Published: February, 2018
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Shanghai, China

— John Leary
  • More about your oliver guide:
  • Trip type: Family, City
  • Activity level: moderate
  • Ideal length of trip: 5 DAYS

to & from

United has nonstop flights from San Francisco, but the planes are older 747s that as of now (June 2017) are not as modern as much of the rest of their fleet (e.g., no personal video screens in economy). (United flies Dreamliners from LAX, which are great). On the positive side, United from San Francisco can be cheaper than some of the other carriers, and because we flew on a Wednesday, the flight was only about 1/3 full, so all three of us had a row to ourselves.

Upon arriving at the airport in Pudong, there’s a taxi line for relatively cheap cabs, or you can take the high-speed “maglev” train to its station in another part of Pudong, and there, the taxi line is usually shorter. Plus, you got to ride on a train that goes nearly 250 mph!

Where to Stay

  • All the major hotel chains have hotels in Shanghai, but book carefully - if you are traveling for pleasure, you will want to stay on the "Puxi" side of the river, not the "Pudong" side. The Puli, Shangri-la, Portman Ritz Carlton, and Four Seasons all operate hotels that are not far from the Former French Concession (FFC) where the best bars, restaurants and sightseeing reside.
  • If you want to stay near Shanghai's Bund (their scenic riverfront), the Westin, Peninsula, or Waldorf Astoria is a good choice. The "Hyatt on the Bund" is actually on the "North Bund," but their Vue bar on the top floor may have the best view of the Bund in the entire city.
  • Because the competition is relatively fierce in Shanghai, each of these hotels usually costs far less than you would pay somewhere like Hong Kong or Tokyo (or even San Francisco). For a good local option, the Donghu Hotel on Donghu Road is a beautiful recently renovated hotel located in a quiet garden in the middle of one of Shanghai's streets for nightlife.

Where to Eat and Drink

Shanghai has some of the best food in the world, and certainly has some of the best Chinese food.

If you get tired of Chinese food (if that’s possible), some great alternatives are:

  • Tentokomai (a great Japanese izakaya)
  • Mercato (upscale Italian on the Bund)
  • Greyhound (surprisingly delicious Thai food in several locations)
  • Maya (it’s a little hard to find, but it may be the best Mexican food in China – not to be confused with Cantina Agave, who serve some of the best margaritas in the world),
  • Elefante (elegant Spanish tapas)
  • Mr. Willis (several branches and iterations around town, great comfort food).

Must-tries for Chinese food:

  • Din Tai Fung - several locations around the city. Their xiao long bao (pork and soup dumplings) are famous for a reason. Locals will swear you can find slightly better xiao long bao in tucked-away restaurants that can be hard to find, but for a casual traveler, stick with Din Tai Fung - it's consistently excellent, it's clean, and it's delicious.
  • Di Shui Dong - several locations around the city, though the location on Maoming Lu is the best. Hunan food in a boisterous environment. Definitely try the cumin ribs.
  • Guyi - the location on Fumin Lu is the best, but it can get crowded on weekends, and the food at their IAPM Mall location (6th floor) is just as good. It's a mix of Sichuan and Hunan food, so order the ribs, the lamb and the chicken smothered in chilis (la zi ji).
  • Lost Heaven - several locations around the city. The best of Southern Chinese cuisine. Their crispy chicken is one of the best things you will eat during your entire trip. Possibly, ever.
  • Yuxin Chuan Cai - Great bustling Sichuan palace. Try the green pepper chicken, the ribs, and the fish in chili oil. The food is spicy but not overwhelming, and very reasonably priced.
  • Spicy Joint (in the complex at the corner of Huaihai and Donghu Lu). Great Sichuan food in a fun atmosphere. Try the kung pao chicken, the mapo tofu (spicy tofu) and spicy cabbage with pork and chilis. The food is excellent, and the prices are absurdly low.
  • Xintiandi is a famous open-air shopping area with some great restaurants (Din Tai Fung, Crystal Jade for dim sum, Wolfgang Puck, Sproutworks, etc.)
  • For the best street food experience, seek out a branch of Yang's Fried Dumplings. They make Shanghai's famous shenzhen bao, pork dumplings filled with hot broth and cooked on the bottom until crispy. They're hot, messy, delicious and unlike anything you've ever had.
  • And if you want coffee - it's everywhere. Starbucks alone has locations nearly everywhere in the city.

What to Do

  • Walk along the Bund.
  • Stroll through the Former French Concession (pick a street, for example, Fuxing Lu) and walk along it for a mile or so. You'll see nearly all the sights and sounds of Shanghai, and its colorful collision of old and new.
  • Go to the top of the Shanghai World Financial Center (affectionately known as the "bottle opener,") it's the second-tallest building in Shanghai, and it's top is shaped like a bottle opener. The top floor features a glass-floor that's not for those who easily experience vertigo, but it's otherwise like nothing else in Shanghai.
  • Visit the History of Shanghai museum at the bottom of the Pearl Tower. It's full of decrepit dioramas depicting the History of Shanghai. It's not well known, it's falling apart, and it's fun.
  • Visit the Urban Planning Museum just to the North of People's Square. On the top floor they have an enormous model of the entire city.
  • Visit Fuxing Park or the park at Xiangyang and Huaihai. On weekends and some weeknights, you'll find many couples ballroom dancing, expertly gliding to the music. In the early mornings, you'll see local practicing tai chi.
  • But mostly: eat. walk. eat. repeat.

inside scoop

  • For a local expat experience, start your evening with a margarita outdoors Cantina Agave at the "Corner," the place where local expats gather every night at the corner of Fumin Lu and Changle Lu, then wander down Donghu Lu for dinner at Spicy Joint, Liquid Laundry, Elefante, or any of the places on the 6th floor of the IAPM mall.
  • For a traditional touristy evening, start off with a cocktail overlooking the Bund at 3 on the Bund or the Glamour Bar on the Bund, then have dinner at M on the Bund, Mercato, or Jean-Georges. If jet-lag has you in the mood to dance, end your evening at M1nt or Bar Rouge.
  • Most hotels pull out all the stops for an all-you-can eat Sunday brunch, but the brunch at the Shangri-la in Pudong is truly extraordinary. Be sure to be hungry. Very hungry.

skip it

There are many boat tours that will take you on a short cruise up and down the river along the Bund, but the view is better from nearly any hotel or restaurant along the bund.

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