20 Sublime But Superb Experiences In Shanghai

Shanghai’s authenticity is found from the top of its newest skyscraper to its teashops in humble lanes

Published: 08 April 2016, Text by: Sara Naumann, Photos: Choon Siang

A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT

To visit Shanghai successfully, it pays to understand a little about the Huangpu River and the fact that it divides the city into two halves. Puxi (river west) is home to the oldest parts including the Former French Concession and the Old City. Pudong (river east) is home to the larger international airport, Lujiazui Financial Centre and all the super-new crazy-high skyscrapers.

NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH

  • Former French Concession (FFC) is chock-full of cool cafés, hip boutiques, little parks and small galleries
  • Jing’An is up-and-coming with lots of shiny malls and a big famous temple of the same name
  • the Bund is the riverside; think fancy restaurants with a view and a need for an expense account
  • the Old City is a tourist haven with antique stores and tourist kitsch
  • Pudong is where all the skyscrapers are – what you look at from your view at the Bund.

STREET EATS

While Shanghai’s street food is on the city-gentrification chopping block, a few food streets remain. Shouning Road gets busy after dark. Fiery xiaolongxia (crayfish) as well as grilled scallops and an array of veggie skewers are the specialty of most venues. Try the shop at #48.

CAFFEINATION

Shanghainese have moved on from Starbucks and are embracing artisanal coffee. Hip cafés are popping up from the Former French Concession to the heart of Jing’An. For delicious brews and own-roasted beans, try Sumerian (415 Shanxi Bei Road) and Café del Volcan (80 Yongkang Road).

RIVER CRUISE

The Bund is at the top of the tourist list and it should absolutely be seen. First, have sundowners at Glam (7F, 20 Guangdong Road) and then head across to the promenade for an evening river cruise. Take in the illuminated skyline and ignore the rest of the tourists.

COMFORT FOOD

In the Old City, you can stand in line for xiaolongbao, Shanghai’s favorite stewed-pork dumpling, for over an hour at Nanxiang, the most famous shop for these delectable goodies. But a more comfortable bet is to stop at any of the Din Tai Fung outlets across the city to fulfill your dumpling and noodle desires.

LET YOUR STOMACH BE YOUR GUIDE

Shanghai has become a cosmopolitan food city but the choices can be dizzying. Written by two long-time Shanghailanders (that’s Shanghainese for foreign transplants to the city), Glutton Guides has come up with a truly trustworthy guide to eating in Shanghai. Download on your device and follow your taste buds.

gluttonguides.com/product/shanghai

SKY-HAI

Skywalk at the Shanghai World Financial Centre to see Shanghai from 100 floors up. It’s not for the faint-hearted though – clear glass floor panels allow a bird’s eye view. Right now, the 492-metre SWFC is the tallest building in Shanghai – but not for long. Next door, the 632-metre Shanghai Centre Tower will open soon and will be the tallest building in China, and second tallest in the world.

swfc-observatory.com

NEW HEAVEN & EARTH

Xintiandi (English translation above) is a shopping, eating pedestrian paradise. Housed in the frames of old Shanghai shikumen houses, restaurants, cafés and shops are all tucked together with al fresco seating and plenty of people watching. Stay at the luxurious Langham Hotel, just across the street, to take full advantage of the fun.

ART WALK WEST BUND

You’ve heard of the former taxi driver who bought Modigliani’s painting of a nude woman for USD170.4 million? Enjoy Liu Yiqian’s Long Museum where the painting will purportedly hang. The museum sits in a repurposed loading dock along the banks of the Huangpu River in West Bund area, a delightful reclaimed riverside pedestrian park.

thelongmuseum.org

SHANGHAI ON WHEELS

There’s nothing quite like climbing aboard a vintage motorbike sidecar to experience the city with a guide who knows the place inside and out. Insiders Experience takes you through the lanes and alleys of Shanghai based on an itinerary of your personal interests. Goggles and wind-whipped hair included.

insidersexperience.com

CLASSICAL GARDENS

You don’t have to go to UNESCO-listed Suzhou (though only an hour by train outside Shanghai) to enjoy world-class Chinese gardens. If over-touristy Yu Garden is not your thing, head out to the end of Metro Line 9 to visit the quiet bliss of Zuibaichi Garden where you can sit under a willow tree and contemplate the meaning of life.

CERAMICS WITH A SPIN

You don’t have to go all the way to Jingdezhen, the cradle of ancient Chinese porcelain, to bring back a gorgeous vase from China. Spin (360 Kangding Road) is home to three floors of traditionally made items such as tea ware and home décor with a unique and contemporary design.

TWINKLE TOES

Another ancient craft in China being put to modern use in Shanghai is embroidery. Shanghai designer Denise Huang creates gorgeous footwear for Suzhou Cobblers. Combining Chinese motifs with dazzling silks and hand-embroidered patterns, her shoes have walked the pages of Vogue and The Wall Street Journal.

suzhou-cobblers.com

REST & RECHARGE

All that walking can get exhausting. There’s no better way to recuperate than in the arms of a reclining chair with magic fingers working the weariness away. Dragonfly Spa has outlets across the city. For true indulgence, go for “head to toe” with a masseuse at your feet and at your shoulders. Taipan Massage (370 Dagu Road) is a good choice for the whole family. With a private room and a DVD player, everyone can enjoy a break.

OLD JAZZ, NEW JAZZ

For vintage jazz, pull up a chair in The Jazz Bar on the ground floor of the old Cathay Hotel, now the Fairmont Peace Hotel (20 Nanjing East Road) on the Bund. The oldies start playing at 7 pm. After channeling the 1930s, head across town to JZ Club (46 Fuxing Road), where things only warm up around 10 pm and are decidedly more modern.

WITH THE KIDS

Kids’ favourites are the Ocean Aquarium, the Science and Technology Museum and the new Natural History Museum. All are closed on Mondays. So on that day, go for a long walk and count how many tiny dogs you see wearing clothes. And if the kiddos like Mickey, Disneyland will open in Shanghai in June this year.

FOR ALL THE TEA IN CHINA

All good visits to China involve tea. If you want to sip the finest and possibly get a little educated, find Song Fang Maison de Thé in a lovely old lane house in the Former French Concession neighbourhood. Sniff dozens of leaves and buy in bulk on the first floor or linger upstairs in the teahouse over steaming cups and decide which is your favourite.

songfangtea.com

CONTEMPORARY ART SCENE

With the Shanghai Biennale charging the art scene every two years, small galleries have begun to flourish. But trekking all over the city to see a few pieces? How do you know what’s good? Two galleries that shouldn’t be missed are artCN (423 Guangfu Road) and James Cohan Gallery (170 Yueyang Road No. 1, Building 1).

THE GREAT FIREWALL

While there’s not much you can do about the speed of the Internet, you can still use your favourite apps with a VPN. Download Betternet to access sites that China blocks. If you want to keep tweeting, liking, Youtubing, Instagramming and reading The New York Times, it’s necessary.

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