Travel Guide: Shanghai

After a whirlwind trip to Hong Kong, we spent two days in Shanghai which was such an interesting city to visit, and one that I’m really happy that we snuck into our itinerary since we had considered skipping it altogether. Below, find our itinerary to all of the must-do spots in Shanghai. We will follow up with a post specifically related to everything we ate in Shanghai, which has some pretty amazing cuisine.

By the time we got to the hotel after the airport, we didn’t have that much time to explore Shanghai on our first of two days. But we managed to see quite a bit.

Day 1:

The most delicious dim sum at Din Tai Fung in Shanghai. This Michelin-starred restaurant is relaxed and inexpensive, but delicious.

The most delicious dim sum at Din Tai Fung in Shanghai. This Michelin-starred restaurant is relaxed and inexpensive, but delicious.

Din Tai Fung: This dim sum restaurant is an institution in Asia. There are several throughout China and it is approachable in terms of having a casual vibe but also has a Michelin star. The outpost we went to was a new one in a mall in Shanghai (Sidenote: shopping in China is insane. They have every major luxury store imaginable to satiate the rising middle class and new wealth. So, while malls are dead in America, they are thriving in China and are super luxurious and going up at a fast clip. Just walking through a mall is like being in a geopolitical economics class, so make sure to make some time walking through the malls and taking it all in, even if you don’t intend to shop). We ordered a really great assortment of dumplings which we will outline in our next post.

Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street: Once it got dark, we walked along the glittering Nanjing Road Pedestrian district past the Tesla and Maserati dealerships and onto a cute pedestrian road lined with boutiques, coffee shops and other charming retailers. We had a little time to kill between lunch and our tour later in the evening, and it was fun to get the pulse of Shanghai from walking around. The street is lined with Tiffany and other high-end shops as well as local boutiques.

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Untour Night Eats Tour: One of our highlights of our entire trip was a food tour that we booked with Untour. This tour came very highly recommended by a good friend of mine and it exceeded every expectation. Untour has a number of Shanghai food tours, but we decided to do the night eats one, which meets at 7pm and stops by a number of local hidden gems that tourists would never find or know to go to. We got to sample so many different types cuisines throughout the night and learn so much about Shanghai, its culture, cuisine etc. in the process, so in many ways it was more than just a food tour.

This three-hour walking tour starts with some soup dumplings in a hole-in-the-wall shop in Old Shanghai and over the course of it you’ll also eat noodles, eggplant, crawfish, clams, rice, Middle Eastern food, lots of Chinese sweets and even.. snake. Yes, toward the end of the tour, those brave enough will watch a snake be beheaded and fried up before you. We also visited a local Chinese craft brewer and alcohol was served throughout the night. The tour was so interesting, and our guide Chelsea was amazing. The cost is $75 per head and is definitely worth it.

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Explore Old City Shanghai: During our Untour Food Tour, we walked through Old City, so it was killing two birds with one stone. If you don’t do the tour, make sure to seek out this part of town. This area is a hub for locals walking to an fro to all of the fish stores, bakeries and restaurants serving locals so it’s a wonderful place to get a feel for everyday life for Shanghai locals.  We happened upon apartment tenements here where large extended families pack lots of relatives into small quarters and got to see how they made do with small spaces. Keep in mind — these tenements were often the apartments of shop owners, so are considered middle class. The area has become coveted by developers encroaching onto the territory to build luxe retail centers and the like, so the complexion of the area is changing over time and being built up. It was great to see Old City at this point in time and experience the barters and old women on scooters going to run their errands.

Day 2:

Yuyuan Garden, a 16th century Chinese garden in Shanghai.

Yuyuan Garden, a 16th century Chinese garden in Shanghai.

YuYuan Garden: The next morning we set out to find some beautiful ancient architecture at the YuYuan Garden. This classical Chinese garden dates back to the 16th century and if this doesn’t help you find you zen, I don’t know what will. This garden has a little bit of everything. Before you pay your entry, you will walk through a Chinese market in an alleyway lined with red huts. There is also an ancient tea house on the premises, if that’s on your list of things to do while in China. Meandering through the garden provides endless opportunities for amazing photos and feels like a truly authentic Chinese experience.

Leafy streets through Shanghai's charming French Concession.

Leafy streets through Shanghai’s charming French Concession.

Explore the French Concession: This part of town is a nice break from the hustle and bustle of the big city. These tree-lined streets are a mix of old, preserved mansions, unique boutiques, high-end restaurants and cute coffee shops. We spent a good two hours just strolling through the French Concession, which has Soho or West Village-like vibes to it. We had lunch in the French Concession at Sichuan Citizen (more on that in a separate post) and then we strolled around and popped into an organic coffee shop that I wish I wrote the name of because it was just perfect.

One of the many preserved posters from the Propaganda Art Centre.

One of the many preserved posters from the Propaganda Poster Art Centre.

Propaganda Poster Art Centre: This hidden gem of a museum is located in the basement of an apartment complex in a leafy part of Shanghai. It takes some maneuvering to find it, but it is worth the treasure hunt. We walked here from the French Concession and we suggest that you do the same. The museum houses more than 5,000 posters from newspaper clippings to communist posters that were largely destroyed since. Many of the posters date back to 1949, the founding of the People’s Republic of China. It was interesting to see now especially with all of the propaganda being spewed from our White House.

Views of the Bund in Shanghai from Bar Rouge.

Views of the Bund in Shanghai from Bar Rouge.

Bund Hopping: Our last night in Shanghai we wanted to spend on the Bund, the city’s famous glittering waterfront. There are a ton of restaurants and bars on the Bund with the most amazing views and we had a pretty ambitious itinerary to tackle as many of them as we could. This started with a pre-dinner drink at Bar Rouge, which while kind of tacky in decor (think 1990s club, NYC), it provided the perfect view to snap photos on. Added bonus: China, but Shanghai in particular, utilizes its vertical space, so it isn’t uncommon for a building to have a club, a few restaurants, some bars and other spots all in the same building meaning that you can ride an elevator to different spots all night. We did just that for dinner, which we had at dinner at Mr. & Mrs. Bund, in the same building, which is a French restaurant. The French cuisine in Shanghai is great because of the French influence from when they colonized part of it. From there, we took the elevator to a cocktail at Hakkasan and then finished the night at Vue, which is widely considered one of Shanghai’s best rooftop bars for views of the Bund. It was ambitious but definitely a night to remember.

Want to see more of our Asia Travel Guides?
Travel Guide: Hong Kong
Travel Guide: Where to Stay in Hong Kong
Travel Guide: Where to Eat in Shanghai
Travel Guide: Where to Stay in Tokyo
Travel Guide: Tokyo Itinerary
Travel Guide: Where To Eat In Tokyo
Travel Guide: Kyoto Itinerary
Travel Guide: Where to Eat in Kyoto

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