TOP TOURIST ATTRACTIONS
For tourists, there are some obvious attractions that should be ticked off your list (eg, The Bund, People's Square/Shanghai Museum, Yu Gardens, Xintiandi), but make sure to set aside some time for a leisurely stroll around the Former French Concession, where you can soak in the Shanghai's colonial charm and experience the softer side of this chaotic city.
I've covered a lot of this already on my What and Where to eat sections. But if you'd like to join a tour, Culinary Backstreets (who have partnered with UnTour, a top-rated Shanghai expat culinary tour group) has a few different guided grazes (street breakfast, night markets) that get rave reviews. www.culinarybackstreets.com
The Bund (“Waitan”)
A tourist must, it’ll only take you about 20 minutes to walk the length of it at a leisurely pace and affords all the iconic Shanghai views across to Pudong’s futuristic skyline and back towards the colonial buildings of the Bund. Stop into Three on the Bund for an escape from the madness and enjoy some luxury shopping and some of the best dining-with-a-view venues in town (Jean Georges' empire, for starters).
The Former French Concession
Spend an afternoon walking around this charming enclave, packed with boutiques and funky bars and restaurants, old colonial-style architecture and wide roads lined with plane trees.
Shanghai Museum / People’s Square
No. 201 Renmin Dadao, Renmin Square (People’s Square, southern portion). +86 21 6372 5300
Comprehensive collection of fine Chinese antiques and decorative arts, from Shanghai bronzes to Ming and Qing vases. You can’t miss the building, which is shaped like an enormous “ding”, an iconic bronze shape that looks like a three-legged bowl with handles. Acoustiguide commentary available.
Yu Gardens (Yuyuan) and Bazaar
Area bounded by the following: north - Jiujiaochang Lu; south - Fangbang Zhonglu; east - Anren Ly; west - Fuyou Lu
It’s crowded and hectic, but kind of a tourist must for its old architecture, gardens, shopping and one of the city’s best, if not the most historic, food: xiao long bao. Main attractions include Nan Xiang for xlb's, the “zig zag” bridge (Bridge of 9 Turnings), Yu Gardens (enclosed gardens and tea house for a small fee), and Yu Gardens Bazaar (infinite number of shopping stalls where you can buy all the custom seals, fans and tacky Chinese memorabilia, though you'll have to bargain hard to get away from the "tourist" price).
Start at the corner of Taicang Lu and Madang Lu.
Area bounded by the following: north - Taicang Lu; south - Zizhong Lu; east - Huangpi Nanlu; west - Madang Lu.
While it's become a bit of an overcommercialized mess now, it's still a must for any visitor to Shanghai for its lovely renovated and reconstructed shikumen "stone-gated" architecture packed with restaurants, bars and retail. The area is also divided into two blocks of buildings (North and South), separated by Xingye Lu. Top restaurants include Crystal Jade Restaurant, Din Tai Fung and T8; and my favorite bars include DR Bar and TMSK.
Get a massage - you deserve it!
-Dragonfly (original branch: 206 Xinle Lu, many other branches around the city)
Back when I was living in Shanghai, this expat-friendly foot and body massage place was a breath of fresh air after frequenting all the down-and-dirty blind massage places that packed you in like sardines.
-Green massage (nr Xintiandi). 58 Taicang Lu, nr Songshan Lu. Another serene and clean spot for a great massage.
-Taipan massage (nr Fuxing Park, 370 Dagu Lu). My in-the-know expat friend took me here last time I visited and it was awesome - great massage, clean, serene and apparently its known for having great all-inclusive food-and-drink deals so you can really make an afternoon or evening out of it if you want.
Nanjing Dong Lu (Nanjing East Road)
The best time to check out this pedestrianized shopping zone is at night when all the store signs are lit up like something out of Taipei or Tokyo. But realistically, you won’t actually be doing any of your shopping here - more of a photo opp than anything.
South Bund Fabric Market
399 Lujiabang Lu, near Nancang Jie
Need a new wardrobe? Remember to pack some of your favorite clothes and any of these vendors can make a copy in your selected fabric and have it ready in less than 2 days. And once you've worked up an appetite trolling limitless bolts of silk, head to the surrounding streets for some of the best street eats (see Where to Eat).
Tianzifang (on Taikang Lu, nr Sinan Lu)
Back when I was living in Shanghai from 2002-2004, Taikang Lu was becoming THE hub for expat-owned galleries, bars and other start-up ventures. It really consisted of just one large 4-storey building that was a former candy factory, which housed among others, our friends' hotspot Mei. Nearly a decade on, the building and its surrounding streets have been transformed into a rather tacky maze of tourist-targeting galleries, souvenir shops, bars and cafes, though one wrong (or better, right) turn will land you in the middle of a very local wet market.
Dongtai Lu Antiques Market
Start at the corner of Liuhekou Lu and Dongtai Lu and walk south.
A short walk south and east of Xintiandi, you won’t find many true “antiques” here, but this open-air flea market street is a great spot for browsing and buying all the Mao and old Shanghai memorabilia like lighters, postcards and decorative knick knacks.
Shanghai Art Museum
325 Nanjing Xi Lu, by Huangpi Bei Lu, Renmin Square (People’s Square, northwest corner). +86 21 6327 2829.
Traditional and Chinese contemporary works of art under one roof, there’s also the popular Kathleen’s 5 restaurant and bar on the roof.
Stations: Pudong International Airport and Longyang Lu Metro Station (Subway Line 2).
I think the best way to experience the Maglev is to take a round-trip joy ride at some point during your stay, not when you’ve just come off a long international flight or on your way home, strapped with luggage and having to maneuver the inconvenient connections.
If you're looking for the current hotspots, check out the Smart Shanghai and City Weekend listings. There are lots of trendy cocktail lounges and clubs in the Bund Area (Glamour, New Heights, Bar Rouge and M1NT) but for something with a bit more character, my trusted local expat friend's top picks were all in the Former French Concession:
-Connoisseur's. Quiet bar across the street from US Embassy in Former French Concession, the bar tender was trained at Constellation, an expat favorite for "proper" cocktails
-Union Trading Bar, another cocktail specialist
-Liquid Laundry, the gastropub and brewery is an after-work expat favorite
-Senators Saloon, a Bourbon and Prohibition-era drinks from American couple
-The Apartment. Restaurant, cocktail bar and lounge with an rooftop patio for when the smoke gets to be a bit much (which is did the night we were there).
And if you're just looking to rub shoulders with an expat or two, head to Yongkang Lu in the former French Concession, the current all-night eating/drinking strip.
GET OUT OF TOWN - DAY EXCURSIONS
Canal towns: Zhouzhuang and Zhujiajiao
Nice for a little day trip of strolling through and winding the canals.
Hangzhou and West Lake (Xihu)
To be honest, I don’t buy into all the hype - yes, the lake can be picturesque with its handful of temples, but the city itself is just like any other industrialized Chinese city as far as I'm concerned.
Suzhou ("The Venice of the East")
The main draws here are for garden strolling and silk shopping, and plying the canals of yet another city claiming to be the “Venice of the East”.
WHERE TO STAY
There is no shortage of opulent, luxury hotels with all the bells and whistles: spas, world-class restaurants and stellar birds’ eye views. And to be honest, as Shanghai can be an overwhelming place to visit, a service-oriented, amenity-laden retreat is a GREAT thing to have. But there is also an increasing trend towards more boutique, design hotel stays, which appeal to those travelers wanting to stay in a more intimate spot with character, if that's what you're looking for.
For the big name hotel brands, Tripadvisor is the most current resource for comparisons. But location is something to consider:
-While the Grand Hyatt, Shangri-La and Mandarin Oriental are all top-class, just keep in mind that they are all in Pudong, which is a 10-15 minute taxi ride across the river from where you'll likely tour, dine and drink.
-Back on the Bund, the best riverside locations belongs to the Fairmont Peace Hotel, the Art Deco landmark; the Waldorf Astoria and the Peninsula. While Hotel Indigo is on the river, it's quite far south of the Bund action; and the Hyatt on the Bund is not actually on the Bund, but rather across Suzhou Creek to the north (with great views of the Bund).
-If you're not committed to river views outside your window, centrally located properties include the JW Marriott (People's Square), Portman Ritz Carlton (best hotel if you want to have Western-style amenities and cafes at your doorstep); The Westin (nr the Bund); Four Seasons; or The Langham in Xintiandi.
If more intimate, design hotels are your thing, best bets are the JIA Shanghai, URBN or the Puli (nr Jing'an).
And if you want to get a feeling for colonial expat living, head to the heart of the former French Concession and book into No. 9 Guesthouse (9, Lane 355, Jianguo Xilu, +86 21 6471 9950) - it won't have the amenities or service like the big-name brand hotels, but you'll be staying in the most charming part of town.
HOW TO GET THERE
Nearly all international flights land into Shanghai Pudong International Airport (PVG), a 45-minute taxi ride into central downtown. Alternatively, you can take the high-speed Maglev train, but the 7 min and 20 second journey (with max speed of 431 km/h (268 mph) ends in a random part of Pudong from which you’ll have to taxi a 15 minute taxi to get to central downtown in Puxi anyway.
Domestic and a couple international flights land arrive at Hongqiao Airport (SHA), which is a 20-minute taxi ride to downtown central Puxi.
Once you’re in town, the best way to get around is by taxi (very cheap, just look for the light above passenger-side dashboard) or by foot. There is public transportation but it’s exceedingly crowded and not hugely comprehensive.
City Weekend (Shanghai edition)
Stay & Play: Shanghai
Tianzifang: Taikang Lu takeover
View of Pudong from Three on the Bund
Ferguson Lane: a popular eating and drinking enclave in the Former French Concession
Get ready to binge on that season of Sopranos you missed
Ulumuqi - much prettier in summer when leaves on the trees, but still a great spot for some street eating
Dongping Lu: Simply Thai to the right and the orange original location of Blarney Stone at far left (now moved to expat hot street Yongkang Lu)
The original expat hot spot - Face Bar (Hazara and La Na Thai) - sadly shut in 2009 when their lease with Ruijin Hotel was up (Face now relocated to Pudong somewhere).
"Green Safe" grocery store - nothing like this existed when I lived there!
The first street I lived on, which has always had a nice selection of bars and restaurants
Serene outdoor patio seating at Simply Thai
We lived on the second floor :)
Lane 81, Anting Lu. Our Shanghai nest, at the very end
...with a side of hanging duck in the adjacent wet market :)
Tourist-friendly galleries and souvenir shops in Tianzifang...
A favorite pasttime for Shanghai expats
A must for any visit to Shanghai: one of the original expat/tourist drinking holes Glamour Bar