The French Concession
Shanghai is popular for many places and reasons, but the French Concession is somewhere on top of that list. Hugely popular and sought after as the preferred residential address among expats, the Former French Concession (FFC) has a lot of history and beauty to its credit.
Our information below is split into four parts:
- 1. What Exactly Is the French Concession?
- 2. A Walking Tour of the French Concession
- 3.A Bowl of Rice Under the Plane Trees
- 4. French Concession Shopping Gems
What Exactly Is the French Concession?
Geographically, the FFC's length and breadth is expansive (about 8 km wide, stretching west of the Bund), and at any given time, it is impossible to explore all of it. Due to the FFC being as vast as it is, we thought it best to show you the highlights for you to explore in your time in Shanghai. We wanted to make sure that we cover the better parts of the FFC and also stay away from highly touristy parts — which have been mentioned at the bottom. We have also made sure you know which the prime streets are in the FFC, as that's not really been concisely covered anywhere.
One of the most typical features of FFC are its gorgeous tree-lined avenues, which are perfect for long walks. When in the FFC, you can't miss the huge variety of hip cafes and restaurants, concept bars and breweries, boutiques, art galleries and antiques stores. Culturally, the FFC is pretty high on our meter. To absorb the best of the FFC, focus on the following streets: Wukang Lu, Fuxing Lu, Tai'an Lu, Dongping Lu, Julu Lu, Taojiang Lu, Wulumuqi Lu, Yongfu Lu, Xinle Lu and Changle Lu.
Exploring the French Concession
Wukang Lu is a beautiful street, quaint and pretty, with outdoor cafes sprinkled here and there — you'd almost feel you are walking somewhere in Europe. Pop into this little outdoor cafe called 'Cozy Wine Bar and Bistro' on this street for a quick cup of coffee and a plate of sausages to snack on. While on Wukang Lu, you wouldn't want to miss checking out Ferguson Lane on 376 Wukang Lu. It is a charming pedestrian space with outdoor restaurants and wine bars, a treat if you are in the mood for some wine tasting and tapas. This complex is styled with art deco design elements and is a must-visit in the FFC.
If you want to visit some funky art stores, there are a couple of really nice ones on Fuxing Lu — Outmoded, Tattoo — alongside a popular Belgian bistro and beer bar called Belga, which is painted bright yellow and hard to miss. The art stores are fun to visit and you can always be surprised with what they offer on sale. Try your luck and who knows what treasures you'll find! Fuxing Lu also has pop-up art galleries from time to time, which are pretty awesome.
Wulumuqi Road is most famous for this tiny local shop run by an entrepreneurial woman and her husband, aptly named 'The Avocado Lady' —nothing short of an urban legend and rightly so. She has been running this store for over 20 years, and stocks everything. Yes, you read that right. When we say everything, we mean it. European cheese and wines, exotic herbs, local fresh produce, jams, all sorts of oils and much much more. In the rare case that you don't find something here, she orders it for you. This store has become so famous in Shanghai, that a visit is an absolute must! There is also a small vintage shop (you'll find well-maintained polaroid cameras here) on 170 Wulumuqi Lu, called The Cottage Shop.
For art-deco themed lightning, try out this exceptional (and expensive) store called 1930 on Tai'an Lu. Across this, you'll find a charming little outdoor bar called Whiskey Corner.
At the junction of Fuxing Lu and Huaihai Lu (1858 Huaihai Lu) stands this apartment building called Normandy Apartments — a stunning art deco style building, constructed in 1924. Gaze at it for a while and you will be transported to another time. There are many art deco buildings in the city, but this one is infamous for being haunted.
Yongfu Lu, Hengshan Lu, Donping Lu and Yueyang Lu are lined with bars and nightclubs - pretty busy in the evenings and offering lots of good spots to unwind over some beers. If you seek some high-end fashion boutiques, check out Xinle Lu and Changle Lu. These streets also have the historic lane houses - quaint old-school residential buildings.
Because of the beauty of FFC, don't be surprised if you see wedding shoots going on, with brides (mostly in white, sometimes in red) posing like celebrities. If you are hungry, take a walk through Anfu Lu and Julu Lu — there are local eateries where you can grab Lo Mien noodles or Xialongbaos (Shanghai's signature soup dumplings) as well as posh restaurants for any type of cuisine you prefer.
Other Popular FFC Spots
China Highlights — your perfect guide
We hope that this article will help you plan out a well-covered tour of Shanghai's Former French Concession. You can consult for free with our experts for any travel-in-China advice, or you can create your own Shanghai trip based on your interests, duration of stay, and budget.
We would recommend you also look at the following for more inspiration:
A Walking Tour Through the French Concession
It takes about two hours to finish this walking tour, but there is plenty of opportunity to lengthen that time shopping and sight-seeing. If you feel like a break during the trip, you can enjoy coffee near the Sinan Mansions or in Tianzifang.
Recommended walking route: Garden Hotel – Cathay Cinema – Huaihai Road – Gaolan Road – Sinan Mansions – Sun Yat-sen's Former Residence – Tianzifang
Garden Hotel, which is adjacent to bustling Huaihai Road, is located on Maoming South Road (or Route Cardinal Mercier), a quiet place in the downtown. With its excellent geographical location, guests can enjoy their business, tourism, shopping, and outward journeys with convenience from Garden Hotel.
There are five restaurants in the hotel, featuring Chinese-style, Western-style, or Japanese-style food, with local and tasty flavors. With three splendid and exotic bars, ten elegant and grand multifunction halls, and business centers, an administrative salon, a high-quality goods store, gym and other high-grade facilities, Garden Hotel is a fully-integrated modern hotel with classic elegance and luxurious comfort.
Cathay Cinema (国泰电影院) was previously called Cathay Theatre. It is located at 870 Huaihai Middle Road, near Gate 3 of Shanxi South Road Station on Metro Line 1. Cathay Cinema is a classical building with a history of over 80 years.
Located in the downtown of Shanghai's French Concession, Huaihai Road is one of the busiest shopping streets in Shanghai. It is known to all that Huaihai Road is Shanghai's most beautiful and fashionable street with the best emotional appeal.
With modern architecture standing in great numbers, Huaihai Road is a place where fashionable and brand-name commodities are plentiful, following world trends. Being famous for elegance and romance, Huaihai Road is a glorious shopping paradise in most people's eyes.
Gaolan Road (皋兰路) is another street in Luwan District. It was once called Rue Corneille, named after the French poet Corneille. It was built by the French Concession Authority in 1914, and was renamed Gaolan Road in 1946.
Along the road are famous residences including Zhang Xueliang's Former Residence, a Spanish garden villa with three stories; and Fuxing Park, a small park with French emotional appeal, once called French Park.
The Sinan Mansions
Located at 55 Sinan Road, Luwan District, the Sinan Mansions are adjacent to Fuxing Park. There are 51 garden villas with almost a century of history and various architectural styles.
The Sinan Mansions are the most concentrated area of classic residences in Shanghai. When you walk through the Sinan Mansions, it's just like wandering through a fascinating and charming architectural display. There are boutique hotels, service apartments, enterprise mansions, and business districts in the Sinan Mansions.
For more places like the Sinan Mansions see The Top Five Old Streets in Shanghai.
Sun Yat-sen's Former Residence
Sun Yat-sen's Former Residence is located at 7 Xiangshang Road. It is a European country-style house. The house was the Shanghai residence of Sun Yat-sen and his wife Soong Ching-ling from 1918–1924.
Tianzifang is the landmark Art Street on Taikang Road. When you walk through Tianzifang and wander through the maze of alleys, arty shops and art workshops casually jump into your sight. Tea houses, open-air restaurants, outdoor cafes, galleries, furniture decorations, handicrafts, and famous creative studios are everywhere.
Shanghai Walking Tours with China Highlights
Walking between sights is often the best way to see a number of attractions in an area of Shanghai you like, especially one as stylish and full of character as the FFC. Let us know if you would like to do this or any other walking tour, or combine it with one of our classic Shanghai packages.
Our tailor-made explorations come with a local English-speaking guide and private transport to get you seamlessly to the start of your walking tour, through the sights, complete with expert commentary/explanations, and back to your hotel.
- See Walking Through Shanghai for an alternative French Concession route and a walking tour including Jade Buddha Temple and the M50 Art District.
- Shanghai Walking Tours
A Bowl of Rice Under the Plane Trees
— How to Eat Like a Local in Shanghai's French Concession
One of the best things about visiting Shanghai is relishing not only the city's rich cuisine, but also the flavors and aromas inherited from all of China's cardinal points trailing out of restaurants to tempt you all over town.
From saucy rice dishes to delicious pork and broth filled xiaolongbao; one neighborhood that's particularly great for following the Chinese food trail is the historic French Concession. An experience all of its own, this old concession is a delight to walk thanks to the natural shade provided by the century-old plane trees, and is highly condensed with exquisite, tiny restaurants.
All of the recommended restaurants below are small, cheap, well-known, and offer a very local experience. When the weather is good, sitting outside is a must to absorb the Shanghainese bustle in this old neighborhood. To come to the French Concession and find these restaurants get out at South Shaanxi Road metro station, Line 1, exit 1. See map below.
Xuezi Cai Fan (雪子菜饭 Xuezi Dishes with Rice)
For signature Shanghainese try this friendly mifan (rice) restaurant. The owner is the waitress, and in this place you can go in the kitchen and pick from the premade dishes. Often you'll see the city's taxi drivers there, cabs parked in front, or nearby residents, in their pijamas, having a bowl of rice with chicken or bacon very generously covered in delicious sauces, a hallmark of Shanghainese cuisine.
This is as authentic as culinary travel gets! So don't be shy, pour some of the sauce from the bacon pan over your rice, order a pijou (beer), and perch yourself on a stool outside. 385 Yongjia Road.
Xian Zhou Dao (鲜粥道 Fresh Congee Way)
This relatively new family-operated little place from Fujian, a coastal province in the southeast of China whose specialty is congee, a delicious, very lean and healthy white rice soup made in a variety of ways.
Here you can find a whole array of this famous mellow dish: Pumpkin (nangua), beef (niurou), goose (shao'e), and the favorite "eight treasures" congee babaozhou, made with peanuts, dates, red beans, yam, lotus seeds and green beans. Besides making incredible congee, the restaurant also makes great yuxiang, such as yuxiang rousi (minced pork and vegetables in fish sauce). Yuxiang, meaning "fish flavor", is a sauce made with sauteed green peppers and spicy blackbean sauce, and the taste that comes out from the mix is in fact quite seafoodish. Delightful. 398 Xiangyang South Road.
Loushi Tangbao (陋室汤包 Humble Home Soup Dumplings)
On Nanchang Lu is a great place for xiaolongbao, dumplings filled with exquisite broth and minced pork, traditionally dipped into a vinegar and spicy red pepper sauce. Famous along the Yangtze River Delta, the recipe for the dumplings varies from city to city. The line outside vouches for the fame of this tiny restaurant. 601 Nanchang Road.
Longji Guilin Mifen (龙记桂林米粉 Dragon Guilin Rice Noodles)
On Wuyuan Lu there is a rice noodle broth restaurant from Guilin, a region who's specialty is spicy rice noodle broth made with a variety of vegetables and peanuts, beef, chicken or pork, and often delicious sauteed bamboo shoots. The iconic bamboo shoot soup is called suanla sunjian fen (sour and spicy bamboo shoot rice noodles). In fact you can order any soup you want, and order a side of the shoots to spicen things up even more. 124 Wuyuan Road.
Henan Lamian (河南拉面 Henan Hand-Stretched Noodles)
And if your walk takes you out of the neighborhood and to nearby People's Square, you can try this family run Henan noodle restaurant operated by the friendly couple in the picture.
The restaurant's specialty is hand-stretched noodles served fried or in soup. The chowmien (fried noodles) there may actually be the best in town.
From the restaurant you are a 10-minute walk from the Bund, and 15 minutes to Xintiandi. From Exit 15 at People's Square Station turn left walk straight on South Xizang Road, turn left on Jinling Road and right on Zhejiang. 130 Zhejiang South Road.
See and taste the French Concession with China Highlights
French Concession Shopping Gems
Along with a dazzling diamond skyline, a rush of cosmopolitan restaurants, and a fusion of old meets new, Shanghai is synonymous with shopping. Whether it's a top end designer, a high street store, or a bargain at the market, you can't escape the multitudes of shops.
I do love a bargain and get even more of a thrill if it's an original piece. The best place for this? The tree-lined streets of the French Concession.
So, three girls set out on a sun drenched and crisp Saturday afternoon – perfect shopping conditions.
Energizing with Brunch
We begin our exploits at Sinan Mansions (Fuxing Lu, Sinan Lu) for some pre-shopping brunch. Wander through and find traditional or western food to suit.
Fuxing Lu Shopping
We then stroll west down the quintessential tree-lined Fuxing Lu, along with fast cars moving slowly and mopeds beeping furiously. As the sun comes out, so does the washing on the lines.
Most shops are worth a glance with many gems hidden away. We stumble upon a shore store and mosey on in.
My friend eyes up a pair of boots and as she feels the soft [probably fake] leather, they're ripped from her hands by another shopper. We can only laugh as we're caught among the scramble of Chinese. On closer look, the back of the shop is filled with clothes from Esprit. We've landed in the bizarre world of "is it real?" as we scramble the racks for clothes at 25% of the original price. We manage two coats and a denim skirt and we're only down RMB 500.
"Min pien ma?" I want to come back. "Mei you…" apologizes the assistant. If you see something in the French Concession, you have to buy it as you may never see it again.
We clamber unsuccessfully through another few shops before stumbling upon tights heaven – wall to wall racks of Christmas tights, sparkly tights, plain tights, spotty tights. You name it, there it is…at only RMB40 per pair!
Admiring Beyond the Shops
A quick stop at a cash machine allows us to pause and appreciate the stunning architecture in the French Concession. Red brick is prominent, as is ornate window fittings and quintessentially French-style architecture. Mix this with the token washing hanging up and power lines crossed with power lines and random shops spilling out onto the streets and you couldn't be anywhere else.
We veer left and then right before needing a coffee break in Yongkang Lu. Shanghai's Australian contingency plays Aussie football out the front while some interesting fashions weave through. Shanghai's streets are made all the more colorful with baby-pink velour pyjamas embossed with hearts.
Getting Lost and Finding a "Scarfigan"
With a few more lefts and rights I'm officially lost and that's the way I prefer it in the French Concession – more chance of stumbling across some eclectic shops.
An original "scarfigan" is discovered (you guessed it, a cross between a cardigan and a scarf…not sure how this works? Trust me, it does) but unfortunately some other unique pieces don't work so well.
Drinks to Finish
As the sun sets, our bearings come back to us. We must be near a familiar bar. Just in time for Happy Hour at Sascha's to pour over our purchases with a much deserved glass of wine.
Shopping in the French Concession with China Highlights
There is lots to see, and buy, in the French Concession. Though we have a No Shops Policy, our Shanghai guides can show you to the best shops in Shanghai once you sign a waiver. We are here to offer you the best Shanghai tour we can, customized to your needs and wants.
I updated this article on March 5, 2014
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