Culture

Is This Asia’s Best City?

With incredible contrasts of old and new, abundant skyscrapers and quiet, leafy streets, Shanghai might be Asia’s best city.

In a globalised world, it’s not often big cities provide a culture shock anymore – but Shanghai is an exception. English is rarely spoken, it can feel like a small village despite being the most-populated city in the world, and it looks like it has been ripped right out of an episode of The Jetsons.

Shanghai ticks all the boxes – food, fun, culture and quirkiness – and is a lively hub where the traditional and trendy are seamlessly intertwined.

Eat & Drink

Shouning Lu food market

Food market

Among all the sophistication of Shanghai, there are still some gritty markets that are perfect for tasting authentic Chinese fare. Shouning Lu is one of the city’s best and is known for its popular seafood vendors like the Crayfish House. The lines are long, but the wait is worth it.

Dumplings at Din Tai Fung

There are more amazing dumplings in Shanghai than you can poke a chopstick at. But the best can be found at Din Tai Fung. Be sure to order their signature soup dumpling, the incredible xiao long bao, which is filled with pork vegetables and a piping hot broth.

Bar hop along Yongkang Road

Set among the beautiful leafy streets of the French Concession, Yongkang Road has become a hotspot for young locals, expats and travellers. Many of the bars are owned by people from all over the world, making it an eclectic collection of themed bars.

Come night time, the crowds spill onto the streets, making it like one big street party.

French concession, Shanghai

Dinner and cocktails at M on the Bund

M on the Bund is an institution, being the first bar to open on the Bund overlooking the Huangpu River. If the weather is nice, you can step onto the huge terrace and enjoy the views of the modern, colourful skyline of Pudong which is particularly spectacular at night.


See & Do

Walk along The Bund

Wandering the walkway along the river offers contrast in epic proportions. The Bund is lined with old-world European architecture and faces the intergalactic skyline on the Pudong side of the river.

Enjoy the views from the Shanghai World Financial Centre

The Shanghai World Financial Centre is located in the Pudong district, the new part of town, opposite The Bund. The soaring tower is the eighth-tallest in the world and you can enjoy views from 474m above ground level.

Make sure you time your visit on a day where the visibility is good (when it is isn’t too smoggy).

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Get lost in Tian Zi Fang

This precinct is made up of a network of tiny little laneways lined with cute hole-in-the-wall stores. Whether you’re looking to shop or just browse, winding in and out of the maze of walkways is a great way to spend a day. You can pick up local varieties of tea, sit and watch the world go by in a cafe or see some talented local crafts people at work in their shops.

Relax and unwind at Da Ban

If you’ve had a particularly big night enjoying Shanghai’s best bars, or your feet are tired from all the shopping, a Chinese massage is a must. At Da Ban, you’ll be treated to incredible massages and can order noodles and watch any DVD you want at the same time. Best hangover cure ever!

Go shopping

No matter what your budget or style, Shanghai is a shopper’s paradise. On one hand, you have the most luxurious, extravagant malls in the world, like the IFC Centre, and, on the other, dirt cheap markets full of fake designer wares.

For a more authentic memento from your trip to Shanghai, head to the Dongtai market to pick up antique trinkets, or Tian Zi Fang, where you can buy goods directly from the artisan.

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Stay

The French Concession is by far Shanghai’s most charming district. Its tree-lined streets, low-set buildings and beautifully manicured parks make it a welcome reprieve from days spent traipsing around the city. There are plenty of affordable, trendy apartments up for rent on Airbnb.


Good to know

  • Assume none of the cab drivers or locals speak English and make sure you have your address printed out or pinned on your phone.
  • Brunch is a big deal in the city on the weekends. Expect a late start and make a reservation for between 1pm and 3pm.
  • You can travel from the airport to the city by one of the fastest train in the world, the Maglev, which reaches up to 420km per hour. It’ll drop you approximately 10km from the city and you’ll need to take a taxi from there.

(All images: Hannah Lewis / Tales & Trails)