Shanghai, the place where reputation precedes itself. A futuristic metropolis best embodied by the Pudong skyline, cosmopolitan populace and more malls than you thought possible! Think little Europe in big China; big business to high fashion, old meeting new. It’s a place of huge contrast but in it’s madness you will find a vibrant city, interesting heritage and a view into China’s international future. Eat, drink and strut through sweet-toothed Shanghai.
Find Peace In The Old Town
The old town is a great place to explore the historic Shanghai that once stood. A few crumbling Chinese buildings from the 1800s still remain along with a handful of ancient temples and courtyard gardens. Wonder the hutong, alleyways, to get a glimpse of the every-day traditional lives of the locals. The temples are surprisingly peaceful to visit and tourist-free, and with a 5 yuan entrance fee you really can’t go wrong. We would recommend visiting the small temple on Fangxie Branch Road which acts as a community centre for local children who want to learn the art of calligraphy. For a 5 yuan entrance fee, you can sit and watch the children at work, creating their calligraphy masterpieces of ink to paper. The whole experience is wonderfully relaxing and quiet in comparison to China’s crazy tourist sights. Continuing east onto Wenmiao road sits a larger Buddhist temple where you can watch ceremonial displays from the monks who sing and dance in decorative robes to the sound of live music. To get to the old town just walk south along Xizang Road.
Get A Massage
The perfect way to unwind from a days walking around busy Shanghai is to book in for a massage at a local joint. For the price of 90 yuan for a half an hour session, you can get a full body massage (fully clothed that is) and the opportunity to unwind from the busyness of the city. It’s worth noting that Chinese masseurs have a very firm hand to say the least, so if you are after something more relaxing then opt for the oil massage. It’s common to finish a massage with a nice cup of warm Chinese tea. Very zen! There are loads of massage places on the roads just north of East Nanjing, just turn up and hope for a good pair of hands.
Eat Jianbing For Breakfast
You only have to walk down the streets of Shanghai to find this culinary speciality on every street corner. Jianbing has become one of China’s most popular street food breakfasts and it has a wonderful price tag to match. For 9 yuan (£1), you can get yourself a delicious crispy-thin crepe filled with egg, coriander, spring onion, and zingy pickles, and a healthy spread of sweet hoisin sauce and spicy chilli sauce. If that doesn’t sound good enough already, each one is topped with a crispy layer of fried wonton and fried lettuce leaves. The crepe is cooked right in front of you on a hot plate, wrapped, and then cut down the middle to reveal the crispy wonton and filling. This was one of the best things we ate in Shanghai and it’s super cheap!
Find Love In The People's Square
This is a market like no other, every Saturday morning hundred of locals get together in the people’s square in central Shanghai to market, wait for it, their children?! The parent presents a piece of paper with their son or daughters profile on and sticks it on an open umbrella for others to see. Hundreds of coloured brollies line the walkways and people wonder through, searching for the perfect match for their spouse. It’s a bit like a ‘looking for love ad’ in your local paper, except it’s in real life and the parents are the ones to impress. At first we thought the whole process was a little strange, but after speaking to locals we found out that it’s actually for parents whose children are LGBT and it’s a way of showing support for their son or daughter. Being LGBT in China isn’t generally accepted unless you are in a cosmopolitan city like Shanghai, so it is a nice thing for the parents and visitors to be a part of. Closest tube stop is the People’s Park.
Contemplate Art At M50
Take an afternoon out to wonder the trendy streets of the M50 Art Area. Nestled next to the Wusong river in a number of converted factories, M50 has the largest collection of galleries in Shanghai and most are free to enter. The vibe is very chilled, there are dozens of coffee shops, cool design and homeware stores and slick art spaces all lining the tidy cobbled streets, and many art enthusiasts stroll around dipping in and out of galleries with a coffee in hand. This was a really design-conscious area, and with its slow pace it felt different from a lot of other places in Shanghai. If modern art is your thing then definitely stop off here. Closest tube stop is Jiangning Road.
Eat Delicious Noodles At Number 14
On a side road just off the rather pricy French Concession high street sits an unassuming eatery which is packed all day long. Hungry diners are squashed into the tiny restaurant at number 14 Yandang Road, munching on some of the best noodles in town that only cost 10 yuan a bowl. The noodles come doused in a deliciously thick peanut and sesame sauce, topped with a sprinkling of spring onions. Just walk in, order a bowl of ‘mah jong mien’, pay and take your ticket, and then wait for your order to be delivered to your seat. These noodles are some of the tastiest in town, and are perfect for the budget traveller.
Watch The Locals Dance
One of the funnest things about visiting China is watching the locals go about their daily business. You only have to wonder into any park or public space to see the older crowd congregating in groups learning new dance routines, exercising, playing games and singing. The dance routines are really fun to watch and you can join in if you are feeling brave enough! Pumping music gets played from a large speaker, and the group starts moving in time with the beat, with one person taking the lead. Dancing can happen at all times of day, in the evening under the amber street lights or first thing in the morning just after the sun’s come up. It’s like a new way of clubbing for the old, dancing with friends and without the hangover. Head to the People’s Park any time of day or on East Nanjing Road for sunrise.
Stroll The Dazzling Bund
A trip to Shanghai isn’t complete without a visit to the cities most impressive sight, the Bund. The 1km promenade is sandwiched in between a stretch of grand landmark Art Deco and neo-classical buildings on the west side, including banks, hotels and trading centres, and the futuristic Pudong skyline which is set on the opposite bank of the Huangpu River. From here you get a great view of the famous Shanghai World Financial Centre, which changes colour depending on what time of day you visit, and the Shanghai Tower, China’s tallest building. The view really is spectacular, day or night this makes a fantastic spot to photograph the modern skyline, and to stroll a small length of the river. It’s free to visit and it’s possible to arrange boat tours, a trip on the river tunnel and the Bund History Museum nearby. Closest tube stop is Nanjing East Road.
This insightful museum has a thorough collection of arts and crafts dating back to ancient times. Whether you are into Bronze Age vessels or Chinese calligraphy scrolls, stone sculptures of Buddha or Ming-style wood furniture, there is a plethora of artefacts to see at the highest level of craftsmanship. So many museums in China have useless information or no information at all, but this one is definitely the exception. Descriptions, dates, methods of construction are detailed and insightful, we left understanding how bronze pots were cast through the help of some step by step prototypes. One of the best collections in the museum is on the top floor and is that of Arts and Crafts by Chinese Minorities and consists of costumes, jewellery, musical instruments and masks. The level of intricacy in the textiles is sublime and so unique to the smaller ancient communities. Being designers and makers ourselves, this is one of the most inspiring places to visit in Shanghai along with the M50 Art Area and the design-led lanes of Tianzifang. Entry to the museum is free.
Explore The Tianzifang Lanes And Shops
Just south of the pricy French Concession shopping street sits the more affordable quirky lanes of Tianzifang. Wonder down the cobbled streets in search of small design shops, art galleries, snacky eateries, floristry's, hang-out bars, vintage clothes stores and many more. The vibe is chilled out, and it makes for a nice afternoon mooching around the surrounding streets, dipping in and out of shops or just soaking up the atmosphere. Most of the shops are run by small creative businesses rather than the huge highstreet brands that dominate most of Shanghais shopping areas. Expect to see many fashion-conscious locals wondering round with their latest purchases in-hand. The bars can be a bit pricy so why not grab a beer from the corner shop, take a seat and watch the world go by. Closest tube stop is Dapuqiao.
Check out our travel video from our adventures in Shanghai
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