Shanghai must rank as one of the most exciting and vibrant cities in the world, with one foot planted in its cosmopolitan colonial past, drawing on the best that came with that, and the other foot boldly striding into an amazing future that is essentially Chinese, but with a worldly twist.
Wake up the local way, and head to a park to watch (or participate in) some taichi or even line dancing. Fuxing Park or Zhongshan Park are your best bets, but in nearly every park you’ll see – and likely hear – groups of senior citizens doing their thing.
Then stroll through the Former French Concession to Sumerian at 415 Shaanxi Bei Lu for a caffeine jolt. Your senses will go into overdrive, with the freshest beans in all of China roasted in front of you. Pick up a healthy bagel here too.
Fortified, it’s on to Dongtai Road Curio Market, a street full of treasure and trash. Enjoy art deco memorabilia, propaganda items from the Cultural Revolution, antiquarian books. And lots of kitsch stuff. You get what you pay for.
Two choices for lunch: Yang’s Fry Dumplings at 269 Wujiang Road. This is the real deal for pork, shrimp or veggie dumplings as the fast-moving lines outside will testify. You can also start with Shanghai dumplings at Hakkasan and follow with Cantonese fusion cuisine (Crispy Duck, Pancakes with Caviar, Salt & Pepper Squid etc) at 18 Zhongshan East 1st Road.
Your belly now full, time for a leisurely mile-long stroll along the Bund, the promenade running along the Huangpu River. Start at the southern end, and you’ll be taken back in time with 52 beautifully preserved and restored old-school buildings recalling Shanghai’s cosmopolitan International Settlement days.
Step back to the future at Rockbund Art Museum (RAM). At the urban-renewal north end of the Bund, this space positions itself as the Bund’s only contemporary art museum, and engages with regular exhibitions by leading local names.
That’d be beer o’clock. Walk inland from the Bund to the Captain’s Bar at 37 Fuzhou Lu. Nautical but nice, with an interesting mix of locals and expats in casual surroundings, without the dressy pretense (and expense) of being in a 5-star bar.
Home to smarten up if your hotel’s close enough. Then on to Xiao Nan Guo at 699 Nanking West Rd, for fine Shanghainese food and service. Purple-uniformed waitresses make for a visual feast too. The steamed fish is the go-to item here.
Pop into the Fairmont Peace Hotel for an obligatory cocktail and watch the timeless jazz band who’ll transport you back to the 1930s.
Now you’re in the mood to step it up a bit: VUE Bar atop the Hyatt. DJs spin discs, the crowd is fashionable, some even take a playful plunge in the hot tub (cozzies for sale). Weather permitting, lounge on a day bed taking in what many consider the best views of Puxi and Pudong skyline.
Still going? Cab it to YuYinTang (YYT) Livehouse at 851 Kaixuan Rd for something edgier. YYT is the premier underground live music venue with cheap booze and friendly locals.
As you wend your weary way home, keep your eye out in the streets for carts popping up selling life-sustaining Shanghainese shansi leng mian (eel thread cold noodles). Congratulations, you’re now a local!