Juxtaposing Western modernity, Chinese heritage and lingering hints of colonial assertiveness, Shanghai’s character is proudly eclectic but therefore a nightmare to plan. With only two days on hand to roam the city and London dwelling friend in tow, the pressure was on to build the perfect itinerary that allowed us to sample all the city had to offer, including its many foodie treats (note to IBS sufferers like myself; take medicine and lots of it with you, MSG reigns supreme here…)
Where to Stay
Shanghai accommodation is unavoidably expensive but plentiful. Proximity to good food and bars is always key for this food obsessed traveller who opted for Hotel Indigo Shanghai on the Bund. Dual aspect views of the Bund and Pudong (best enjoyed from the rooftop Char bar) were the perfect backdrop to a fun, contemporary interior with a quirky touch. We plumped for a river view room and indulged in their giant beds, rain showers and flair filled décor. This is definitely one of the more stylish and thankfully more affordable hotel options.
What to do
As with most cities, Shanghai is best explored region by region.
A good starting point is the main throng of the Bund. Spend an hour ambling along the riverside walk admiring the 19th century colonial architecture of the splendid old banks and hotels.
Then wander westwards towards the People’s Square to get a feel for the central city, squeezing in a visit to one of the main museums. Head a little South towards Old Town and Yuyuan garden. Soak in the feel of Old Shanghai alleyways and markets before entering the tranquil haven of the gardens.
You’ll have to catch a cab over to the city’s main draw – the French Concession. Eerily reminiscent of Paris, wide lined streets are flanked by perfectly ordered trees. There is little of note to see here, the aim is instead to wander around soaking in the atmosphere, browsing in the boutiques and lazing in Fuxing Park.
The two areas of widest acclaim here are Tianzifang and Xintiandi. Xintiandi is a modern development, reviving the old Shikomen housing style to play host to modern shops and restaurants. Tianzifang by contrast is an untouched warren of narrow alleys linking tiny buildings with boutique stores. Finally, have a stroll along character and bargain filled Dongtai Antique Market.
The final sight, away from the others but not to be missed is over in Pudong itself. The main financial centre, skyscrapers abound, perfect for a sunset drink. My tip is to avoid the queues and fees for the viewing platforms and nab the same view for free with a drink in hand at Park Hyatt’s top floor bar.
Where to eat and drink
Shanghai is as famed for its Chinese cuisine as its international offerings, so sample it all, but make sure to book in advance.
Mr and Mrs Bund is ranked in the World’s Top 50 Restaurants and with good reason. A buzzing atmosphere is secondary to the sensational food. Cuivre is in the French Concession and has more of a neighbourhood high class French feel. M on the Bund is another spot offering up sumptuous Western fare, known for its great brunch offering.
For Chinese options, Old Jesse’s original location is the stalwart of Shanghainese cuisine in a casual setting. If you’re after something a little more modern, Lost Heaven serves up Yunnan cuisine in stylish surrounds. Another good bet is Ye Shanghai, down in Xintiandi it is a more formal, smart affair or Fu 1039 housed in an old mansion in expat enclave Jing’An.
To enjoy a drink with a view head to either Indigo’s Char bar, the Park Hyatt, Glamour Bar or the Vue bar at the Hyatt on the Bund for a different perspective. The art deco must do’s are the un-missable wood panelled Long Bar at the Waldorf Astoria and the lively Jazz Bar at the recently renovated Fairmont Peace Hotel.
So there you have it, our guide to Shanghai. And some tips to help make your journey easier:
- The underground train is a great way to get around during the days
- Cabs are cheap and plentiful but get your hotel to write the address of where you’re heading first to overcome the language barrier
- If you have longer than a weekend, look into a day trip to the beautiful West Lake in Hangzhou