City Guide: Shanghai

Background: More on our trip to China and Beijing City Guide.

Do:

  1. Food tours! A highlight of our trip was two food tours with UnTour Shanghai. We especially enjoyed the morning dumpling tour and cooking class, where we made our very own Sheng Jian Bao (a fried version of the Xiao Long Bao). Here are photos from the dumpling tour, and the night market tour.

Photos of the cooking class:

2.  The Bund. The Bund is the area along the river, with the older buildings on one side, and the fancy modern skyscrapers on the other (Pudong). Make sure to visit both sides, and see it by day and night. The contrast in the history of the city as a trading hub and the modern future evident in the 20 year transformation of Pudong is fascinating. Have lunch or dinner at one of the restaurants with a view. We did brunch at M on the Bund (see more in “Eat” below). At brunch, we ran into our entire 8 person food tour group from the day before, so clearly we were all on the same dining circuit!

3. Shanghai Tower. Opened in 2016, the Shanghai Tower is the second tallest in the world, and has the world’s highest viewing platform. We aimed to get up at dusk, but didn’t make it up until after dark due to the lines (give yourself 30 minutes to get in and up, minimum). It was worth the expensive (for China) entry fee, the views were spectacular. Doing it again, I would go before sunset and plan to stay there through when it gets dark, and be prepared for crowds and waiting to get a spot at the window.

4. French Concession. We had a number of lovely walks during our food tours in the French Concession. At times, it didn’t feel like China, with hipster boutiques, bars, and everything else you would find in Brooklyn. While there, check out the charming alleyways of Tianxifang.

5. JingAn Temple. One of the few Buddhist monasteries in Shanghai, it was a beehive of activity, and a beautiful ancient building right in the hub of modern Shanghai life.

6. Cool bars. Shanghai has its share of view bars, and other scenic drinking spots. We enjoyed an early evening stop at the Long Bark in the Waldorf on the Bund. The beautiful bar harkens back to when it was a private club in colonial era Shanghai. We arrived at opening and got a table with a view of the Bund.

The Long Bar:

We also enjoyed New Year’s at the top of Le Meridian, at the Hu Bar. It had a 360 degree view, live music, and free-flowing champagne.

If you need to catch a US sporting event while in Shanghai, try the Camel Sports bar in the French Concession. It was open all night for a 4:30 am UW game. Games being shown are listed on their website.

Lastly, we didn’t make it, but wanted to check out the Fairmont Jazz Bar.

7. Old Town. Old Town was perhaps the only place that really felt like China given how much Shanghai has torn down and rebuilt. We got lost in alleyways where houses had no plumbing, and families were cooking outside. The bazaar was chaos and fun, and home to a long line for Nanxiang dumplings (see “Eat” below). We also visited the insect market where grasshoppers were available for sale. We found out later they are used in grasshopper fighting ???.

8. Maglev. Part public transit, part cool tourist activity, we took the Maglev (magnetic levitation train) to get to the airport. It is the world’s fastest train in regular service. We sped up to 430 km/hour and traveled from Pudong to the airport in just over six minutes. Jerry ponied up for the first class section, which were $10 as opposed to $5, and we got the whole car to ourselves. Make sure to take public transit at least one way to or from the airport.

After spending a good chunk of time in the National Museum in Beijing, we skipped the Shanghai Museum, but it comes recommended. Other places we wanted to go but missed, the Shanghai Marriage Market, the M50 art area, and the Fairmont Jazz Bar.

Eat

  1. Dumplings all day. Our favorite dumplings were at Yang’s. Read more on Trip Advisor or NPR. These are the Sheng Jian Bao, which I had never tried before, but were delicious. For more traditional Xiao Long Bao, try Nanxiang at one of their multiple locations. If you want to try everything, go to the second floor of the Wujiang road location and you can find branches of both! Learn about the various dumplings and restaurants like Yangs here.Jerry in his dumpling happy place:

2. Brunch on the Bund. We needed reservations for New Year’s Day so decided to do a late brunch. We were able to get into M on the Bund (which along with Mr. & Mrs. Bund was one of the two most recommended restaurants). I can’t say it was stellar food (and it is a western menu for brunch, so be aware), but it was reasonably good, not nearly as overpriced as it could have been (about $35 for two courses including a cocktail and unlimited coffee/tea), and the views above the Bund made it worth it.

3. Dim Sum & Boutiques. One morning while walking through the French Concession, we decided to dim sum at Crystal Jade. Located in a mall at Xintiandi, it was worth going out of our way for. It has a full Shanghainese menu along with dim sum. Afterwards, enjoy the mall around it which contains many local and up-and-coming designers.

Stay:

We decide to counterbalance our western Beijing hotel experience with a luxury local hotel, the PuLi Hotel and Spa in JingAn. The room itself was quite nifty. As you can see, the bath and room were open to each other with sliding doors. It had very tall ceilings, and a beautiful tub by the window. There was also a stocked and complementary beverage center in each room, and Nespresso with the good flavor pods. Service was great and the gym was fine. It was a good location, right on a subway line, across from a mall with lots of good food choices including a supermarket (Kerry Center), and easy walking distance to French Concession and other neighborhoods.

JingAn was a good neighborhood. Pudong had the most fancy hotels, but was a business district and a bit disconnected from the sites (but easy to the airport).

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Know:

  1. Remember US passport holders need a visa for stays over 72 hours. Always check out the latest on the state department website (and register your travel with STEP).
  2. China is relatively safe. Like everywhere in the world, make sure the taxi driver always turns on the meter.
  3. Have print outs with the Chinese characters for your hotel when you arrive, taxi drivers won’t speak English. Hotel websites have local directions to print.
  4. Traffic can be horrible. The subway is clean, safe, easy (stop names are in English), and cheap. We used it for most the stay in Shanghai.
  5. While there are public toilets everywhere (awesome) many are squatty potties (less awesome) and most don’t have any TP. So bring your tissues, and use facilities at modern malls. And if it says it is a “4 Star” rated toilet – beware, because clearly it won’t be…

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