Shanghai Travel Guide

Shanghai Travel Guide

As heady and exotic as they come, Shanghai is a city able to sate even the deepest wanderlust cravings. Shanghai, or Hu for short, serves as the most influential mecca for international trade, commerce, economy and all things finance in East China - if not all Asia. It’s a city of indulgence where you can feed your love for art and architecture, whet your gourmet palate, spend a morning selecting a custom-made wardrobe and an afternoon immersed in rich, ancient culture. Magically orphic, in this Asian city the most important things to have on hand are an appetite for ardour, a yearning for style and a keen sense of adventure. Smaller than one might expect given the city’s behemoth size, the Shanghai gay community continues to come out of the shadows and into its own. And while public displays of same-sex affection may be more common than they once were, don’t expect to find many rainbow flags flying over the city. Be assured though, as both a gay destination and icon city, the ties between Shanghai and the LGBTQ community weave themselves into tapestry worthy of exploration.

The best hotels in Shanghai

China is nothing if not passionate about all things luxury.  And nowhere is that voracious appetite for indulgence more apparent than from the glittering surroundings of some of Shanghai’s finest hotels.  Case in point, the PuLi Hotel and Spa.  An urban resort offering round the clock butler service, all imaginable services, a Michelin starred restaurant, upscale workout facilities, and a heated, infinity edge pool (just to name a few); PuLi’s biggest draw is the sheer luxury of their accommodations.  An artful melding of minimalistic design and white glove service, the PuLi’s club level accommodations are sumptuous havens that offer guests daily breakfast, 24-hour butler service, a daily in-room aperitif, daily laundry or pressing services, high tea, and elevated bathroom amenities for which we sigh a grateful, “xièxiè”.  Equally luxurious with an aesthetic that reflects a ‘shikumen’ style is the Middle House where two towers bring together Chinese and European influence.  The hotel’s ‘east meets west’ ideal reaches through Middle House’s dining venues as well by offering guests three eatery choices; a chic Chinese restaurant, an Italian-inspired hotspot, and an all-day café with an international flair.  The lower level of the hotel is devoted to wellness and features a sensational destination spa, a sprawling fitness centre, and an adults-only heated pool that invited guests to take a dip until 11 pm.  This is one ‘middle’ we wouldn’t mind being stuck in!

The Puli Hotel

The Puli Hotel

Inspired by the works of William Shakespeare is The Drama, an aptly-named, theatre-themed boutique hotel where chicly appointed rooms are named after literary masterworks.  In a prime location on West Beijing Road, the Drama is only a twenty-minute walk to Shanghai Center – but given the well-appointed rooms, themed restaurant, bar, café, gift shop and gallery you’ll find onsite; you may not ever want to leave the hotel’s delicious digs. For another boutique option, check out the award-winning design at URBN, a 26-room, Chinese-modern hotel is housed in a converted factory in Jing’An – just a stroll away from the French Concession.

For a completely new approach to the hotel experience, there’s the edgy, urban, Urside Hotel & Café.  Built on the premise of multi-area living, the Urside is an unconventional hotel featuring single rooms designed as individual (yet surprisingly well equipped) pods with shared baths, standard double rooms with private bath, and deluxe, two levels, lofted rooms with plenty of room to stretch out.  The Urside also offers spaces perfect for co-working on the go, an in-house café, and is just a thirty-minute walk to Yu Garden.

The Puli Hotel

The Puli Hotel

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Recommended hotels in Shanghai
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Things to do in Shanghai

A veritable Mecca for the fashion conscious, Shanghai’s reputation for gifted tailors and designers is well earned and renders it the ideal place to have a custom-made wardrobe created. For an elegantly bespoke experience, head to the upscale boutiques and ateliers on Changle Lu, near Maoming Nan Lu where you’ll find one of Joy Zhuang’s five Zhuang Rong locations in Shanghai. While best known for her utterly superlative cheongsam creations Zhuang also offers made to order menswear rich with elegance and shaded with subtle, Asian influence. If your shopping style is somewhat more adventurous, explore the fabric shops and tailors found in the underground market located beneath Shanghai’s Science and Technology Museum. While the venue itself falls short of posh, those willing to venture past the souvenir vendors and knock off stalls to reach the luxury goods area are richly rewarded with row upon row of tailors specializing in made to order. To ensure your look is perfect from head to toe, finish your subterranean shopping excursion with a visit to Ben Zhou. A favourite haunt of the über-fashionable and those in the know, Ben Zhou is Shanghai’s go-to place when you’re in the market for exceptionally well-crafted shoes.

Photo: Gina Samarotto

Photo: Gina Samarotto

To feel as if you’ve stepped back in time, visit the ancient water village of Zhujiajiao. Worth the 75-minute drive from the old city, one of the most charming Shanghai points of interest rests on the outskirts of the city and boasts a tapestry of canals, public gardens, shopping, and buildings that date back to the Qing Dynasty that collectively makes it a divinely fascinating place to explore Chinese culture. For a more modern take, the art and architecture found within Shanghai’s city centre is worth taking the time to explore. Given the sheer size of the city – not to mention the ‘Shanghai-ese’ dialect that can confound even native Mandarin speakers – hiring a guide is an excellent option. Take a private full-day tour with a personable, well-informed guide. Not only are they great fun to be with, they know the city inside and out, ensuring guests a perfect and truly memorable Shanghai experience.

Three on the Bund Private Gentlemen's Club Shanghai

Three on the Bund Private Gentlemen's Club

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Recommended experiences in Shanghai
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Photo: Gina Samarotto

Photo: Gina Samarotto

What to see in Shanghai

A veritable Mecca for the style conscious, Shanghai’s Tianzifang neighbourhood is a maze of alleyways where newly renovated boutique, shops, bars, and restaurants seem to pop up overnight and where trendsetters, expats, and locals seem to be drawn as if moths to a flame. One of the area’s newest and most coveted destinations is the Big Pink, a claw game arcade that’s like nothing you’ve ever seen.  What’s it like?  Well… Picture Vegas if Vegas was swathed in neon pink and filled to the brim with enough arcade games to make Chuck E. Cheese green with envy.

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s… the Power Station of Art (PSA) – the first state-run museum dedicated to contemporary art in mainland China and the home of Shanghai’s Biennale.  Where it sits by Huangpo River, PSA commands a place in the hearts of Shanghainese art lovers and a place of honour in the Shanghai skyline.  Formerly the Nanshi Power Plant and the Pavilion of Future during the 2010 Shanghai World Expo, today the building is a home for contemporary art, the people who create it, and those inspired by it.

During WWII, Shanghai opened its doors to provide refuge for Jews escaping Germany, Austria, and Poland. In 1943, the occupying Japanese army required these refugees to relocate to a 0.75 square mile (1.9 square km) area of the Hongkou district already inhabited by Chinese residents.  The result is what we known now as Shanghai’s Jewish Ghetto, a place where the living conditions were poor and the human spirit was strong. The character of the ghetto and the lifestyle of the nearly 20,000 who lived there have been well preserved to offer visitors a glimpse into this unique, little known, the window of Shanghai’s history. Start your tour at the Ohel Moishe Synagogue – also the home of Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum where documents, photographs, films, and personal items documenting the lives of the thousands held within the confines of what was called the ‘Restricted Sector for Stateless Refugees’.

Photo: Yiran Ding

Photo: Yiran Ding

For another glimpse into the past, m visit the Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Centre where a private collection of more than 5,000 prints can be found. Located in the basement of an apartment building, the museum showcases posters from the first three decades of the People’s Republic of China.  While most exhibits have English signage providing explanation, the curator/owner of the museum is usually on hand for more in-depth discussion.

While not as famous as Zhujiajiao, Xitang, Tongli, or even Suzhou; the timeless romance and seemingly endless, watery side streets of Qibao Ancient Town is enough to wow. Enter the Qibao Ancient Town and you’ve washed away into a place that’s worlds apart, yet just minutes away, from the modern city just outside. Strolling narrow streets adorned with shops and countless food stands framed against graceful buildings is a perfect way to embrace the Ming and Qing Dynasties.  And given its convenient location, you can explore Qibao all day – and still be back downtown in time for dinner.

End your day of sightseeing with one of the most breathtaking sights of all – a view of Shanghai’s skyline as seen from atop the Shanghai Tower.  Offering the highest observation deck in the world perched atop the world’s second tallest building, a visit to the tower is the best way to see the glittering beauty of modern-day China.  Early evening and the sunset brings the largest crowds, but views from the 2,073 foot behemoth are well worth the wait.

Photo: Xu Duo

Photo: Xu Duo

Photo: Adi Constantin

Photo: Adi Constantin

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When on holiday, there is no better activity than to plan one’s lunch choices while one is at breakfast and to make things easier, we suggest Moka Bros

Where to eat in Shanghai

From startlingly exotic street food to elevated fine dining, one could spend a solid month in Shanghai without coming close to sampling all the culinary delights the city has to offer.  Breakfast like a native ‘Shanghai-ese’ and begin your day with a fragrant dish of Xiaolongbao at Nanxiang in the old city of Shanghai.  On the top floor of a century-old building near Yu Garden and the City of God Temple, Nanxiang’s indescribably delicious soup dumplings and steamed buns are a favourite with locals and tourists alike.   Come hungry and get there early – by eleven a.m. the lunch crowd will bring queues that stretch out the door.  Or start your China day traditionally at Zee Tea.  A wonderful little teashop with fabulous Instagram-ability.

When on holiday, there is no better activity than to plan one’s lunch choices while one is at breakfast and to make things easier, we suggest Moka Bros. The easy, affordable and utterly divine take on fast food boasts a menu deeply committed to fresh ingredients and healthy living.  MOKA is fun to look at, too – the interior is an anime dream of vibrant colour and pop art inspiration.

Ritz Carlton Shanghai Pudong FIne Dining | Photo: Gina Samarotto

Ritz Carlton Shanghai Pudong | Photo: Gina Samarotto

Dinner in Shanghai is a celebration in any language. Scena, Ritz-Carlton’s noteworthy Italian eatery, is an edgily chic space where classic dishes are served along with staggering views of the Shanghai skyline.  Scena’s Chef Daniele Milliani comes to Shanghai by way of Italy’s Lazio province; bringing with him a collection of classic, Italian recipes reinvented to reflect the flavours of the Far East.  Devotees to London’s Michelin-starred Pollen Street Social and Shanghai’s Table No. 1 will feel right at home at Jason Atherton’s newest temple to ‘deformalized’ fine dining, Commune Social.  Located in the Jing‘an district and featuring an interior by Neri & Hu, don’t expect to sit through dinner at the Commune Social.  The best way to experience the restaurant is to travel through it; starting in the courtyard for drinks and small plates and moving to the spectacular, white-on-white dessert bar to sample the inimitable sweets before making your way up to the cocktail bar to celebrate a memorable meal with a nightcap or two. Atherton has a ‘no-reservation’ policy at Social Commune, so plan to take your time dining at this quirky gem.

Commune Social

Commune Social

Photo: Gina Samarotto

Photo: Gina Samarotto

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In addition to the period collectables, Madam Mao’s Dowry also features the work of more than two dozen contemporary artists and Shanghai-based designers

Shopping in Shanghai

Just in case the mannequins on the ceiling and an in-store DJ didn’t give it away, trust us when we say Alter is achingly cool.  The multi-brand concept shop (think Barney’s with a twist) carries international labels including Christopher Kane, Erdem, etc – most of which are making their debut into the style-voracious Chinese market. And while the prices at Alter may be higher than a pair of Rupert Sanderson heels, it is the only place in town you can find Gaga’s favourite Minna Parrika gloves.

Bringing a little Saville Row to Shanghai is Germain Tailors where Shanghainese fashionistas can find impeccable tailoring, stylish cuts, and reasonable prices all within the peaceful bubble of civility created via Germain’s appointment-only policy. The ties at Germain are alone worth the trip – crafted through the traditional seven-fold method, a single piece of material is folded in on itself seven times rather than utilizing a (gasp!) sewn-on lining.  What’s more, each Germain tie also comes with a matching pocket square.   With over 700 fabrics to choose from, you might want to book more than one appointment.

While it may not be the cheapest place to find menswear in Shanghai, Aegis is the go-to store for any well-heeled man. Building on the success of their Julu Lu outlet, the style masterminds of Aegis opened their two-story shop in the French Concession with a bevy of brands including Rag & Bone, Opening Ceremony, Band of Outsiders and Folk, along with a smattering of locally-grown names.  Add to that the ‘Project Aegis Coffee Bar’ on the second floor replete with a collection of vintage-style arcade machines, (including Pacman and Street Fighter 2) and what you have is a perfect shopping experience in Shanghai.

Photo: Hanny Naibaho

Photo: Hanny Naibaho

Dress your home as impeccably as you dress yourself by taking a spin through Spin Ceramic.  Featuring stunning pieces designed in Shanghai, created in Jingdezhen (China’s ceramics capital), and meticulously packaged in wooden boxes; Spin is home to a wonderland of distinctive objects for the home. Need some inspiration?  Make a reservation at Shintori on Julu Road to see how this fabulous Japanese restaurant uses Spin porcelain to make their dishes look as incredible as they taste.

Quirky, esoteric, and concept-driven is how one might describe the wonders waiting to be found at Madam Mao’s Dowry. Featuring items from the Mao Period (1949-1976) including photographs, historical objects and artwork, it also boasts over 2,000, authentic, propaganda posters. In addition to the period collectables, Madam Mao’s Dowry also features the work of more than two dozen contemporary artists and Shanghai-based designers.

A small but exquisite shopping maze, Tian Zi Fang is located between Tai Kang Road and Jianguo Road in the former French Concession. This is the place to go for local finds including funky and distinctive silver jewellery, Tibetan handicrafts, unique handbags, traditional Chinese qi pao dresses and more. Along the way, drink in Shanghai life at its best with a stroll down Tai Kang Road where you’ll find street vendors selling everything from pancakes to deep-fried crickets, children playing, locals running the errands, and all the exotic sights and sounds that makeup life in Shanghai. Stop into Xingmu Handicraft for a gorgeous leather-bound notebook or Jincheng for exquisite silk scarfs rich with design and in every colour of the rainbow.  And don’t miss out on getting a very functional ‘souvenir’ at Feiyue – the ultra-hip streetwear manufacturer that dates all the way back to 1920’s Shanghai. The well-known kick brand has done collaborations with Celine and can count Miranda Kerr and Reese Witherspoon among their biggest fans.

Photo: Hanny Naibaho

Photo: Hanny Naibaho

Photo: Lutfi Gaos

Photo: Lutfi Gaos

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At the epicentre of what is known as the French Concession is Lucca 390 on Panyu Road, without a doubt, the hottest gay bar in Shanghai

Shanghai nightlife

While the entire city of Shanghai is a vibrant maze of neighbourhoods each offering their own charm, for the gay tourist the French Concession Gay Triangle is THE place to go.  Reflecting the ever-growing and perpetually cosmopolitan gay community of Shanghai (though welcoming the hetero-inclined, as well), this LGBTQ hub is a leafy respite rife with narrow lanes lined with boutiques, wine bars, coffee joints, tea houses – not to mention as many dining options as they are types of soup dumplings.  Consider the French Concession to be Shanghai’s answer to San Francisco.

At the epicentre of what is known as the French Concession is Lucca 390 on Panyu Road.  Without a doubt the hottest gay bar in Shanghai, Lucca has two levels; with a bar and dance floor on the first and a DJ booth and more intimate areas upstairs. Lucca often holds special LGBTQ events Sunday through Tuesday, burgers are buy one get one on Wednesdays, Thursdays feature topless model bartenders and Fridays and Saturdays bring what are arguably the wildest theme parties in China.  Make it a point to stop for a drink at People 7 to experience the artistic cocktails and a-list crowds.  Often rated among the best bars in the world, it’s at the top of our list in Shanghai. Another stand out gay bar in the French Concession is Rice Bar, a Japanese-themed gem that offers a great mix of cocktails, eclectic crowd, and a chill vibe.

The rooftop bar known as Bar Rouge is one of the city’s best nightlife spots where classic cocktails, wine, and beer are all served with killer views.  Offering both indoor and outdoor lounges luxuriously furnished with drink tables and sofas, you’ll usually need a reservation to get a table at Bar Rouge, but it’s worth the effort.

Photo: Joshua Earle

Photo: Joshua Earle

Savvy nightcrawlers in the know head to Senator Saloon when they’re in the mood for a speakeasy-style cocktail lounge known for its bourbon-based drinks. Throw in a menu full of American-style tapas and you have all the makings for a romantic evening or hip night out.  And all without the hassle of a crowd losing control – the vibe at the salon is cosy and sophisticated.  Another speakeasy to put on your radar is Speak Low, where four different floors each deliver a different style.   Check out the second-floor house party or head up to the fourth where luxury alcohol seekers tend to gather. Regardless of which floor you choose, make sure to call ahead because this joint is jumpin’.

Last but not least is Club All. A popular queer-friendly spot with industrial vibes and plenty of techno, house, drum N bass and more and all near Changle Lu in the Xuhui district.

Photo: Hanny Naibaho

Photo: Hanny Naibaho

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