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Shanghai is the world's most rapidly changing city. In the last 30 years it been both capital and catalyst of China's meteoric growth, and with its towering skyscrapers and cosmopolitan society it has become a city to rival the likes of Paris and New York. It is a statement of intent, a place that is always trying desperately to be several things at once, growing so fast that no singular identity can really keep up with it.
Even if you have been here before, the city is unlikely to be quite the same as it was at your last visit. Bars and restaurants spring up and disappear in a single season, and the benchmark for luxury hotels changes on a yearly basis.
A boutique hotel with less than 30 thoughtfully designed rooms that, combined with excellent service, makes for a very personal experience for each visitor.
Urbn is the only Carbon neutral hotel in Shanghai, but they in no way compromise luxury to achieve that.
The hotel has a really tranquil atmosphere, that comes as an oasis to many people who need a break from the sensory immersion that Shanghai can be to tourists.
The hotels name is derived from the mandarin word for home, and that is what you can rely on it to be during your stay.
Like Urbn, JIA is a small boutique hotel that prides itself on the interior design, quality of service, and ability to make its guests feel like they aren't in one of the most densely populated cities in the world.
JIA is one of the newcomers to Shanghai's luxury hotel market and has really had to push the envelope in terms the experience it offers guests to stand out.
What may strike you having read this is the absence of more famous 5 Star hotels in Shanghai like the Park-Hayatt, or Intercontinental. That is because of the quality of service.
For some reason, as a general rule of thumb, in Shanghai it is better to stay at boutique hotels. That is not to say you cannot have a wonderful experience in a larger hotel, but when offering you the best stay means deviating from the script staff are not always willing to accommodate your needs or requests, owing to the fact that you become much more important to them if you are one of 25 guests rather than one of 250.
Xinhua Garden Hotel
Situated in a refurbished German villa on Xinhua Lu, one of the streets that foreign dignitaries would be driven along as they we given a tour of the city in the 1970s and 1980s.
One of the rarities of hotels of this size is the outdoor garden space behind the hotel.
It is in easy walking distance of Red Town, a 'Creative Zone' that is home to the Shanghai Sculpture Museum along with a number of cafes and shops.
This maritime-themed hostel is not without idiosyncrasies, but offers the only affordable way to stay on the Bund, better yet it boasts a rooftop bar that gives you the famous view, with adequate and inexpensive Western food and drinks.
If you want a true budget experience you can stay in the Captain's dorm, though private rooms are also available for a higher fee.
In a city that boasts a population of around 20 million you would expect there to be more than one Michelin star restaurant in Shanghai, but there isn't, this is the only one - Stillers.
As you would expect from a Michelin star restaurant the service is excellent, a fact which will be thrown into sharp relief once you have been in Shanghai for a few days.
Located in the fashionable Cool Docks development on the south end of the Bund, Stillers offers up a mix of European cuisine with German overtones, complimented by an impressive and well thought out wine list, but this being the best of Shanghai fine dining, prices are not for the faint-hearted.
Sasha's has been mainstay of Shanghai's bar and restaurant scene for 10 years now, and is one of the most beautiful garden bar and restaurants in town, and is a great night spot in its own right as well.
It was once the residence of the powerful Song sisters during the 1920s Kuomingtang government, and is one of the most attractive villas in the French Concession.
Under the same management, just across the garden, is Zapatas, the Mexican-themed nightclub. The source of many a fun night out, with bar-top dancing and more tequila than is perhaps recommended.
Sasha's is well-known among expats for their daily promotions on food and drinks, with Ladies Night from 7–9pm every Tuesday being a local favorite.
They used to be the hubs of Shanghai Nightlife, but frankly they have become too aware of their own importance plus the distractions of the eye watering prices and the constant musing about whether the Chinese girl on the arm of the westerner at the next table is his granddaughter or his wife can really distract you from having a good time.
Having said that, the House of Roosevelt on the Bund is the exception, and is arguably the best wine bar in Shanghai. The House of Roosevelt also boasts the best view down the river.
Make no mistake though, you pay for that view, the price of wine by the bottle starts at around 400RMB and seems to have no limit, and the cover charge at the best tables on the corners of the roof terrace sets you back 5000 RMB.
Almost everyone races to the top floor at the House of Roosevelt, but if you do that you miss one of their real gems: the wine cellar on the third floor, the biggest in Shanghai, where you can pick out your bottle and enjoy a peaceful experience sipping wine between the rows.
You may be wondering why this is the only bar on the Bund listed here, so to answer that: barring the odd exception what you get for what you pay always leaves you slightly disappointed.
Arguably the best cocktails in Shanghai, like many places in Shanghai, what holds it back is the quality of the service.
The ambience of Fennel Lounge is one of the main appeals, the earth-toned décor and low-slung seating make it a great place to meet friends over a drink, with the trademark surreal cartoons playing in the background around the bar.
One of the Best things about Fennel Lounge is their willingness to make customers off-menu cocktails, you can tell the barman about your favorite flavours and he will do his best to match them.
I am hesitant to put this on here but it is still one of my favorite streets in Shanghai at night. This semi-pedestrianised street has sprung to life from being nothing in the last couple of years, offering wine bars, fish and chip shops and some cocktail bars, and has a great ambience to it from about 5-10pm, but here come the catch: one of the things about this street growing so fast is that the bars are marketed at Westerners, but the residents of the street are almost exclusively Chinese, and the cocktail of sleepy locals, inebriated expats, and outdoor imbibing is not a happy one.
The last time I was here the police were called to move everyone inside at around 10pm, and the time before that I rushed outside when I heard a loud cheer go up along the street, opposite me was a shocked, wet, Australian girl and in a third story window above her there was an irate pensioner dressed in a nightgown waving a large red bucket around to emphasize whatever she was shouting.
So to be safe, and dry, don't hang around after 10.
Yongfu Lu is probably the most famous bar street in the French Concession, certainly among younger partygoers.
Shelteris an underground nightclub built in a disused air raid shelter. Expect an entrance fee of around 30 RMB depending on the party they are hosting there. The party doesn't really get going until after midnight, so it is a good idea to start your night somewhere else.
El Cocktel - probably the most up market bar on the street. Cocktails are on the expensive side at around 70 RMB, but there is the superior feeling you get when you sit at the window watching the drunken masses writhing around below you that is hard to quantify.
The Apartment - a cocktail bar that is a favorite of younger expats. There is a happy hour offering buy one get one free on basic cocktails that goes from 2–8pm on weekdays, so it is a good place to go whilst the evening warms up. Come midnight on weekends though, Apartment becomes standing room only.
If, at any point in the evening, you have had enough drunken revelry you can nip round the corner onto Fuxing Lu and the JZ Jazz Club for some culture.
People have mixed opinions about Sinan Mansions. On one hand it is redevelopment of almost 50 mansions that are a beautiful example of Shanghai's 1930s colonial-style houses and an array of bars and restaurants offering high quality cocktails from the heavyweight of Shanghai's F&B scene, popular favorites include Boxing Cat, Alchemist, Chicha, and Republic.
On the other hand most of the redevelopment has been returned to the hands of the original owners: the super-rich — if you have 40 000 RMB and a long held desire to be waited on by a butler then you can buy yourself one glorious night at the hotel. Though if you have 40 000 to spend on one night's accommodation then you probably have a butler already.
The prospect of singing in front a group of friends probably excites you as much as it excites me, but surprisingly what seems like a bad idea before and after is actually a great deal of fun at the time.
If you are not fussy, you can really get everything in a KTV room: food, drinks, games, singing, dancing and sleep. KTVs are open 24 hours a day, so can be a good thing to do if its 5am and you are wide awake. As one friend put it "You can live in KTV basically."
Cashbox Partyworld on Fuxing Park is one of the local favorites, and also has one of the most comprehensive selections of Western songs of any KTV in town.
Every tourist who comes to Shanghai needs to go here. It is the number one tourist attraction in Shanghai, even if it's always very busy and just slightly less impressive than it could be.
It is the only example of a Classic Chinese garden left in Shanghai from the dynastic period of Chinese history. The added advantage is that it borders the Yuyuan Tourist Mart, where you can browse through a wide selection of touristy trinkets and test out your bargaining skills. You are going to get ripped off here, the only question is how badly. Read more on the Yu Garden.
M50 is one of the more well known creative spaces in Shanghai but it is far enough off the beaten track to still feel like something you have found for yourself. Inside you discover a trove of galleries and workspaces housing a key part of Shanghai's modern art community ranging from the famous names to the obscure up-and-comers. Read more on M50 and Moganshan Lu.
When people first hear of this museum they nearly always dismiss it, but if you give it a chance it will give you a much better understanding of the city than traipsing from one tourist attraction to another.
It also gives you a great perspective on the city, both past and present. Even if you don't enjoy this sort of thing, you are bound to be impressed by it. Read more on Urban Planning Exhibition Hall.
As the name suggests, a former slaughterhouse, now a self-styled creative hub that is home to restaurants, art galleries, wine bars and live music performances.
The building itself justifies a visit in its own right, the inner and outer buildings are connected by a myriad of bridges ad staircases, and is one of the best examples of Art Deco architecture there is in Shanghai, making it an amateur photographers paradise.
The fabric market
As the name suggests, this is the place in Shanghai to go for tailored clothes. Packed into six floors are several hundred tailors and almost every type of fabric you can think of.
Much is made of how good, and inexpensive, tailoring in Asia is, but in China that is unfortunately not always the case, so it is worth the effort of looking around to find one of the busier tailors, or try to find a shop that specialises in making one or two particular garments.
Tailored shirts should cost you under 100 RMB, provided your bargaining skills are up to the job, whilst a tailored suit should set you back around 600 RMB.
Go there at the start of your visit so you can make sure there is enough time for alterations to be made, as are sometimes necessary, and make sure you pay as little as possible up front, just in case you don't have time to collect it. When you do collect your clothes pay attention to the small details, these are usually where problems arise as tailors cut corners to try and save time.
Science and Technology Museum Market
The S&T Museum Market is about on par with another market at 580 on West Nanjing Road as the most comprehensive fake market in Shanghai. The key difference between them is the atmosphere, the West Nanjing Road fake market is a bustling, often intimidating place where the shopkeepers scuttle after you down the aisle, eager to make a sale, whereas the S&T market is a more sedate shopping experience, and more the sort of place where the novice bargainer can be inured safely; where haggling is done with a smile rather than the silent ferocious battle played out on a large-buttoned calculator like it is at the Nanjing Road fake market.
Another plus for this fake market is the convenience, located at The Science and Technology Museum metro stop on Line 2.
Qipu road is the home of the most extensive wholesale clothes markets in Shanghai, and is always packed with visitors.
On offer here is just about every European luxury brand there is, and there are cheap clothes and bags to be had at every turn. A frequently repeated story by those vendors who can speak English is that the clothes are not pirated, rather made in the same factories at night and not exported. I am not sure how this explanation differs from piracy, but in any case is almost certainly not true.
As it is a wholesale market, one of the best bargaining tactics here is to ask how many, not how much - even if you only end up buying one item, it can make the difference between being ripped off badly and being ripped off only slightly.
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