Arguably the most international, trendy, and bustling city in all of China, Shanghai has no shortage of fun to offer travelers. The city's name is an apt descriptor, with Shanghai (上海) directly translating to upon/on (上/shang) the sea (海/hai). While each of my trips there has been shorter than I would have liked, Shanghai has always held a special place in my heart as one of those cities that leaves a lasting impression. You might visit for the breathtaking views, the food, or the nightlife, but the warm and welcoming vibe of the city will make you want to stay. What’s really cool about Shanghai is that it makes you constantly curious for more; the diversity of interactions you’ll experience are different from other cities, and it brings you down to earth in a humbling way. A city full of history, Shanghai is a rich cultural mecca, and even if you've lived in Shanghai all your life, you could never see everything, because the city is constantly evolving, growing, and expanding, moving faster than anyone could ever keep up with.
While Shanghai is amazing and all, it might be a little overwhelming, thanks to a population of over 24 million (three times the size of NYC!) and so much to see that you don’t even know where to start. If it’s your first time in Shanghai, here’s a NYLON-approved list of places for you to check out. It’s impossible to do all of the great things there are to do in Shanghai, but these should give you a pretty good head start.
Photo courtesy of Pentahotel
WHERE TO STAY Les Suites Orient (The Bund): Shanghai has more nice hotels than most cities, but this boutique hotel on the Bund stands out from the crowd. It has the perfect mix of modern and vintage charm, while also giving you one of the best views of the Shanghai skyline.
Shangri-La (Pudong): If you’re willing to splurge on a hotel, make it the Shangri-La in Pudong. Even their most basic rooms are stunning, and if you’re lucky enough to get up on a high floor, you’ll find breathtaking views of the World Financial Tower, the Pearl Tower, and much more. Their daily breakfasts are the definition of extra—think: chocolate fountain and dessert bar—and their afternoon hors d’oeuvres prove that they’re doing everything right.
Pentahotel: Penta is perfect for the young traveler who is looking for a laid-back but modern place to stay. The atmosphere is super-casual—bartenders serve you drinks while you check in and the staff advocates a "no-uniform" policy. The hotel also has a 24-hour lounge equipped with gaming consoles and a pool table where you can hang out with other travelers.
Photo courtesy of Smart Shanghai
WHERE TO EAT Jian Guo 328: This restaurant tucked away in the French Concession of Shanghai offers authentic Shanghainese food at reasonable prices. The owners of the restaurant make it a point not to use any MSG or low-quality oils in their foods, so you can eat to your fullest with complete peace of mind. Make sure to try out their braised pork and their yellow croaker!
Wei Xiang Zhai: Check out this tiny local shop that offers the best sesame noodles in the entire city. It might be sort of a hole in the wall, but the best Chinese food often comes from quaint spots like this, where you can eat shoulder-to-shoulder among locals.
Shanghai Min (小南国/Xiao Nan Guo): Another authentic Shanghainese restaurant, Xiao Nan Guo is a great spot to take a date or a special someone. It’s centrally located in Pudong, and they have a well-rounded menu, meaning you can’t go wrong no matter what you order.
Hai Di Lao: Probably the world’s most famous hot pot restaurant, Hai Di Lao is definitely a must-try for all hot pot connoisseurs. If it’s your first time in Shanghai or even your first time in China, you can’t leave without trying this staple meal. If you’ve never tried it before, hot pot is sort of like a DIY stew. You basically order different add-ins (meat, seafood, veggies, etc.) from a big menu and cook it in a flavored broth.
Photo courtesy of Lost Heaven
WHERE TO DRINK M1NT: M1NT is a multi-story club, lounge, and terrace located in the Huangpu district of Shanghai. Perched up on the 24th floor, M1NT offers great views of the city, as well as frequent themed parties and special guest appearances.
Lost Heaven (The Bund): While Lost Heaven primarily advertises themselves as serving "Yunnan folk cuisine," it's also quite well-known for its drinks. If you’re one of those people who love to have a few cocktails with your dinner, this is the place for you. Both food and drink are top-notch, and considering the location, the prices are reasonable as well.
DADA: DADA is a super-chill and down-to-earth club filled with locals who go to escape the high-end club scene in Shanghai. The DJs are usually first-rate, drinks cheap, and the people friendly. What more could you ask for?
WHAT TO DO The Bund: The Bund is a long walkway or “outside beach” (外滩) on the Western side of the Huangpu River. It faces Pudong, which is where all of Shanghai’s major skyscrapers are located, so this is probably the most famous and Instagramable photo spot in the entire city. You can’t leave Shanghai without visiting the Bund and snapping a few pics, but make sure to go at night for the best view.
Shanghai Museum: If you’re in the mood for a cultural activity, the Shanghai Museum is a cool way to experience Chinese history. The museum is filled with ancient Chinese artifacts, so it’ll be completely different from any Western museum you’ve been to. Plus, if you’re looking for a budget-friendly option in the city, the Shanghai Museum is free all year round.
Yuyuan Garden: The Yuyuan Garden, or the Yu Garden, is a peaceful and picturesque spread of greenery located next to the Old Street of Shanghai. Visiting Yuyuan will make you feel like you’ve been transported to a different world, away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of Shanghai. The garden houses many temples and shops, and it does a great job at preserving some of the more traditional architecture of the city.
Photo courtesy of K11
WHERE TO SHOP Xintiandi: Xintiandi is an upscale pedestrian shopping district, filled with locals and tourists alike. The shopping experience here is much more peaceful and unique than at Nanjing Road, and because it’s lined with some traditional residential homes of Shanghai, Xintiandi feels more immersive and cultural as well. Here you can find not just high-end shops but also local and family-owned shops and bargain spots.
K11: An aesthetically pleasing art mall located near the Bund, it's not like any mall you've experienced. Visiting K11 is like visiting a museum with its modern decor and creative and eco-friendly architecture. The artwork displayed at K11 is primarily local artwork, so it’s a good way to support up-and-coming artists while also satisfying that shopping itch.
Sasa: This option is for all the makeup and skin-care gurus out there—Sasa is makeup heaven with just about every major Asian beauty brand you would want to try. It carries tons of cult favorites, but also lots of smaller and unheard of brands, as well as some interesting beauty tools for you to play with. Prices range quite a bit, but it's definitely not a luxury/high-end type of store, making it the go-to beauty spot for tons of young locals.
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