Shanghai
Local Perspective: Shanghai

Shanghai is China’s mixing pot. Over 150 years of foreign influence along with a constant flow of domestic migration has created a truly unique blend of food, architecture and culture in the nation’s financial capital.

It’s impossible to experience everything the city has to offer, even after many years in Shanghai. New developments and hidden gems are always popping up, but a number of timeless staples remain for your enjoyment. From street food to sights, here are a few.

Eat

Jianbing pancake being prepared at a street market.
Photo: Stripped Pixel/Shutterstock
Jianbing pancake being prepared at a street market. Photo: Stripped Pixel/Shutterstock

At the heart of any city’s cuisine are the mom-and-pop shops that locals rely on for their daily meals. Shanghainese street food can be found all over downtown Puxi. For a traditional Chinese breakfast, find a storefront selling freshly baked pastries called da bing, which you can order in both sweet and salty flavors. Another popular breakfast dish is the jian bing. These are a crunchy inner layer slathered with a savory sauce and wrapped in a Chinese crepe.

Sheng jian bao dumplings.
Photo: calvinlee/Shutterstock
Sheng jian bao dumplings. Photo: calvinlee/Shutterstock

Moving on from breakfast food, sheng jian bao (pan-fried pork soup dumplings) offer a perfect combination of soft dough and fried crispiness with a filling of seasoned pork and flavorful broth. Take your first bite with caution — the pork broth within is very hot. There is also the iconic dish that has adopted the city’s name: Shanghai Fried Noodles. These are thick noodles stir-fried in a soy sauce–based seasoning. Of course, this dish can be found in most western Chinese restaurants; however, a visit to Shanghai without trying an authentic rendition just wouldn’t feel right.

Like any major city, Shanghai also has its fair share of world-class dining. Lost Heaven offers some of the city’s best Chinese food. It features cuisine from the southern province of Yunan, a combination of traditional Chinese dishes with southeast Asian influence.

Shanghai World Financial Center skyscrapers.
Photo: QuiJu Song/Shutterstock
Shanghai World Financial Center skyscrapers. Photo: QuiJu Song/Shutterstock

On a clear smogless day, it’s hard to find a restaurant more breathtaking than 100 Century Avenue, located on the 91st floor of the Shanghai World Financial Center. The restaurant features six kitchens, each specializing in a unique cuisine from around the world. Enjoy breathtaking views of the city, glance down at the Pearl Tower and Jin Mao Tower (two more of the world’s tallest buildings) and marvel at the miniature people walking the streets far below, all while enjoying world-class food.

Explore

View of the Huangpu River and The Bund.
Photo: Chuyuss/Shutterstock
View of the Huangpu River and The Bund. Photo: Chuyuss/Shutterstock

“New developments and hidden gems are always popping up”

While many of China’s other major cities are defined by architectural marvels of its imperial era, Shanghai’s attractions are a reflection of modern Western influence. The city is split in two halves by the Huangpu River. The east side, Pudong, is a modern metropolis containing some of the world’s tallest buildings. The west side, Puxi, is dense with both population and culture, and offers a near endless array of entertainment options.

Peace Hotel in Shanghai.
Photo: GuoZhongHua/Shutterstock
Peace Hotel in Shanghai. Photo: GuoZhongHua/Shutterstock

On the west side is The Bund, a row of classic European architecture left over from their occupation in the early 20th century. Many of these buildings were initially banks that have since been repurposed into retail stores, nightclubs and restaurants. Near the northern end of The Bund you will find the Peace Hotel, where you can enjoy afternoon tea or watch a live performance from the famous Old Jazz Band.

The historic Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai skyline.
Photo: dibrova/Shutterstock
The historic Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai skyline. Photo: dibrova/Shutterstock

On the other side of the river is Pudong’s Lujiazui district. Here you will find the Oriental Pearl Tower, a colossal TV/Radio tower completed in 1994 that has become an iconic symbol of Shanghai. If there were a structure to take this title away from the Pearl Tower, it would be Shanghai Tower. Standing at a staggering 2,073 feet, its observation deck allows visitors to take in unparalleled views of the city.

Inside Jing'an Temple.
Photo: wiktord/Shutterstock
Inside Jing'an Temple. Photo: wiktord/Shutterstock

In a city full of unique architecture, Jing’an Temple is one of the more memorable stops. The pagoda stands tall in Shanghai’s Jingan District. With a history dating back to 220 AD, the temple has been renovated and rebuilt a number of times over the years. Today, its intricate architecture, impressive antiques and annual market continue to attract a steady stream of visitors.

Yuyan Garden.
Photo: byvalet/Shutterstock
Yuyan Garden. Photo: byvalet/Shutterstock

Shanghai’s other iconic holdover from the dynastic era is Yuyuan Garden. The garden features classic Chinese architecture, a koi pond and the “Nine Zig-Zag Bridge” leading to a teahouse in the middle of the pond. According to Chinese legend, evil spirits can only travel in straight lines, so walking over the zig-zag bridge ensures that you are free of evil.

The narrow alleyways of Tianzifang.
Photo: xiquinhosilva
The narrow alleyways of Tianzifang. Photo: xiquinhosilva

Spend an afternoon exploring Tianzifang, a throwback to Shanghainese flea markets of the past. The narrow, winding alleys off Taikang Road form a tightly knit maze of boutique shops, bars, restaurants and design studios.

Relax

View from from the Hotel Indigo on The Bund.
Photo: Ross Burton
View from from the Hotel Indigo on The Bund. Photo: Ross Burton

Hotel Indigo on The Bund offers amazing views of the Pudong skyline. Located at the southern end of The Bund, the hotel is just steps away from top restaurants and nightlife. Rooms feature an eclectic mix of modern furniture and colorful accents, but the highlight is the generous windows, with views of downtown Shanghai and the winding Huangpu River.

Jin Jiang Hotel.
Photo: Nils & Araceli Jonsson
Jin Jiang Hotel. Photo: Nils & Araceli Jonsson

For a piece of history, book a room at the Jin Jiang Hotel in downtown Puxi. It hosted President Nixon on one of the first American diplomatic trips to modern China. The hotel’s large gardens form a kind of oasis in the middle of the city.

Andaz Lounge at the Andaz Xintiandi Shanghai.
Photo: mattweibo
Andaz Lounge at the Andaz Xintiandi Shanghai. Photo: mattweibo

Finally, the Andaz Xintiandi Shanghai is located next to Xintiandi, a popular car-free shopping district where you will find plenty of great bars and restaurants. Its location in Puxi makes getting around incredibly easy. Most major destinations are two or three metro stops or a 10–15 minute taxi ride away.

Written by Simon Smith

Headline image by HelloRF Zcool/Shutterstock

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