With a futuristic skyline featuring some of the planet’s tallest buildings, Shanghai is a city on the rise. Foodies will find flavours from every corner of the globe and an ever-expanding roster of restaurants serving regional cuisine. A recent hotel boom has seen the opening of flagship properties from brands such as Aman, Bulgari, and Capella.
Shanghai is now a magnet for contemporary art, with galleries showing works by international artists and—perhaps more interestingly—Chinese creatives making their marks. In 2019 a new outpost of Paris’s Centre Pompidou will open in the up-and-coming West Bund area.
Yet Shanghai retains elements from its art deco heyday, when it earned the moniker “Paris of the East,” thanks to the cosmopolitan communities of expats living in its glamorous foreign concessions. With over 35 airlines flying to Shanghai from India, it’s easier than ever to explore this dynamic waterside city.
Old and new, kinetic and calm, Shanghai is a study in compelling contrasts
Get a glimpse of Shanghai from the early 1900s with a stroll past the grand buildings lining the Bund, the famed waterfront zone along the Huangpu River. A must-see? The stunning ceiling mosaics in the lobby of the former HSBC headquarters at Number 12. In the Hongkou district, discover a fascinating chapter in the city’s history at the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum in the former Ohel Moshe Synagogue. Then head west to the French Concession to view glamorous villas like the one housing the Shanghai Arts and Crafts Museum.
Less than 30 years ago, Pudong was a warren of warehouses, factories, and fields. Since then, it’s morphed into Asia’s most distinctive skyline, with the world’s second tallest building: the spiral-silhouetted Shanghai Tower. Take in city views from its observation deck or from those in the Shanghai World Financial Center or Jin Mao Tower. At the Longyang Road Station, visit the Maglev Museum to learn about the high-speed train, which can reach 430 kilometres an hour. A sample ride to the airport is a zippy seven minutes.
Though the city lacks a Louvre or Hermitage, its contemporary arts scene has become one of the best in the world, seemingly overnight. Permanent and temporary exhibitions fill well-funded private spaces like the Shanghai Gallery of Art, off the Bund, and the Long Museum, in the emerging West Bund. Also in the Xuhui district, art lovers can explore smaller museums and galleries along the former industrial waterfront. Find the trendsetting ShanghART gallery at the M50 arts district and creative park, in addition to lesser known upstarts.
Shanghai’s parks provide welcome retreats from the urban bustle. Touristy but well worth a stroll, the Puxi district’s Yuyuan Garden represents the pinnacle of classical Chinese garden design. Originally a Ming-era private oasis, Fuxing Park in the French Concession features exquisite roses and a monumental sculpture of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The Jing’an Sculpture Park makes an easy twofer with the Shanghai Natural History Museum, while Lu Xun Park attracts locals who exercise, practice tai chi, and play music.
Seek out a “secret” speakeasy and devour hot soup dumplings
Don’t miss xiao long bao, or soup dumplings, which have attracted a Gaga-like fan base. There’s something magical about delicate dough filled with steaming broth. Arrive early in the day to snag the speciality at local institution Jia Jia Tang Bao. Skip the long carryout queue at Nanxiang Mantou Dian and go upstairs to its slightly pricier sit-down restaurant. For a more upscale experience, try the dumplings at Din Tai Fung, each with 18 precise folds.
Locals delight in this delicacy (named for the “hairy” substance on the claws) from late October through early December, when restaurants serve the crab’s sweet meat and golden roe. One of Shanghai’s oldest eateries, Wang Bao He is renowned for its crabs plucked from Yangcheng Lake. The fancy crab banquets at Xinguang Jiu Jia are worth the high price, but more wallet-friendly options can be found at the seafood stands of Shouning Road.
Shanghai’s vegetarian scene has blossomed under the radar. But thanks to an elegant dining room and gourmet tasting menus, Fu He Hui is now routinely listed as a top spot. The divine Shanghai Godly Vegetarian Diet dates to the 1920s and has drawn luminaries such as Chinese poet Lu Xun. Vegetarian Lifestyle offers simple, trendy tastes in upscale Huaihai, while Wu Guan Tang serves seasonal dishes in a cosy spot on a narrow lane.
Harking back to the era of art deco decadence, speakeasies are shaking up the city’s cocktail culture. To access the four-storey Speak Low, hopeful sippers must visit a bar- supply shop, then open a hidden door. At Barules, entry is through a classic British phone booth, but glasses are filled with Chinese spirits like baijiu. Though Tailor Bar has moved to a new location at the Le Sun Chine Hotel, it still mixes on-the-spot creations for each customer.
Cresting a wave of recent openings, THE MIDDLE HOUSE debuted this April in the tony HKRI Taikoo Hui shopping development with 111 rooms and 102 residential suites. Interior designer Piero Lissoni blended Italian and Chinese elements such as Murano glass and traditional birdcages. Diners can choose from Italian dishes at Frasca or Chinese banquets at Sui Tang Li (themiddlehousehotel.com). The FAIRMONT PEACE HOTEL has been a Shanghai landmark practically since the day it opened in 1929, thanks to the lavish parties thrown by its original owner, impresario Victor Sassoon. That revelry still echoes in the restored public spaces, including the palatial lobby and the over-the-top orientalist decor of Dragon Phoenix restaurant, not to mention the nightly shows by the hotel’s famously swinging jazz band (fairmont.com/peace-hotel-shanghai). Some of the most Instagram-worthy panoramas of Pudong’s skyscrapers can be found from the pool deck and outdoor bar at the W SHANGHAI–THE BUND in the emerging Hongkou district. The 374 colourful guest rooms and suites also offer city views, plus clever design touches like bed pillows resembling xiao long bao and chopsticks. The Away Spa makes a tranquil redoubt after a day in the city, while the Woobar sets a swanky nightclub scene with creative cocktails featuring ingredients like vodka infused with roasted garlic (marriott.com/hotels/travel/shawh-w-shanghai-the-bund).