Shanghai is located in Southeast China on the Huangpu River. For a city in a Communist country, it is firmly rooted in consumerism.
Shanghai is still a very international, business-minded city, with a thriving ex-pat community and all of the Western hotels, restaurants and bars catering to it. Yes, that means all of the street names offer Roman-alphabet translations.
Shanghai Sightseeing for RomanticsVisitors to Shanghai could eat, drink and shop their way through town without regret, but the city also boasts noteworthy cultural and art museums (Shanghai Museum, Shanghai Art Museum, MOCA Shanghai) and temples (Jade Buddha, Jingan, Confucius Temple of the City of God). And a walk down any street is brimming with authentic flavor.
A stroll along the Bund, the site of the former British settlement, is a must. Stay on the street to view the architecture of the former banks, which now house posh restaurants and bars. Then use an underpass to trek part of the way along the river with its unbeatable views of the famous Pudong skyline—including the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Jinmao Tower—across the water.
If you’re feeling bold on your way to tour Yu Gardens in Old City, get lost inside the maze of alleys where locals live; it’s one of the best ways to truly immerse yourself in the daily culture of Shanghai life. (Following alongside the walls surrounding the Gardens will help you keep your bearings.)
Make sure to keep your eyes open for bikes racing by and for dumpling storefronts in which you’ll want to stop, point, and eat whatever it is you happened to order.
See how the city remembers its past in Xintiandi, where old shikumen (densely placed 1930s-era tenement houses) homes have been transformed into restaurants, cafes and shops.
One of these homes hosted the First National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party met; it’s now a small and intriguing—if somewhat pedantic—museum dedicated to the founding of the Communist party in China. There’s even a wax figurine of a hirsute Mao.
Shopping in ShanghaiEveryone’s an entrepreneur in Shanghai, and they all have something for sale. Unless you’re in a proper shop—and even sometimes when you are—be prepared to bargain. Stall owners triple or quadruple the price of any item for tourists.
Hip local and ex-pat designers, collectors, and gallery owners have taken over a narrow lane in the French Concession called Taikang Lu, which now brims with cutting-edge fashion, art, and coffee shops.
Those looking for a bit of history should hit the Dongtai Lu Antiques Market; even though most everything sold is actually a reproduction, you’ll still want to load up on stone stamps, glassware, carvings, buddhas, and all manner of tchotchkes.
Similar wares are coupled with original arts and crafts in the Bazaar outside Yu Gardens, and on Shanghai Old Street. In these areas, you’ll also find tea shops where one can witness and participate in traditional tea ceremonies.
Dining in ShanghaiBeing an international city, Shanghai has restaurants from almost every region of the world. And being a megalopolis, the city has several options in every price range—each of which includes world-class bites.
Some of the most intimate, romantic restaurants in town are French or French-influenced: Frank, in the French Concession, and M on the Bund and Jean Georges, both on the Bund and with views of Pudong.
For local fare Chinese cuisine, get a reservation at Xindalu in the Hyatt on the Bund, which delivers classic dishes of the region—hairy crab dumplings, shark’s fin dishes—in an open-air, minimalist space.
Shanghainese cuisine can also be found at Whampoa Club, one of the city’s most heralded high-end spots, the modern design of which has received as much press as the food.
Nightlife in ShanghaiWith dozens of bars and clubs offering gorgeous views of the river, there’s no reason to drink anywhere that doesn’t. For a relaxed cocktail, lounge on a bed surrounding a hot tub on the rooftop terrace of Vue Bar.
When you’re ready to amp it up, join the international, well-dressed crowds at Bar Rouge or Glamour Bar—both swank lounges, both on the Bund.
And if you and your honey aren’t already feeling on top of the world, grab a cocktail at Cloud 9, a Grand Hyatt bar on the 87th floor of the Jin Mao Tower in Pudong, which has the honor of being the highest bar in the world—at least for now.
Shanghai is several cities in one. Couples exploring the posh clubs and designer shops of the Bund, the woody streets and lane restaurants of the French Concession, the tea houses of the Old City, and the fast-and-furious go-go culture of new Pudong will feel as if they’ve seen much of China without leaving Shanghai—and in many ways, they will have.