China's economic showpiece never fails to surprise and rarely fails to delight. Walking Shanghai (Shànghǎi, 上海) streets can give you glimpses into a unique and layered past that includes foreign settlements, jazz-age decadence, political intrigue and, more recently, an entrepreneurial spirit that's returning this legendary port to the ranks of the world's great metropolises.
Discover the Art Deco architecture of explore modern Chinese art or even partake in the uniquely Chinese experience of Shanghai is also a great place to base short trips from. Check out these five Shanghai weekend trips.
Shanghai hotels are some of the best in China. There are a number of five-star hotels in Shanghai, though tourists should know that Chinese and Western rating systems differ, so what earns five stars in China would often get four in Europe or the US. Budget hotels are plentiful, with a mix of reliable chains and small independents offering competitive rates and solid service. As tourism in China increases, hostels and boutique hotels are improving and increasing in number.
Options in Shanghai range from colonial-era gems like the Art Deco Peace Hotel (now housing the Park Hyatt Shanghai in the Bund-side
Most flights to Shanghai arrive at the modern and convenient Pudong International Airport (PVG), with Hongqiao International Airport (SHA) a popular domestic flight hub. The city is also well connected by rail from Shanghai Station, Shanghai SouthTrain Station and Hongqiao Railway Station, the Shanghai hub for China's bullet train system.
Getting Around Shanghai
The clean and efficient 11-line Shanghai Metro system now runs to all corners of the city and relatively inexpensive taxis make getting around Shanghai remarkably easy given its size. Buses offer great neighborhood coverage, though signage is entirely in Chinese. If you have the time (and a good map), a walk through Shanghai's leafy lanesis a wonderful way to get a feel for Puxi. Pudong's broad streets and the new high-rise complexes are much less pedestrian-friendly, but cabs are plentiful. Biking is another great option for Puxi—a Shanghai bike tour is a great way to get your bearings—and a number of hotels can arrange rentals. Finally, the transportation card). Platform directions and next station announcements are all in English as well as Chinese. Although not a huge problem, pickpockets do work the metro, especially around Taxi
The famous Big Bus Tour that began in London has made its way to Asia and is a very smooth and relaxing way to get around the city center–hitting many of the main Shanghai tourist attractions along the way–for an affordable price.
Shanghai is not as sprawling as To and From Shanghai
Almost all international flights to and from Shanghai operate through Pudong International Airport (PVG) which, along with Hongqiao Airport (SHA), also services domestic destinations.22
Some claim Shanghai ranks among the world's top food cities; others contend that the booming restaurant scene is more flash than substance. Whatever the case, it's a delicious question for which to seek an answer, and the mere fact that such an argument exists is telling. Shanghai residents—Chinese and expat alike—love to talk food as much as they love to eat it. And there's a lot to talk about: the best local street-side Shanghainese xiaolongbao (xiǎolóngbāo, 小笼包) or Xinjiang hand-pulled noodles; where to find the tastiest Cantonese dim sum or fieriest Sichuan dishes; the best American burger joint; the most exquisite new fine-dining establishment. The list goes on and on.
So, Shanghai is a great place to eat and the choices are endless. Where to begin? Try starting with the city's own distinct cuisine. Shanghainese food offers sweeter flavors than other well-known regional Chinese cuisines, favoring use of vinegar, ginger, sugar and soy to create brown sauces for braising meats, stir-frying, dunking dumplings and flavoring seafood. Shanghainese cuisine can be quite greasy, with fried dumplings, fried long noodles, vegetables, poultry, pork and seafood, but it can also be delicate and light. Shanghai's proximity to rivers, lakes and the sea fills its markets with fresh shrimp, fish, eel, sea cucumbers and shellfish. Crab plays a starring role in early fall, when the regional river crab (or "hairy crab") is harvested and served across the city. Make sure to try the following local dishes:
Shanghai is a shopper's paradise. Locals flock to Nanjing Dong Lu and Huaihai Zhong Lu for mid-to-high range department stores, retail outlets, and luxury shops. Tourists find souvenirs among the stalls around Yu Gardens, the gift market north of Jing'an Temple, the fakes market in the Science and Technology Museum metro station in Pudong (comprised of former tenants of the infamous Xiangyang Market, shut down in 2007), the international fashion brand shops and high-end boutiques of Xintiandi, and the funkier independent shops and galleries in Taikang Lu. In between those destinations, there's no shortage of markets in Shanghai, hidden boutiques and things to buy, and aimlessly strolling in the former French Concession one is sure to stumble upon a delightful surprise or two.
Shanghai has fallen for technology in a big way. For the best selection of gizmos and gadgets, try Xujiahui's multi-storied malls or the electronics market on the corner of Huaihai Lu and Xizang Lu. For better bargains, as well as repairs and even exchanges, try Modern Electronic City at the intersection of Xiangyang Lu and Fuxing Lu. Silk If your itinerary doesn't include a visit to Suzhou or Hangzhou, get your silk in Shanghai. Check out the stalls of Silk City on the corner of Maoming Lu and Nanjing Lu or the South Bund Fabric Market on Lujiabang Lu. Remember to bargain. Tailored Clothing If your trip allows a week or so in the city, take advantage of one of Shanghai's clothing markets or a small, high-quality tailor shop. Offering designs made to order, tailors can create custom suits, dresses, skirts and trousers at more than reasonable prices. You can get a traditional Chinese qipao, a fitted Mao jacket, an exact copy of an old worn-out favorite, or a Vera Wang knockoff—the choice is yours. Great bargains and an astonishing variety of cloth can be found at the South Bund Fabric Market. Remember to bargain and plan enough time for follow-up fittings.
Gold, Silver and Jewelry
Large jewelry stores filled with gold, platinum, and silver can be found around Yu Gardens, along Huaihai Zhong Lu and Nanjing Dong Lu and in Xujiahui. Try Taikang Lu for smaller, custom boutiques and studios. Many locals recommend heading to Hong Kong for better deals and more variety. Jade Jade, an auspicious stone for the Chinese, comes in an array of colors and can be carved into all kinds of shapes. But be careful—vendors have been known to pass off fakes on unwitting tourists. Jade varies wildly in quality and price, so unless you're a serious collector, limit yourself to a few affordable souvenirs. Find the largest jade vendors in the Yu Gardens Bazaar. Pearls Semi-precious cultured pearls are plentiful in Shanghai markets and department stores. Local pearls are cultivated from freshwater mussels and are the best value in town. As always, be aware of fakes:real ones feel gritty when you rub them on your teeth. Pearl City, Hong Qiao New World Pearl Market, Amy's Pearls and Jewelry, and the top floor of the First Asia Jewelry Plaza all offer huge selections, and a number of dealers can be found in Yu Gardens Bazaar. In many stores you can even create your own design and have it made right before your eyes.
Though you have to be careful to avoid going home with an overpriced replica, there's huge fun to be had trawling through Shanghai's antique markets, the best of which is on Dongtai Lu, not far from Xintiandi. From bed frames to mounted mirrors, leather travel trunks to miniature kitsch, these pieces of the past make great souvenirs. The antique stores along Jinxiu Lu are more expensive, but no less interesting.
Try one of Shanghai's "Specialist Streets" for a rather unique shopping experience: head to Fuzhou Lu for trophies, Xietu Lu's Xin Guan Market for cameras and photography gear, or Aomen Lu for kitchenware. The Shanghai Eyeglasses Market is also well worth a visit.
Known more for entertainment than the arts, Shanghai is doing its best to live up to its old reputation as the home of China's liveliest nightlife while also upping the ante in the cultural game. On the latter count, it will be a while before Shanghai catches up with Beijing, but when it comes to nightlife the city by the sea is hard to beat.
Bars & clubs
Today you can find expats and nouveau riche Chinese alike partying like it's 1929, though the soundtrack is less jazz and more beats spun by globetrotting DJs. Nonetheless, jazz is resurgent, drawing on both history and the energy of young players. Rock clubs and music festivals are increasingly common, with Chinese bands and international acts alike finding increasingly eager audiences.
Check out rock at Yuyintang, Live Bar and MAO Livehouse, and jazz at JZ Club, the Cotton Club, Brown Sugar in Xintiandi or the House of Blues & Jazz. Big name DJs drop in on international tours to spin all over town and on any given night you can hear retro sounds, hip-hop, dance pop and all kinds of electronica. Hit the dance floor at big clubs like G+ or more high-end hangouts like M1NT, lounge with a cocktail in chic spaces like Bar Rouge and hedonistic hangouts Muse, M2 and Muse at Park97. KTV (karaoke) is big with both locals and less bashful foreigners—any decent KTV joint should have English songs on tap. KTV is everywhere; Partyworld in Puxi and Pu-J's Podium in Pudong are good bets.
If you're after drinks sans loud music, Shanghai has it covered, from posh lounges to no-nonsense dives. Take in the view from the Bund with a cheap draft beer at Captain Bar (the bar in Captain Hostel) or an elegant cocktail at Glamour Bar. Party in the park at Barbarossa in People's Square, enjoy the ambience of the old French Concession at Yongfoo Elite, or toast the town from the heady heights of 100 Century Avenue in the SWFC, the world's highest bar!
Shanghai has done a lot recently to promote the performing arts, building world-class spaces like the Oriental Art Center, Shanghai Grand Theatre and Shanghai Cultural Plaza. Western performances tend toward the tried-and-true—popular symphonies, operas, ballets and Broadway hits. More interesting are the Chinese performing arts, including acrobatics, Chinese opera, folk music, dance and theater. Many venues project English subtitles with stage performances, though shows without them can be enjoyable for the costumes, dance and gestures alone. Shanghai's acrobats need no translation—witness stunning feats of balance and strength at Shanghai Circus Worldor Yunfeng Theatre.
Shanghai's underground theater scene is growing, too, and though the language barrier may be high, the adventurous can find edgier performances at spaces like Downstream Garage. Shanghai also hosts its own Fringe Festival, drawing innovative theater and dance from around the world.
Museums & galleries
From the super-optimistic take on the near future on view at the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center to the Shikumen Open House Museum's depiction of vanishing architectural heritage, visitors can get a good sense of Shanghai's ongoing story. Greater China's long history is well represented at the Shanghai Museum by impressive collections of jade, calligraphy, paintings and other artifacts. Smaller museums like the Shanghai Propaganda Poster Arts Center provide fascinating glimpses of times gone by. In the plastic arts, Shanghai lags behind Beijing, but a slew of quality small museums now complement the large Shanghai Art Museum. The Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), the Duolun Modern Art Museum and Zendai Museum of Modern Art—all new since 2002—are worth visiting. Add a lively gallery scene and the development of emerging art spaces like Moganshan Lu and the future looks bright, though China's contemporary art scene's over-the-top commercialism does raise questions about quality and sustainability.
Festivals & events
Shanghai celebrates a number of traditional Chinese festivals but it's really made its mark lately in the global arena with some dozen international festivals celebrating fashion, the arts, music and theater. Annual events of note include the Shanghai International Literary Festival, the Shanghai International Film Festival and the Shanghai International Arts Festival. The city also hosts commercial exhibitions and trade shows with the 2010 Shanghai World Expo the largest world's fair to date. And don't forget traditional Chinese festivals, from spring's Spring Festival(aka Chinese New Year), to summer's Dragon Boat Festival, and the Moon Festival in fall.
As can be expected in such a dynamic and fast developing city, there's a thriving expat community in Shanghai with folks of all stripes on hand to give advice to new arrivals. Moving to China goes hand-in-hand with both excitement and a lot trepidation but rest assured, you won't be alone—sites like Shanghai Expat provide a great conduit for information and with regular community events, are a good way to meet new people and get to know your adopted home.