Shanghai is unmistakably a Chinese city but this teeming metropolis is also the country’s most international conurbation. More akin to Hong Kong than it is to Beijing, Shanghai was the place where China first met the West; and its gleaming skyscrapers, no-holds-barred nightlife and fleeting fashion trends are about as communist as a Starbucks-sipping commodity broker.
Yet there are pockets of old-school charm to be found. Temples nestle down narrow alleyways while ancient monasteries lay a short hop from galleries, museums and designer bars. The city’s more recent colonial history is also compelling, with the riverside buildings of the Bund offering a glimpse into the days of European influence.
Shanghai Marriage Market: This weekly frenzy of matchmaking, where parents of unmarried children gather to find a partner for their offspring, offers a unique insight into Chinese culture. Gate 5 of People’s Square Park.
Art Deco Walking Tour: Join a walking tour with Texan native Spencer Dodington, an expert on the city’s architectural heritage. firstname.lastname@example.org
Chongming Island: A short hop from Shanghai, the Dongtan National Nature Reserve is a wetland area known for its rich birdlife, while Dongping National Forest Park is a great place to pedal through wooded glades. dpslpark.com
The Bund: The European colonists are long gone, but the mansions they built along the 3,600ft riverside stretch known as the Bund remain as impressive as ever. The melange of architectural styles and view over the Huangpu River to the futuristic skyscrapers of Pudong make it worth braving the crowds for.
Shanghai World Financial Center Observatory: Although usurped as the world’s highest observation deck by the one at Canton Tower in Guangzhou, the outlook from the glass-floored skywalk on the 100th level of the Shanghai World Financial Center is still pretty awe-inspiring. swfc-shanghai.com
French Concession: If it wasn’t for the sticky summer heat and the Chinese street signs, you could be forgiven for thinking you’d been teleported thousands of miles west to Paris. Built by French colonists in the early 20th century, the Concession retains a rarefied tree-lined atmosphere with its boutiques and bars.
WHERE TO EAT
De Xing Guan: Debate rages over the best venue for xiaolongbao (Shanghai soup dumplings), but this is a favorite among dumpling connoisseurs. T: +86 21 6352 2535.
Mercato: Pizza, pasta and other Italian dishes are the order of the day at this popular Bund venue. jean-georges.com
Ultraviolet: This secret restaurant specializes in lavish tasting menus with an emphasis on molecular gastronomy. uvbypp.cc
WHERE TO SLEEP
Langham Xintiandi: A plush and ultra-modern property renowned for its impeccable but non-intrusive service. xintiandi.langhamhotels.com
Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund: This prestigious hotel occupies the restored century-old former Shanghai Club. waldorfastoriashanghai.com
Puli Hotel and Spa: An urban oasis with an impressive guest library, in-room Bose sound systems, and complimentary mini-bars. thepuli.com
Power Station of Art: While works critical of the Chinese regime are a no-no, the first state-run contemporary art museum in Shanghai is more daring than you might think. The distinctive space on the banks of the Hungpu River is home to the Shanghai Biennial and regular touring exhibitions. powerstationofart.org
Shanghai Museum: One of the most impressive collections in China is to be found in this must-visit museum. Visitors will be mesmerized by grand galleries showcasing everything from exquisite ceramics to equally exacting examples of classic calligraphy. shanghaimuseum.net
Jing’an Temple: While nobody would argue that Shanghai can rival Beijing for visual examples of traditional Chinese culture, the city does possess a few compelling historic sights. With nearly 800 years of history, the protected sanctuary of Jing’an Temple is one such structure, located near the bustle of West Nanjing Road.
Shanghai International Arts Festival: This festival has been promoting an eclectic program of culture since 1999, including Beyoncé and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (September 27-October 27). artsbird.com
Shanghai Biennale: The 10th Shanghai Biennale will be centered upon the city’s Power Station of Art, and curated by artist Anselm Franke. (November 22-March 31). shanghaibiennale.org
Shanghai Masters: The only non-Western ATP World Tour event. Novak Djokovic will be bidding to defend his crown (October 4-12). shanghairolexmasters.com
WHERE TO SHOP
Dongtai Lu Antique Market: There are more prestigious places to buy antiques in Shanghai, but few are as much fun as this market near Laoximen station. Propaganda posters are a popular purchase as are old-school suitcases and Chairman Mao ramekins.
Tianshan Tea City: The Chinese are very serious about their tea and this multi-level complex is completely devoted to the beverage. Hundreds of stalls sort, sell and brew tea from every corner of the Middle Kingdom. Plus, you can buy all the necessary accessories, from porcelain tea sets to antique teapots. dabutong.com
Qipu Lu: The word is that Shanghai’s world famous ‘cheap street’ is to make way for a high-end shopping district. For now, however, this series of malls crammed with bargain clothing remains the place to go. Its atmosphere and novelty factor alone make it worth a visit.
Super Brand Mall: With 13 sprawling floors, this totem to consumerism remains one of Asia’s biggest malls. An all-rounder for shopping, it ticks all the boxes with a broad range of brand stores present and correct.
When to Go: September and October are ideal months to visit without the searing heat of summer (as high as 104F) or chill of winter (temperatures can drop below freezing). You can generally rely on temperate weather and smaller crowds in late March and November.
Time: GMT +8.
Dial Code: +86.
Contact: China National Tourist Office. cnto.org
PUBLISHED IN THE FALL 2014 ISSUE OF ASTAnetwork