Quite possibly the best example of China’s hyper-speed and breakneck pace of change, Shanghai was just a small fishing village only 200 years ago. Nowadays? The port city hums with the activity of its 26 million residents and pulses with a dynamic energy like nowhere else in the world.
People come from all over the country, and even the world, to make their lives here, imbuing the city with an “anything is possible” attitude and an “anything could happen” outlook that permeates Shanghai to the core. Embrace it: In the morning, you might find yourself wandering the leafy lanes slurping up soup dumplings, and by evening, perched on a rooftop drinking in the futuristic skyline across the Huangpu River before a night out dancing until dawn. Locals call it Modu (魔都), the magic city–and after a long weekend here, you’ll understand why.
Where to Stay:
The new Shanghai outpost of Ian Schrager’s boutique hotel brand with Marriott emanates almost as much polished glitz and buzzing energy you’d imagine was once pulsing through the hotelier’s infamous Studio 54. Unbeatable views that stretch out over an unreal skyline and peek down onto the historic buildings that run along the Bund are the major draw. Even if you aren’t staying in one of the 145 chic rooms, it’s a worthy destination for any of its nine restaurants and bars, including the irreverently modern Chinese restaurant, Canton Disco, and an impressive rooftop bar.
Tucked in the heart of Shanghai’s commercial district of Jingan, The PuLi is a sanctuary apart from the urban thrum of the city. Its 229 striking guestrooms are fitted out in clean lines and sleek dark wood paired against neutral tones. Downstairs locals post up at the 105-foot Long Bar in the lobby for meetings over cocktails. If you really need a break from it all, adjourn to the hotels chic ultra calming UR Spa for a traditional Chinese massage.
Opulent without being excessive, The Middle House is a plush addition to the city’s accommodation options. Located off one of Shanghai’s main arteries, Nanjing West Road, and behind a busy shopping mall, this 111-room design-forward hotel remains a serene escape that will be much welcomed after a day exploring the city. Make sure to plan time for a meal at their exceptional contemporary Chinese restaurant Sui Tang Li and a sundowner on the expansive Café Grey Deluxe terrace.
Reduce your carbon footprint while traveling by staying at this eco-chic hotel. Built from recycled and locally sourced materials, the 26-room hideaway set in a converted factory warehouse blends design with sustainability as China’s first “carbon-neutral” hotel. Located in the buzzing Jingan neighborhood, you’ll be steps away from many of the up-and-coming restaurants and bars.
Where to Eat:
Brusque, indifferent service is part of the charm at this rickety Shanghainese restaurant. The menu spans all the classics like luscious hongshao rou (red-braised pork) and xiefen doufu (silken tofu with hairy crab). Pre-order the signature cod head roasted under a blanket of scallions so you don’t miss out and book ahead or go for a late meal as peak dinner hours see lines out the door.
Fu He Hui
A far shout from the Chinese takeout near wherever you grew up, this restaurant and its haute vegetarian cuisine will leave you feeling enlightened. Chef Tony Lu, who’s also behind refined Shanghainese restaurants Fu 1039, Fu 1088 and Fu 1015, turns out finely wrought, polished courses with carefully sourced ingredients from across China that have garnered the tasting menu-only destination both a Michelin star and a spot on Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants.
People-watch in the former French Concession over a Breton galette at this effortlessly hip French café and natural wine bar. Fashionable youth and aspiring influencers storm both locations come brunch time, but the hype is real. You actually can’t go wrong with any of its buckwheat galettes or decadent breakfast sandwiches.
Fu Chun Xiaolong
If you don’t eat xiaolongbao, did you even really go to Shanghai? The city is bursting with soup dumpling eateries, from famous hole-in-the-walls (Lin Long Fang, Jia Jia Tangbao) to slick mall chains (Din Tai Fung, Paradise Dynasty). Fu Chun’s retro Shanghai décor—complete with vintage-style posters and stained glass lamps—makes a perfect backdrop for steamers of pork, shrimp, and crab dumplings. Just take care not to scald your mouth.
Blackbird and Table Black
Set in the newly renovated grounds of what was once a country club for American expats in the 1920s, casual eatery-cum-bar Blackbird and upscale Table Black offer inventive, modern interpretations of the flavors from Guizhou province. Owners Diao Wei and Gong Xian, who also run the intimate Oha Eatery and excellent neighborhood cocktail dive Bar No 3, collaborated with New Zealand chef Blake Thornley to play on the cuisine of their home province in this multi-floor, multi-concept venue.
Read about the exciting regional Chinese cuisine you can find in Shanghai.
Read more about the Shanghai entrepreneurs pushing the city forward.
Places to Drink:
You might be an ocean away from the birthplace of tiki, but that shouldn’t stop you from slinging back Zombies and Jet Pilots at Birds of Paradise. The smart new watering hole comes from Yao Lu and Austin Hu, the pair behind the city’s much-lauded cocktail bar, Union Trading Company. Drinks are deliciously strong with occasional local touches like hawthorn jam, so you’d be best advised to line your stomach with clever bar food like okonomiyaki fries and Spam katsu sliders.
Shanghai is very much about convenience—so much so that you can go on a bar crawl without leaving a single mid-rise building. Wind your way through this multi-concept venue (from the team behind acclaimed speakeasy, Speak Low) to be granted access to the space’s secreted-away bar. A drink or bite at the first-floor café, followed by the restaurant and cocktail bar on the second floor, gains you tokens for entry to Tipsy, where the head bartender mixes bespoke cocktails for each guest.
On any given night, it may feel like all the raw energy in the city has concentrated at this swanky-yet-unpretentious funk and soul supper club. A rotating schedule of bands play every day but Monday, with special themed performances over the weekend—catch shows like Legends of Soul or a Beyonce tribute night if you’re lucky. Great cocktails (try the Rehab) and creative, Asian-inspired eats add to the fun.
Perched on The Bund waterfront, the idiosyncratic décor here evokes an almost cinematic glamor that’s a perfect backdrop for taking in the skyline along with a fancy G&T and a truffle cheese toastie. But Glam is much more than a bar. Check the schedule ahead for its monthly roster of cultural talks, film screenings, music performances, and art exhibitions as well as the Shanghai International Literary Festival that takes place every spring.
What to Do:
Hidden in the basement level on a nondescript apartment complex, this offbeat private museum tells the country’s 20th century history through the propaganda posters of the 50s, 60s and 70s. No photos are allowed, but there’s a small shop with original and replica posters as well as other one-of-a-kind gifts.
Shanghai Jewish Refugee Museum
Learn about a lesser-known moment in the city’s history. During the Second World War, tens of thousands of Jews escaping the Holocaust settled in Shanghai, raising families and building their own community. Housed in the former Ohel Moshe Synagogue in the Hongkou district, the small museum sheds light on this story through informative, well-designed displays.
If you’re serious about uncovering all the local culinary treasures that Shanghai has to offer, an Untour Food Tour will cut right to the quick of it. Expertly curated and led by warm, knowledgeable guides, each of the tours gives a comprehensive 101 lesson on a different part of the city’s food culture. Shake yourself out of bed early enough for a breakfast tour so you can try what is possibly the greatest culinary invention on earth (the crepe-like jianbing) or get a taste of Shanghai’s dumpling spectrum before trying your hand at making some yourself.
Explore Shanghai’s Art Deco Vibe:
If any one period shaped the vibrant Shanghai of today, it was the city’s fabulous, freewheeling art deco era. Vestiges of Shanghai’s belle époque are at seemingly every turn in Shanghai, but of course, you need to know where to look. The enthusiasts at Shanghai Art Deco lead custom tours of the city’s architecture from this golden era as well as public monthly tours in collaboration with parent organization Historic Shanghai.
Dating from 1929, the Fairmont Peace Hotel is a Shanghai icon, synonymous with the art deco era. First known as The Cathay, the hotel played host to celebrities like Charlie Chaplin and playwright Noel Coward. Step back in time and capture the magic of the era at the Jazz Bar where the band, with an average age in their early 80s, has been playing every night for decades.
Spend a night out on the dance floor at The Paramount. Originally a landmark nightclub and dancehall in the 30s and 40s, the art deco theater most recently reopened in 2017 after undergoing a three-year, multi-million renovation. As glitzy and over the top as you’d imagine the art deco era, the ballroom is stunning, especially as dancers glide along the floor.