Experience Urban Shanghai

Navjot Singh, a well-known British author, journalist and photographer, takes us on a virtual tour of Shanghai. Be sure to check back in with us for some more insightful reviews from Navjot’s travel exploits.

Shanghai may be one seriously hectic metropolis that never sleeps – however it has some fascinating sights to enjoy during the day, and excellent restaurants and spas to chill out in the evening.

If this is your first time to visit Shanghai, and if you are looking for a place of striking urban beauty that boasts a skyline made up of bold and innovative designs, then you have come to the right place. Expect not to be disappointed, as you will never want to leave this great city that embraces its past while equally committed to new ideas. Some areas of the city will leave you feeling as if you have entered some futuristic city on another planet.

Ever since the 1930s, Shanghai has always been the city that brought along the blended emotions of nostalgia, fashion with a posh flair, and above all else, romance. With over 19-million people on the move 24-hours a day, seven days a week, there is a certain rat race going on by everyone planning to have a stake in the booming economy of China’s most westernised and fastest growing city. This is perhaps the most happening place in the world.

The latter term may be applied even more so in the well preserved Xintiandi area of the city. The original form of Xintiandi’s antique walls, tiles, and, exteriors have been preserved by the Shui On Company. The whole area is enhanced by art galleries, trendy boutiques, international restaurants, bars, and lifestyle luxury shopping. I cannot resist falling in love with Xintiandi every time I come here. The area would perhaps easily pass as the most elegant, and certainly the most western in China. It’s the kind of place where you just have to be careful on what you are wearing, how you talk, and how you behave. It’s the place to see, and be seen at. The city’s fame of being ‘The Paris of the East’ has long gone. I will christen Shanghai the ‘New York of the East’, and it certainly feels like that when one stands at the Bund and looks towards the Pudong side.


Fresh Oysters at The MEET at the Kerry Hotel, Pudong (Navjot Singh)

One of Shanghai’s latest tourist destinations was largely unknown until around 2006, and is neatly tucked away in the city’s famed French Concession area. With the 2010 Shanghai Expo site only around a 20 minutes’ walk away, the historical Tianzifang is an area full of significant modern Chinese and Western arts and crafts.

The best way to get to this popular tourist attraction is by taking metro line 9 to Dapu Bridge and then walking across the street to Taikang Road (known as Taikang Lu in Chinese). While there are slight similarities to places such as the Shikumen or Xintiandi in terms of architecture, this destination is more for the tourist. You are more than likely to bump into someone with a Canon or Nikon as opposed to a bunch of Shanghai yuppies having business lunch. The right way to describe it is that it’s a wonderful carnival of art, design and architecture. However, at the same time it is less eccentric and classy than, say, Moganshan Lu.

Originally built in the 1930s as a Shikumen residential district, Tianzifang remained very hidden to the outside world, and was not a touristy attraction until about 2006 when it was slated for demolition to make way for redevelopment in time for the 2010 Shanghai Expo.

Many Chinese artists, café owners, and boutique French bistros owners settled in the area around 2006 and, over time it has become a beehive for tourists. There is still some reminiscing of how people used to live their life here prior to the area becoming open to the world. A complete contrast to the ivory towers of Lujiazhui in Pudong, here you’ll find bicycles, hanging laundry from the windows, and even people washing their utensils outside their homes. If you love contemporary art and design, or just want to inspire yourself by knowing what it may be like to live in the real Shanghai then make sure you have at least half a day free to explore this part of the city. I even managed to discover a cleverly designed handmade lamp made from a fork and knife sitting outside someone’s home.

Weather of Two Extremes

Shanghai weather is of two extremes, the winters can be bitterly freezing with snow, while the summers can be ridiculously hot and humid (some may even say “Unbearable” – especially when the city hits 90 percent humidity and temperatures of 98 degrees Fahrenheit). Choose your time of visiting Shanghai very carefully because the last thing you need is your holiday being spoilt by weather that you cannot get used to. My personal recommendation is that you visit Shanghai in Spring and Autumn when it is quite pleasant.

Heaven for Food Lovers

Staying in Shanghai, travellers will be spoilt for choice for breakfast, lunch and dinner – it would not be a trip worthwhile if you do not try local Shanghai cuisine (which has a sweet taste). Highly recommended restaurants in Shanghai are the Whampoa Club and the Bai He Ju (inside the Mayfair Hotel). Both offer high quality authentic Shanghai cuisine. My personal favourite is the Meilongzhen. It is considered to be the oldest restaurant in Shanghai (dating back to 1938) and also one of the most famous. Expect prices to be high as the equally high quality of the food.

Where to Stay

Try the 88 Xintiandi, a hotel that has as much character as the area itself. Xintiandi is a pedestrianized neighbourhood where traditional shikumen (late 19th-century stone gate buildings) have been turned into cute cafes, boutiques and restaurants. 88 Xintiandi is a converted shikumen boutique hotel nestled right in the heart of this area, boasting no less than 53 studios and suites decorated in a modern oriental style with dark woods and lacquered screens. Alternatively, you may try the trendy Kerry Hotel, Pudong, which is part of the famous Shangri-La group who have also have their main property, called Shangri-La Pudong, downtown.

How to Get There

Shanghai Pudong International airport is well connected with direct flights to the US and Europe. Delta Airlines, American Airlines, and United Airlines all operate non-stop flights to Shanghai from various American cities including New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Detroit, San Francisco, and Chicago. I flew with Qatar Airways, who operate flights to Shanghai from Chicago, New York, Washington, Houston, and Philadelphia through a stopover in Doha.

To learn more about Navjot and his travels, be sure to check out his website: www.navjot-singh.com.

Featured Image: Shanghai Skyline (Shutterstock.com)

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