48 hours in ... Shanghai
A re-vamped waterfront area and a sparkling new array of Michelin star-studded restaurants are providing Shanghai with a new lease of life. Journalist Saskia Smith brings together her hot tips for a short stay in this fashionable city.
Why go now
Shanghai is transforming from the ground up. Following on from the redevelopment of the Bund riverside area in 2010, Suzhou Creek, a notorious and decidedly fetid stretch of canal, is set to become a delightful urban waterfront. Meanwhile, up on the 88th floor of the Jinmao Tower, visitors can now harness themselves to an overhead rail and step out onto an open-air glass walkway. There’s no handrail to cling to so you’ll need nerves of steel instead!
Get your bearings
China’s largest city sits on the mouth of the Yangtze river on the east China coast. It’s divided into two areas: historic Puxi, west of the Huangpu river, and futuristic Pudong on the east. Generally, taxis are the best way to explore: they’re cheap and plentiful. The downside is Shanghai’s notorious traffic, so you may also want to try the city’s burgeoning subway system. If you’re staying in the centre, walking is best.
The Fairmont Peace Hotel, formerly The Cathay, was Shanghai’s original luxury hotel. Famed for its fantastic Bund location and its legendary jazz bar, the hotel boasted an internationally impressive guest list ranging from General Marshall to Charlie Chaplin. Renovated in 2007, the Fairmont Peace Hotel has recaptured its former glory.
.... glamour. Pre-war, Shanghai was ‘the pearl of the orient’. The city has been trying to reclaim that title since the early 1990s, and now Shanghai is China’s showpiece. With wealth has come luxury, and this is one of the top cities in the world to indulge. Explore the gleaming towers of Pudong, or join the champagne set at Bar Rouge on the Bund – a Shanghai institution.
You cannot visit Shanghai without seeing the Bund, the city’s picturesque waterfront. Created as part of the British concession in the mid-19th century, the Bund is home to a number of grand, European-style buildings, many of which have been converted into luxury bars, shops and restaurants. Look across the river and you can see Pudong and its many towers, including the landmark Oriental Pearl Tower, symbolising the city’s march into the future. Come in the morning to see locals perform their morning exercises and at night for the light show from Pudong.
The Shanghainese are serious about their food, particularly street food. You’re assured of a feast at Jia Jia Tangbao on Huanghe Road; their speciality is xiao long bao, steamed soup dumplings. You may have to queue, but it will be worth it. Hungry for more?
Yu gardens isn’t exactly a secret, and you certainly won’t find yourself alone here (come on a weekday to avoid the crowds), but these beautiful classical gardens are one of the few opportunities to glimpse old China in Shanghai. Dating back to the Ming dynasty, the gardens boast zigzag bridges, dragon walls, koi ponds, huge rockeries and the Huxinting teahouse, believed to be the inspiration for the classic porcelain ‘willow’ pattern.
Shanghai loves a speakeasy. And the best (officially it’s ranked 15th best bar in the world) is three in one: Speak Low, on Fuxing Lu. Enter via the hidden door in Ocho Bar Tools shop and discover a further two bars hidden within. The mastermind behind it all is legendary bartender Shingo Gokan, and cocktails naturally have a Japanese slant. Prices get higher with each bar.
Dressing for dinner
You can eat any cuisine in the world in Shanghai. Lost Heaven offers regional fusion with a menu that stretches from Yunnan, Burma (Myanmar) and Tibet to Thailand. Inspiration for the décor also comes from minority tribes in Yunnan, and the effect, coupled with low lighting, is stunning. Signature dishes include Dai Li-style chicken with chilli and green onions, Miao tribe hot and sour prawns, and Burmese lamb samosas.
Night on the town
Shanghai’s bar scene is fast moving and often frenetic. For a slightly more mellow evening, head to the former French concession. Start with a drink, ideally in the garden, at the romantic YongFoo Elite, also a two-star Michelin restaurant, before heading over for some live jazz at the legendary Cotton Club. Finish with a nightcap with a view at Kartel, a minimalist French wine bar with a fantastic roof terrace.
A massage. Try the traditional, no frills, blind massage. Ganzhi is a popular chain. Alternatively Dragonfly offers a more atmospheric experience – and they also speak English.
Shanghai boasts many markets – from pearls to flowers to a future husband or wife! – but among the most useful is the South Bund Fabric Market on Lujiabang Lu. An enormous cavern of textiles, you can find literally anything here, from cashmere to silk, and the market’s tailors will transform it into any garment you desire. This is also the place to get copies of your favourite outfit.
Recommended C&K tour
China: The Grand Tour
16 Days & 14 Nights from £3,525
This group tour takes in the natural wonders and cultural sights of China including Beijing and the Great Wall, the Terracotta Warriors at Xian, picturesque scenery between Guilin and Yangshuo, and the pandas in Chengdu. End with a cruise along the Yangtze river and a stay in cosmopolitan Shanghai. See more >
Learn more about...
Shanghai at a glance
by Cox & Kings' China expert James Noyes
Find out the best times to explore Shanghai, where to stay, what to eat and what to do. See more >