WHENEVER I TELL SOMEONE THAT SHANGHAI IS ONE OF MY FAVOURITE CITIES IN THE WORLD, I’M USUALLY MET WITH A QUESTIONING LOOK, FOLLOWED BY A, “REALLY? WHY?”. IT’S BUSY AND CHAOTIC, SURE, AND IT OFTEN HAS A VISIBLE LAYER OF POLLUTED AIR HANGING ABOVE ITS SKYSCRAPERS, BUT THERE’S A CERTAIN CHARM TO CHINA’S BIGGEST CITY THAT LEAVES YOU CRAVING MORE.
Maybe it’s just the shopaholic in me – Shanghai is hands-down one of the best places in the world for fake designer goodies and quirky one-off pieces (more on that later). But between the rooftop bars, the historic architecture and the street food stands that send smoke billowing into the air, I really do believe that Shanghai has something for everyone. With remarkable buildings, gorgeous parks, butt-loads of history and, of course, the shopping, it’s little wonder Shanghai is called ‘the Paris of the East’ (okay, so it’s vying for the title with more than 20 other cities, but still…).
Perhaps Shanghai’s most recognisable destination is The Bund, a riverside walkway dotted with enormous old buildings that offers a spectacular view of the more modern Pudong district on the south side of the Huangpu River. It was once a hub for international trade, but these days The Bund has everything from rooftop bars – Bar Rouge is a personal favourite – to museums and a weird laser light tunnel ride that takes you underneath the river. If there’s one place you must visit along The Bund, it’s the Fairmont Peace Hotel – stunning inside and
out and the setting of part of Steven Spielberg’s World War II film, ‘Empire of the Sun’, there’s no better place to play ‘ladies and gentlemen’, even if it’s just while you walk in and out of the front doors.
Enjoy some evening drinks, a bite to eat, then an evening stroll appreciating all of the weird and wonderful buildings Shanghai has to offer. From the Shanghai World Financial Centre – known to locals as the ‘Bottle Opener’ – and the neighbouring Shanghai Tower, the world’s second tallest building, to the famous Oriental Pearl Tower and the Globe Building, it’s hard to find a better skyline than the one visible from The Bund.
Imagine Times Square and the Champs Elysees had a baby, and that baby packed up and moved to China – that’s Nanjing Lu. Shanghai’s premiere shopping street, Nanjing Lu (‘lu’ means road in Mandarin) stretches from The Bund to Jing’An Temple, offering 5km of hotels, attractions and multi-level shopping centres. It was created during the Qing Dynasty (China’s last and longest dynasty) and some of the original shops still stand today. Ironically, just 2km away, you can visit the residence of the man responsible for overthrowing the Qing Dynasty and forming the Republic of China, as we know it today.
The former residence of Sun Yat-Sen, who is considered to be the forerunner of ‘democratic’ revolution in China, has been turned into a museum, filled with artefacts and information about the former president’s life. After poking around there, it’s definitely worth taking a walk through the surrounding French Concession area. Distinctively un-Chinese in its architecture, the area is full of colonial brick buildings and plane tree-lined streets and is arguably one of the most beautiful parts of the city – tied only with parks like Fuxing, Gongqing and Xujiahui which are packed with flowers, sculptures and locals practicing tai chi and screaming at trees (seriously).
Tucked away in the French Concession area is Xintiandi, a restaurant precinct offering everything from traditional Chinese, to Mexican, to Green and Safe – part grocery store, part restaurant (with surprisingly good cocktails). Xintiandi could easily take you from breakfast right through to dinner, and even dessert – Pree and Godiva are two superb icecream stores in the area.
Just a few kilometres away is another restaurant precinct that’s definitely worth checking out. Taikang Lu is a must-see, albeit difficult to find, labyrinth of alleyways packed with restaurants, cafes, tea shops and other novelty stores. Walk along the uneven cobblestone pathways and you’ll find quirky sunglasses, poorly translated souvenir coin purses and the best hot chocolate ‘bomb’ you’ll ever taste at Kommune Café.
I’d be lying if I said that shopping wasn’t my main reason for travelling to Shanghai – it’s truly spectacular. Seeing as the country’s name features on more toys, clothes, bags, shoes and accessories than probably any other, there’s no better place to come for all of your cheap knock off and ‘I can’t believe it’s not Balenciaga’ needs. While police have been cracking down on stores selling fake wares in recent years, there are a few good markets still standing.
My personal favourite is the Science and Technology market, located underneath the Science and Technology Museum in what’s essentially the subway station. This market is impossibly huge, and has everything – seriously, you can buy Louis Vuitton luggage and crystal-embellished trucker hats from the same store. Another market worth checking out is the Hongqiao Pearl Market. Whilst significantly smaller than it was in its heyday, the Pearl Market will see you through if it’s a Tiffany necklace or a Grey’s Anatomy box set (China’s video pirates haven’t exactly caught on to the whole Netflix thing just yet). If I can offer one word of advice for shopping in the markets, though, it’s have your wits about you – ripping you off is the name of the stallholder’s game, so offer half of whatever price they originally tell you and go from there.
In sharp contrast to the ‘markets of mass production’ are the many one-off and custom- made pieces you can score in Shanghai. Changle Lu is Shanghai’s ‘indie’ area, lined with vintage and second-hand stores that can offer quite the bargain if you’re willing to spend some time there. You can’t always be sure if the items are genuine or not, but you can certainly walk away knowing no one else will be wearing it back home. And for the ultimate one-off, head to the South Bund Fabric Market.
It’s set up like all of Shanghai’s multi-floor markets, but the stores in the Fabric Market look significantly different – they’re filled with fabric (go figure) ready to be made into whatever you desire. Prices here aren’t necessarily dirt cheap – a skirt will probably cost you $20-$50, depending on the style and material – but if you’ve got a favourite item that you want more of or a design in mind, this is your one-stop shop.