With innovative restaurants, sophisticated hotels, and a booming art scene, Shanghai is undergoing one of the most rapid expansions in the East.
Lay of the Land
Former French Concession: The plane-tree-lined streets and gracious villas of the well-preserved neighborhood make it the city’s most coveted address.
The Bund: Thanks to a recent $33 million restoration, this thoroughfare, Shanghai’s answer to the Champs-Élysées and Fifth Avenue, has welcomed a slew of luxury stores, upscale restaurants, and top hotels.
Jing’an: The lively downtown district, crammed with skyscrapers and mega shopping centers, is fast-paced and often crowded; for a break, head to the 13th-century Jing’an Buddhist temple.
Lujiazui: You’ll find some of the city’s best hotels in the financial district on the eastern banks of the Huangpu River.
Getting Around: Taxis are easy to hail, but drivers seldom speak English, so make sure you have addresses written down in Chinese. Alternatively, the metro is extensive and efficient.
From laid-back local haunts to temples of haute cuisine, here’s where to dine now.
Mercato: Jean-Georges Vongerichten teamed up with Shanghai-based design duo Neri & Hu at this rustic-chic, Bund-side Italian restaurant done in reclaimed wood and leather. Wood-fired pizzas and fresh pastas top the menu, but there are plenty of stellar fish options, including salt-and-pepper sea bass and scallops with green chile, lime, and pistachio. $$$
Ultraviolet by Paul Pairet: The city’s most buzzed-about new restaurant has only 10 seats—and a three-month waiting list. With the help of projectors, scent diffusers, and a sophisticated sound system, chef Paul Pairet combines audio, olfactory, and visual effects with innovative dishes bearing wacky names such as “foie gras can’t quit” and “truffle burnt soup bread.” It’s dinner theater for the 21st century. $$$$$
Hai by Goga: At his first restaurant, Goga, a pared-down space overlooking the city, San Francisco native Brad Turley gained a cult following for his spot-on Pacific Rim cuisine. His second act sticks to the same formula: boldly flavored options such as tuna-edamame potato salad and scallops with Thai lobster curry. 86-21/3461-7893. $$$
Lost Heaven: Moody lighting and carved-teak chairs set the stage at this local favorite in the Former French Concession that whips up the city’s finest Yunnanese cuisine. There are mouthwatering lemongrass-laced meats, vegetable pancakes, and spicy curries. $$
Jishi: When it comes to Shanghainese food, this unpretentious restaurant is as authentic as it gets. (The waiters speak nary a word of English.) Tangcu paigu (sweet-and-sour spare ribs) and congbao yutou (braised fish head with scallions) are staples; if it’s hairy crab season (October–December), don’t miss the xiefen fenpi (crab with vermicelli sheets). 86-21/6282-9260. $$
Madison: An alum of New York City’s Gramercy Tavern, young chef Austin Hu showcases standout dishes—such as duck breast with apple, chrysanthemum greens, and chorizo-flecked vinaigrette and candied pork belly with kimchi jus—in a loftlike restaurant in the Xuhui district. $$$
Restaurant Pricing Key
$ Less than $25
$$ $25 to $75
$$$ $75 to $150
$$$$ More than $150
Looking for the best Shanghai designers, beauty products, and more?
Dong Liang Studio: Partners Charles Wang and Nam Lang’s three-story space stocks an impressive collection of women’s clothing from cutting-edge Chinese fashion labels, including fitted jackets by local designer He Yan and hand-stitched evening wear by Beijing-based Vega Zaishi Wang. 86-21/3469-6926.
Antik Nana: The beauty is in the details at London-trained Nana’s studio, where the jeweler’s quirky, intricate designs—clockwork brooches inlaid with miniature hourglasses; antique bracelets with clusters of skull charms—are inspired by steampunk themes.
William the BeeKeeper: At this online fashion retailer’s brick-and-mortar showroom, there’s a tightly curated assortment of up-and-coming Asian designers (Aijek, Nuomi), along with a selection of vintage items handpicked by owner Cairn Wu Reppun.
Ba Yan Ka La: Enter French expat Jean Zimmerman’s calm-inducing flagship in Xuhui, and your serotonin levels will instantly skyrocket. His soaps and lotions (Tibetan roseroot bubble bath; Chinese mulberry body milk) treat everything from skin woes to body aches.
Mary Ching: U.K.-bred designer Alison Cheung’s Shanghai boutique is a mecca for heels and handbags. But the traditionally minded should steer clear: statement stilettos come in hot reds, pinks, and snakeskin, and cashmere slippers are playfully adorned with pom-poms and fake gems.
See + Do
Four destinations for culture hounds.
Moganshan Road: Moganshan Road, Shanghai’s version of SoHo, New York, is a warren of warehouses turned galleries. Among the best: ShanghArt, the country’s first to participate in major fairs such as Art Basel; the avant-garde OV Gallery; and photography-driven M97 Gallery
Rockbund Art Museum: With an eye-catching Art Deco façade and revamped interiors by London-based architect David Chipperfield, the Bund’s only contemporary art gallery has become one of the city’s most noteworthy institutions. Experimental temporary shows are the draw, by international talents like Italian multimedia artist Paola Pivi and Beijing-based ones like painter Zeng Fanzhi.
Fuxing Park: A former private garden during the Ming dynasty, this green oasis in the Former French Concession is a prime spot for people-watching, with couples practicing the fox-trot, families playing badminton, and elderly women belting out Chinese opera. 516 Fuxing Zhong Rd.
Power Station of Art: The opening of this mammoth museum last year made Shanghai a permanent fixture on China’s culture map. Built in an old power station, the 443,000-square-foot venue played host to the 2012 Shanghai Biennale and is the first public museum on the mainland to showcase contemporary Chinese art.
Three hot new hotels and the enduring classics.
New & Noteworthy
Four Seasons Hotel Shanghai Pudong: Don’t be fooled by the spaceship-like exterior; inside, the sexy new addition to the Lujiazui district nods to the 1920’s with Art Deco–inspired geometric-patterned rugs, gleaming chrome-and-glass tables, and white leather chairs. $$$
Twelve at Hengshan: Design firm of the moment Yabu Pushelberg were the brains behind this 171-room gem in the Former French Concession. Silk lanterns and elaborate latticework in neutral hues honor Chinese design traditions subtly. (You won’t find a lick of red.) Tip: Ask for a tour of the historic neighborhood in a motorcycle sidecar. $$$
Banyan Tree Shanghai on the Bund: On the Bund’s fast-developing north end, Banyan Tree’s first foray into Shanghai is a Zen-like retreat. Its best asset? All 12 suites have sweeping views of the Huangpu River and the Pudong skyline. $$$$
Park Hyatt: When it first opened, the 1,358-foot-high Park Hyatt was crowned the world’s highest hotel. Its title has since been usurped by the Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong, but the property remains the classiest act in Pudong. High-speed elevators whisk you to the 87th floor, where a Tony Chi–designed lobby incorporates shagreen and tortoiseshell walls. $$$
The Peninsula Architect David Beer and interior designer Pierre-Yves Rochon have done up the interiors of the Peninsula with cool celadon tones and black marble hallways, not to mention period pieces like a 1930’s elevator. $$$$
PuLi Hotel & Spa This 229-room property in Jing’an is a masterful study in understatement. Weathered armoires and simple ink drawings by Chinese artist Li Jingbin set the tone in the lobby, and guest rooms have delicate indigenous touches like dragon-scaled screens. Come evening, head to the bamboo-shrouded terrace for a “blood and bitters”—blood-orange juice, Campari, and star anise. $$$$
One to Watch
Mandarin Oriental Pudong: Asia’s leading hotel chain is pulling out all the stops for its Shanghai debut. Besides a soaring marble-clad lobby, there will be a 25,995-square-foot spa and 4,000-piece art collection. Expect a summer 2013 opening. $$$$
Hotel Pricing Key
$ Less than $200
$$ $200 to $350
$$$ $350 to $500
$$$$ $500 to $1,000
$$$$$ More than $1,000
Trips Out of Town
Moganshan: In summer, Shanghai’s elite escape to the bamboo forests of this mountain retreat. Naked Stables Private Reserve ($$) is our pick among the clutch of new resorts.
Suzhou: Explore the canals, classical gardens, and silk factories of this picturesque town, only a half-hour away by bullet train.
Hangzhou A 45-minute train ride from Shanghai Hongqiao Railway Station takes you to this ancient capital known for its pagodas and terraced plantations of longjing green tea. It’s also home to one of the best Chinese restaurants in the world, Dragon Well Manor (399 Longjing Rd.; 86-571/8788-8777; $$$$).
Three insiders reveal their go-to spots in the city.
Chef-owner of Madison and Madi’s
“If you’re looking for authentic eats, head to the wonton shop at the corner of Zhaozhou and Hefei Roads, known as Guangtou Huntun; you’ll know you’re at the right place by the crowd surrounding the coal-fired kitchen. For the best Japanese food, my favorite places are Kanai Zushi (corner of Xian Xa and Weining Rds.; $$$) for quality sushi, Aji no Kura (501 Anlung Rd.; 86-21/6262-5003; $) for all my ramen needs, and Toriyasu (20 Shuicheng Rd.; 86-21/6295-8286; $$), which serves excellent yakitori.”
Founder and chief designer for Insh and Helen Lee clothing brands
“Don’t miss dinner at Mr. & Mrs. Bund–Modern Eatery by Paul Pairet ($$)—the staff is knowledgeable and the food delicious; try the steak and foie gras. For something more casual, Yang Fang Hotpot (1 Yueyang Rd.; 86-21/3368-0677; $$) stands out among other hot-pot joints, thanks to its super fresh seafood and vegetables. My studio is in Tianzifang, which is great for anyone interested in getting a taste of real Shanghai. It’s filled with restored lane houses, cafés, and old-timers hanging out.”
Director of the Rockbund Art Museum
“I love wandering through the showroom at More Less, a local furniture maker that mixes Chinese style with contemporary design, often using walnut wood. Song Fang Maison du Thé, in a charming three-story building in the Former French Concession, is a wonderful teahouse that carries an infinite variety of blends. Dinner at Cuivre ($$) is a must. You can’t go wrong with the tuna tartare and warm duck-gizzard salad.”
Where to catch a glimpse of the city’s past.
Shanghai Propaganda Art Center: Discover posters and other relics from the Mao era.
Long Bar: Take in the scene at the 111-foot mahogany bar of the former Shanghai Club, now a Waldorf Astoria.
Art Deco Shanghai: Texan Spencer Doddington leads in-depth tours of the city’s landmark Art Deco buildings.
The shop represents some of China's best-known contemporary artists and was the first gallery in the country to participate in major fairs such as Art Basel.
PuLi Hotel & Spa
A 26-story property in the heart of China’s busiest metropolis doesn’t normally bring to mind tranquillity, but PuLi’s black tile-floored lobby offers instant serenity—as do the 229 rooms and suites in gray Shanghainese brick and tables topped with slate-colored inkstone. The coup de grâce is the 5,380-square-foot Anantara spa, with a lap pool overlooking the city’s landscaped Jing An Park.