10 things you need to know about Shanghai, China

by danstan

10 little nuggets of information I wish I'd known before I travelled to Shanghai


Xintiandi (181 Taikang Road) is the best place for bars. There are many of them based around a couple of busy streets, from clubs to laid back places, drinking places and places to get a meal. It’s a little pricey for drinks (around Y50 for a beer), but that’s just about par for the course in Shanghai. You can also absorb a little culture while you're here too. Xintiandi is a modern development which has both rebuilt and renovated Shikumen style housing - the style of housing typical of early 1900's Shanghai. While here take a look around a museum set up in the style of a typical 1920's Shikumen house for Y20 at The Shikumen Open House Museum (862133070337; www.xintiandi.com/english/aboutus_history3.asp)

Souvenirs, art, shopping

Shanghai is packed with high-end shopping malls but undoubtedly the best area to pick up something a little different is the area around Taikang Road (Luwan District, Lane 210). It’s a warren of tiny streets selling all manner of crafts and art - a quaint hidden town in the middle of the city - that's probably my favourite place in Shanghai. Again, it has the Shikumen housing, only this time it's not just for show - many of the houses are still lived in. It's a great place to wander around and get a feel for old Shanghai.

There are also plenty of bars and restaurants here too, but on a far more laid back scale than Xintiandi. Take a look around the Chinese propaganda art shop for some interesting souvenirs for your friends.


Where do you start? Well, not at any of the restaurants with large picture menus just off the Nanjing Road. The prices might not be too bad but the food is crappy.
Other than that you can’t really go too far wrong in Shanghai. I got into the habit of eating stuffed buns (baozi) and pancakes for breakfast from the many shops and stalls set up on the street. At Y1 a bun they're great value.
I also ate at M on the Bund (7/F, No.5 The Bund, corner of Guangdong Lu, 200002; 8621 6350 9988; www.m-onthebund.com). Not the place to go if you want authentic Chinese food (I had a lunch of fruit juice, chicken broth soup, Iranian feta cheese fritter and carrot cake for Y98), but it's great quality and you get an excellent view across the river from the balcony.

Coffee and tea

Again, so many options, including the usual Starbucks and Costa chains (at roughly the same cost you’d pay in Britain they're not great value). Wagas is also a chain, but one I’ve personally never seen outside of Shanghai, and it does great coffee and good food (pasta, sandwiches etc) and was probably my favourite of the lot.

For tea try Old China Hand Reading Room (27 Shao Xing Road, 200020; 021-64732526). As the name suggests there are loads of books to read (in English) while you drink from a wide selection of teas and relax on their sofas in comfort. I had a pot of tea and a piece of cheesecake (Y35 and Y28 respectively) and read a bit of Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time. I still understand diddly squat about the universe, but the cheesecake was splendid.


Nanjing Road is the more famous but Hui Hui Road is probably better. Both are wide, bustling streets with a seemingly endless array of shopping malls, but Hui Hui is just a fraction quieter. Plus it offers slightly less chance of someone accosting you and attempting to sell you a ridiculously fake Rolex (unless of course you want a ridiculously fake Rolex in which case I reckon you should be able to get one for around Y35 - or about the price of a Starbucks cappuccino).

Oriental Pearl TV Tower

(Y100 ticket - 263m bauble. Y150 ticket - 350m bauble. Lujiazui metro station).

It looks a little odd - to me it looks a little like something a six-year-old might draw if you gave them a pen and a piece of paper and asked them to draw you a really big tower (it’s all red baubles and big columns of concrete). But it’s worth the trip up, if only for the chance to look down on all the construction sights below and observe a city literally being built before your eyes. Also, as if to reinforce the six-year-old theory, there's a rollercoaster inside one of the baubles (a Y150 ticket gets you a ride on it).

The Bund

This is old Shanghai on the banks of the river. If you've ever set foot in practically any European city then you'll know what to expect from the buildings - grand old places that give you an idea what Shanghai must have felt like back in the 1920s and 30s. The buildings now mainly house a selection of banks, along with a few restaurants and bars. From here you can look across to brand new Pudong with its TV tower and numerous other tall, shiny buildings and remark - as I'm sure many a traveller does - at the amazing contrast between the two. The aforementioned M on the Bund is located here.

NB: Shanghai is hosting the 2010 world expo in October. Be aware that if you go before then The Bund - and many other parts of Shanghai - are being extensively renovated. Noise, cranes and scaffolding abound.


(Shanghai Centre Theatre, 1376 Nanjing Road; tickets from Y100-Y200; www.shanghaiacrobats.com)

Go and see them. If, like me, you pull muscles just tying up your shoelaces, then these performers will simultaneously amaze and disturb you with their dexterity.

Shanghai Museum

(Shanghai Museum, No. 201 Renmin Avenue, 200003; www.shanghaimuseum.net)

I'll admit I'm no particular aficionado of museums, but to my mind this is how a museum should be - informative, easy to navigate and full of lots and lots of old stuff. The exhibits are housed on four floors - sculpture and bronze on the 1st, pottery on the 2nd, calligraphy and painting on the 3rd, and jade work and furniture on the 4th. Even if you don't normally care for museums I guarantee you'll find something of interest on one of the floors here.

Yuyuan Gardens

(132 Anren Street; tickets Y30 or Y40 depending on the season)

Beautiful gardens in the centre of the old town, full of ornate bridges, tranquil ponds and hidden pavilions - excellent for a stroll around to avoid the congested streets (although depending when you go, you won't necessarily avoid the crowds). Outside the garden is a bazaar, with endless tiny lanes chock full of touristy stuff for you to buy. I found it far more pleasant to wander around Taikang Road for this sort of stuff, but this bazaar is certainly cheaper and if you just need to pick up something - anything - as a gift you'll probably find it here.

Sleeping (special bonus 11th point)

I'm very poor (or perhaps just cheap) so I stayed in youth hostels. Blue Mountain Youth Hostel (2nd Floor, Building 1, 1072 Nong, QuXi Road, 200023) and Le Tour Traveler's Rest Youth Hostel (No.36 Lane 319 Jiaozhou Road) offer reasonable rates for a private room with a bathroom (Y190 and Y200 respectively) and were easily accessible, clean and friendly (if a little cold at times during the winter).

The following link is to a website with an excellent interactive map of Shanghai: