) district will give you just that, with the Vue Bar atop The Hyatt being one of the most elegant and special settings to take it all in. Kick back with one of their tasty apéritifs and watch the sun disappear across the hazy metropolis.
3. Shop up a storm
Spend an afternoon browsing this gorgeous district along Funxing Xi Road. Imagine tree-lined streets, romantic café, colourful up-market boutiques, a credit card and your best friend. Done. PS. Changle Road offers the most variety of shops and if you really can’t fit any more clothes into your suitcase, check out Garden Books, sit back and enjoy their excellent selection of English and Chinese reads.
Meaning “New Heaven On Earth”, Xintiandi’s young visionary stores and fabulously innovative kitchens are working hard to do its name justice. This affluent district is not only home to a huge expat community, but it also hosts some fashion lover’s favourites such as Alter, Qiu Hao, and Cocoon.
Caojiadu Flower and Bird Market
While you won’t find much to do with fashion at this market, you will be mesmerized with an abundance of colourful and fragrant flowers. Who doesn’t love (taking pictures of) fresh flowers?
Lolo Love Vintage
You can’t beat a well-curated, slightly chaotic, and highly atmospheric vintage shop. A visit to Lolo Love Vintage on Yongfu Rd (off Wuyuan Rd) is a must and with prices starting as low as a couple of hundred RMB for a gorgeous thread from the 50’s, you won’t go home empty-handed.
4. Have a feast (or two)
Follow the locals (in a non-creepy way, that is)
No matter what taste or budget, you will find it in Shanghai. Your best bet is to look for a place with a strong locals:tourists ratio. If you have an allergy, get it written down on a piece of paper by your hotel staff, hand it to the chef, and let the kitchen do the magic. Roadside food stalls are another great way to make sure you get what you want without breaking the bank. Finally, if you are just too indecisive, join a food tour and be guided through the culinary delights Shanghai has to offer.
Chinese delicacies (vegetarian dishes included) are done best at this small local eatery with several locations around the city. Be adventurous and don’t expect much similarity to your local Chinese takeaway. At Jishi, the menu doesn’t see much fried rice, but instead fish heads and wild greens with tofu are some of the chef’s favourites. Bon Appétit!
Friday Muslim Market near the Huxi Mosque
With over 15 Million Uyghurs residing in China, you can’t miss a taste of the Turkic ethnic group’s delicacies. Its food is some of the most flavoursome amongst Chinese cuisine and some of its most popular dishes include pilaf, fresh handmade noddles (so good!), flat breads (even better!), and countless sweet nut treats.
Have you been to Shanghai? What were your impressions?