Whether you’ve been in Shanghai for a day or a decade, you’re a first-time visitor or a return traveler, there’s always something new to explore in this bustling city of over 24 million. Each neighborhood has its own particular charms – the electric skyline of Pudong crackles with a futuristic energy, the small cafes and bars of Old Xuhui make for a perfect afternoon of al fresco coffee and cocktails, and historic Hongkou buzzes with the daily routine of traditional Shanghainese life.
In between slurping on soup dumplings and stumbling upon charming hidden lanes, dive deeper into the city’s wonderful neighborhoods with insider tips from our hosts on what to do, where to go and how to live like a local in Shanghai.
The Bund / Lujiazui
It doesn’t get more iconic than The Bund. At the top of almost every host’s bucket list for Shanghai visitors, the waterfront that runs along the Huangpu river nods both to Shanghai’s past and its future. From the up-and-coming, museum-and-gallery-packed West Bund to the row of historic buildings just south of Suzhou Creek, there’s plenty to do along the Huangpu – not to mention, across the water in Pudong’s bustling, skyscraper-laden Lujiazui.
Book a spacious two-bedroom place in a traditional Shanghai apartment complex, just outside of Lujiazui and its towering buildings. Have lunch of soup dumplings at Crystal Jade (Eighth Floor, Super Brand Mall, 168 Lujiazui Xi Lu, near Lujiazui Huan Lu) nearby; “In the world of soup dumplings, it’s practically like three Michelin stars,” recommends Superhost Lily – before hopping across the Huangpu to The Bund.
If there’s one thing you can’t miss when you’re here, it’s going up the tallest building in the city, Shanghai Tower, and seeing all of Shanghai.
Here, learn more about the rich history of the area and its stunning architecture through an Art Deco walking tour or simply take in the views of the Pudong skyline while you stroll along the river towards the Old City where Superhost Izzie recommends visiting City of God Temple. For a bite later, she suggests Shanghainese restaurant Han Private Dining (Fourth Floor, 66 Nanjing Dong Lu, near Sichuan Zhong Lu).
“The decoration is in an old Shanghai style and the seating is private rooms only, so it’s intimate. The food is quite traditional. I really like it, though this part of The Bund is very pricey. It’s good for slightly nicer occasions with friends – when you want high-quality food and good service.”
– Superhost Izzie
For a more modern feel, try Hakkasan (Fifth Floor, 18 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, near Nanjing Dong Lu). Every dish is presented very beautifully and you can see the chef’s efforts,” says Superhost Kity. “I personally think it’s the best Cantonese restaurant in Shanghai – nowhere else is tops it.” Plus, she adds as a hot tip, “Friday’s lunch set is a total bargain.”
“Every dish is presented very beautifully and you can see the chef’s efforts. I personally think it’s the best Cantonese restaurant in Shanghai – nowhere else tops it. Friday’s lunch set is a total bargain.”
– Superhost Kity
For drinks, head to the sophisticated, wood-paneled Long Bar at what is now The Waldorf Astoria on The Bund (2 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, near Yan’an Dong Lu), have a whiskey and pretend you’re back in the 1920s.
“In Shanghai’s colonial period, there was a members-only club called Shanghai Club, which had one of the longest bars in Asia. It’s still incredibly elegant. Afterwards, experience Shanghai’s sleek, modern-day club scene at the stylish Club 3 ⅓ (3 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, near Guangdong Lu).”
– Superhost Benson
Afterwards, experience Shanghai’s sleek, modern-day club scene at the stylish Club 3 ⅓ (3 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, near Guangdong Lu).
“I like smaller bars. This one is just the right size, and the staff are really great. All the cocktails are tasty, like the refreshing, velvety Clever Mistress [pictured]. But I like to drink coffee, so my favorite is their signature Black Swan cocktail. It’s the perfect blend of alcohol and coffee.”
– Superhost Kity
This historic district is the pinnacle of Shanghai’s charms: all leafy, tree-lined streets and narrow lanes, dotted with small, indie cafes and trendy boutiques. Just south of Yan’an Lu, this neighborhood, which was once a foreign concession for the French, stretches over the southern edge of Jing’an district and the northern tip of Xuhui district.
If there’s one place that you can’t miss when you come to Shanghai, it’s Old Xuhui. The quickest way to get to know a city is to integrate into local life and with local people. There are all kinds of people in Old Xuhui: busy, urbanite white-collar workers, old men enjoying the shady lanes, foreigners in local bars, hipsters in indie cafes – leisure and business, co-existing. It’s wonderful to wander around the streets while the sun is shining through the leaves of the plane trees overhead.
Superhost Jing Jing
The best way to take in all that Old Xuhui has to offer is on foot. Take a walking tour of the area’s architecture or a guided analog photography experience. Once you’ve worked up an appetite from wandering or browsing local boutiques – Superhost Fiona suggests Catie Lo (105 Wukang Lu, near Fuxing Xi Lu), “a retro shop with cute dresses and accessories” – then stop for a coffee at any number of the neighborhood’s many cafes.
At the intersection of Wukang Lu and Anfu Lu, you’ll find the super trendy RAC coffee window (322 Anfu Lu, near Wukang Lu), with a cafe serving Breton-style galettes in the courtyard behind, both of which Superhost Emily suggests.
Or wander further down the street: “There’s a small coffee shop near my house,” Superhost Lily says of Coffee Lab (Second Floor, 158 Anfu Lu, near Wulumuqi Zhong Lu). “The iced latte is very good – aromatic and strong in flavor. The owner is really nice and will make recommendations based on your tastes.”
There’s an almost overwhelming amount of choice for places to eat in Old Xuhui. Go for some traditional Shanghainese dishes with Superhost Summer’s recommendations of scallion oil noodles at Jianguo 328 (“they do the flavor really well there”; 328 Jianguo Xi Lu, near Xiangyang Nan Lu) or hongshao rou (red-braised pork belly) at either Yuanyuan (201 Xingguo Lu, near Tai’an Lu) or Old Jesse (41 Tianping Lu, near Huaihai Zhong Lu). “Both of them are famous Shanghai restaurants, where you can try authentic and beautifully executed local Shanghainese dishes, particularly the hongshao rou.” For a local snack, swing by No. 1-5, Lane 140, Jiashan Lu. “Just nearby, there’s a place where you can get fresh crabs cooked to order, right on the spot,” says Superhost Miya. “It’s really delicious.”
You’ll never be at a loss for a drink in this neighborhood, where cocktail bars abound.
“One of my favorite bars is Senator Saloon (98 Wuyuan Lu, near Wulumuqi Zhong Lu), a 1920s-style whisky bar without any signage. It has an air of mystery but is also warm and welcoming. Or there’s Union Trading Company (No. 2, 64 Fenyang Lu, near Fuxing Zhong Lu), a small low-key and tucked-away bar where they use a lot of house-infused liquors which are great.”
– Superhost Skye
If you’re feeling energized for the night, chimes in Superhost Benson, “you’ll want to go to the most interesting nightclub in Shanghai, Le Baron (Seventh Floor, 20 Donghu Lu, near Huaihai Zhong Lu), and forget how exhausting the week has been.” Le Baron is guest list only so angle to get on it beforehand, or also put edgy, experimental club ALL (Second Floor, 17 Xiangyang Bei Lu, near Julu Lu) on your list, which Superhost Lily suggests hitting after a drink at cocktail bar Botanist (No. 2, 17 Xiangyang Bei Lu, near Julu Lu) next door.
Stay up until dawn and you’ll be able to take up Superhost Echo’s recommendation just down the street from the arty nightclub. “The corner of Yanqing Lu and Donghu Lu is very local and residential, with breakfast stalls, fruit stands and a vegetable market. The salty soy milk and pancakes in the breakfast stalls are my favorite,” she says.
The commercial heart of the city, Jing’an is always buzzing with energy – whether it’s around the fast fashion and upscale boutiques of Nanjing Xi Lu or in the up-and-coming areas dotted with hip restaurants and bars near Jing’an Temple.
Stay at an oasis of calm off busy Nanjing Xi Lu, nearby the impressive new HKRI Taikoo Hui shopping complex full of boutiques to browse (789 Nanjing Xi Lu, near Shimen Yi Lu).
“One of my favorite shops is a newly opened multi-brand store EDITOR at HKRI Taikoo Hui. There are a lot of really interesting design pieces: a light shaped like a partially peeled banana, a brass water bottle that can be brought on a plane and a set of cups that look like cacti.”
– Superhost Benson
Brave the busy, Willy Wonka-esque Starbucks Reserve Roastery (789 Nanjing Xi Lu, near Shimen Yi Lu), suggests Superhost Emily; sip on a carefully sourced cup of single-origin brew at CC Coffee (Dianhua Xunlu, near the intersection of Maoming Bei Lu and Weihai Lu) – “hidden-away and small, but the coffee is very special with a lot of craftsmanship put into it,” recommends Superhost Olive; or travel the world via coffee beans at a tasting Experience led by host Pei Hsiu, certified coffee barista, instructor and quality appraiser.
For eats, you can try your own hand at making Shanghai’s very own scallion oil noodles. If you’d rather explore a historic tree-lined street west of Jing’an Temple, lunch on what some consider the best soup dumplings in town, Fuchun Xiaolong (650 Yuyuan Lu, near Zhenning Lu). “When I have friends or family come to town,” says Superhost Olive, “we go to Fuchun Xiaolong for soup dumplings. They’re really authentic Shanghai xiaolongbao.”
If you’re looking to hit some of the neighborhood’s bars – “There’s a lot of cool places to drink on Yanping Lu,” advises Superhost Gefii – fill up on something healthy (but still very delicious) beforehand.
“I’ve eaten almost all of Shanghai’s poke. Little Catch (Second Floor, 89 Taixing Lu, near Wujiang Lu) is the best and tastes the freshest. The bowls are healthy, with ingredients won’t make you feel guilty – and you’ll feel like you’re very on trend.”
– Superhost Lily
Technically part of Old Xuhui, Tianzifang is a world unto itself. It’s a maze of shops, with everything from junky souvenirs to artisan ceramics to whatever’s the latest trendy ice cream craze.
Even though there’s a lot of people, it’s worth seeing as the lanes there are very typical of the city and there’s a uniquely Shanghai atmosphere about it.
Book a serene urban retreat or stay in a sunny, modern loft at the center of the action. Start your morning by getting a typical Shanghai breakfast of scallion pancakes from street vendor A Da Congyoubing (Lane 4, 120 Ruijin Er Lu, near Yongjia Lu – entrance on Yongjia). “Since being featured on the BBC,” Superhost Jing Jing explains, “A Da has blown up and become fiercely popular. For 36 years, they’ve only focused on one thing, preserving the memories of old Shanghai. This is artistry.” She further recommends A Niang Mian (36 Sinan Lu, near Nanchang Lu).”The owner is an old lady from Ningbo. In Ningbo dialect, the word for ‘grandmother’ is ‘a niang’, and that’s how the shop got its name,” Jing Jing explains. “The yellow croaker noodles are a must. For your average Shanghainese, there’s one bowl of yellow croaker noodles with pickled vegetables that they’ll remember as life changing.”
You can also try your own hand at making local specialities, like soup dumplings. Book a class with host Cici to learn how to make traditional Shanghai xiaolongbao where you’ll “uncover the big secret of the soup inside the dumplings.”
Walk off all the eating with a stroll around chilled-out Fuxing Park.
“Fuxing Park is rarely recommended to tourists, but it’s well designed and a lovely place to take a walk if you have time. It’s the only park in the city that’s not only in a French classical style, but is also a masterpiece of contemporary Shanghai’s blend of Chinese and Western garden landscaping.”
– Superhost Olive
Gather some fortitude for the afternoon with a traditional Shanghainese lunch at Zhuan Jiao Lao Shanghai Nongtang (139 Ruijin Yi Lu, near Changle Lu) where the interior is outfitted to look like the city’s old lanes. “The food is very good,” recommends Superhost Miya, “and the interior is stunning.” Caffeinate at Blacksheep Espresso (169-4 Jianguo Zhong Lu, near Ruijin Er Lu) before heading into Tianzifang’s maze of shops. “A very specific roasting temperature and technique creates a really unique cherry tomato flavor,” says Superhost Jing Jing. “Even if you don’t drink coffee, you’ll fall in love with the flat white there.”
Once in Tianzifang itself, she suggests browsing Scent Library (No. 3, Lane 210, Taikang Lu, near Ruijin Er Lu).
“It’s a very special small shop. Sometimes we rely on our sight too much for information and ignoring our other senses. Figuratively, this store collects scents into a book. Whether it’s a smell from your memory or one you’ve never encountered, there’ll be something that suits you.”
– Superhost Jing Jing
End your neighborhood exploration with a drink. Superhost Jing Jing suggests multi-level speakeasy Speak Low (579 Fuxing Zhong Lu, near Ruijin Er Lu). “Ranked second on Asia’s 50 Best Bars in 2017, this bar was created by international cocktail champion Shingo Gokan. Within the bar, there are a lot of different rooms and concepts to explore.”
This historic neighborhood might not be at the top of your radar, but it’s got a lot to offer.
Hongkou isn’t generally the first choice for a visitor to Shanghai. But people who frequent the city are quite fond of it. It is a very relaxed, low-key area with over 100 years of history and culture. While it doesn’t have Nanjing Lu’s affluence, it does show you the real local life in Shanghai.
Book an uber chic, three-story monochrome loft that’s set in a preserved lanehouse right in the midst of all Hongkou’s rich history. Stroll over to Shanyin Lu where many famous 20th-century authors used to live. “The writers Lu Xun and Mao Dun used to live on Shanyin Lu,” explains Superhost Rhonda. “The former residence of Qu Qiubai is right next to our studio. There are a lot of other celebrities who lived in this neighborhood.” After exploring the area, shake things up during your Shanghai stay by taking a cocktail masterclass with Rhonda in the evening.
For eats, Superhost Alvin is one of many hosts who recommends the soup dumplings at Wanshou Zhai (123 Shanyin Lu, near Jixiang Lu). Afterwards, he suggests walking down the elegant Duolun Lu where many writers of the 1920s used to gather.
Get some minimalist snaps at former abattoir 1933 (10 Shajing Lu, near Haining Lu) – now a creative park – from the Art Deco era.
Later, head south toward the Huangpu, where Hongkou’s Binjiang waterfront has recently opened. “It’s not very crowded,” says Superhost Izzie, “and there are some bars that are gradually opening, where you can see the buildings on both sides of the river. It’s really wonderful to walk along the riverbank in the summer breeze.” Further west, on the edge of Suzhou Creek, Superhost Jing Jing recommends checking out The Shanghai Postal Museum (395 Tiantong Lu, near Bei Suzhou Lu). “Once one of Shanghai’s top ten buildings, it’s a small and quiet spot where you can learn about the history of the city’s postal system in historical surrounds.”
Finally, if the day hasn’t tired you out, spend the evening at the Hongkou branch of TZ House Live Music (Third Floor, Ruihong Tiandi, 188 Ruihong Lu, near Tianhong Lu). Superhost CJ recommends it as one of her favorites – “the atmosphere and the cocktails are great” – and Superhost Alvin agrees. “Many local singers have their first shows here,” Alvin says. “There are also bigger names who occasionally perform. It’s a high quality, laid-back spot where you can relax. Perfect for hanging out with friends.”
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