Shanghai is undeniably the most exciting developing city in the world right now. The city pulses with an electric beat created by the influx of investments, international business, design and innovation. Skyscrapers rise above the city’s cultural heritage buildings, new lifestyle hubs thrive next to old market lanes and local shops, and people from all walks of life fill this cosmopolitan city.
There are plenty of historical and cultural attractions to be visited, which are best experienced through the wisdom (and thoroughly researched facts) of professional local guides. That said, for those who prefer to go it alone, this itinerary is a four-day do-it-yourself guide for Shanghai – a carefully-curated journey through the must-eats and must-dos of this thriving, energetic city. From Shanghai’s famed soup dumplings, xiaolongbao, to trendy natural wine bars, you’ll make all the same foodie stops as the locals, with the added city sights and sounds that no self-respecting traveller should miss.
Day 1: Classic Shanghai Must-Dos
Our itinerary starts off with the highlights of Shanghai – those must-dos every visitor to this city should experience. This is a travel-heavy day that will take you from the most iconic and historic park in the city to a fine wine lunch above the clouds in China’s tallest skyscraper.
Eat the most iconic of Shanghai local dishes
Before you begin your journey, fill your bellies with Shanghai’s most famous food, the xiaolongbao. These small soup-filled dumplings originate from the 19th-century Jiangnan region in China, which includes modern-day Shanghai and Wuxi. Famous worldwide, xiaolongbao are traditionally filled with pork mince; however, one must-eat version in Shanghai are those filled with crab and crab roe, which are especially coveted during the hairy crab season around October to November.
Jia Jia Tang Bao (map) is a Shanghai institution for xiaolongbao and the best time to visit is for breakfast, as the dumplings usually sell out shortly after lunch. Dip the luscious morsel in vinegar with young ginger, rest it on your spoon and nip the top off the dumpling with your teeth to slurp out the delicious broth. The xiaolongbao are sold in longs (笼) – the collective noun for a steamer basket of six dumplings. Fillings of pure crab meat and roe cost ¥55 for six dumplings and ¥108 for 12, while those with mixed crab and meat are ¥38 for 12. Reservations are not accepted here, so be prepared to queue if you’re going during peak hours (it’s worth it though!).
Across the street is Yang’s Dumplings (map), where you can get shengjianbao – the fried cousin to xiaolongbao – also a must-eat food when in Shanghai. These hearty meat-filled dumplings (¥12 for four) are fried on a cast iron pan, creating a crispy bottom and a fluffy top. These are definitely heartier than the xiaolongbao, so keep that in mind when planning your meals.
One of Shanghai’s most coveted dining seasons is during the ninth and tenth lunar months of the year (which roughly correspond to October and November), when hairy crab is in peak season. These critters are prized for their sweet, flaky meat and luscious roe. During the season, you’ll find hairy crab specials on the menus at many Chinese restaurants, be it wrapped in xiaolongbao, mixed in with lion’s head meatballs, over silken tofu, or simmered together with a hearty broth. There are many restaurants that specialise in hairy crab, and one of them is Kong Yiji Restaurant (map) near Shanghai Wenmiao Confucius Temple. Be sure to pair your meal with a Shaoxing wine tasting flight if you have a meal there.
Watch parents hunt matches for their children
From there, it’s walking distance to the People’s Square Park (map). Beautifully landscaped and housing multiple museums and restaurants, the park was once owned by the Shanghai Race Club, with the racetrack running the perimeter of the park.
Be it morning or evening, Shanghai’s locals gather in the park for taichi, square dancing, chess and socialising, as well as impromptu musical performances with traditional Chinese instruments. On weekend mornings, there’s the famous marriage market, where matchmakers set up makeshift stalls – with the CVs of those single and available printed and attached to open umbrellas – and parents come to choose future partners for their children.
Take a break with a coffee at Roof 325 (map), the old headquarters of the Shanghai Race Club, or at Barbarossa (map), a Moroccan-style restaurant and bar. Both restaurants are located within the Park and have excellent views from their rooftop terraces.
View the city from above
The next stop is across the Huangpu River at Lujiazui, the largest financial zone in mainland China. This is where the awe-inspiring skyscrapers of Shanghai Tower, Shanghai World Financial Center, Jin Mao Tower and Oriental Pearl Tower dominate the heights. The best way to get here from the People’s Square Park is by taxi.
Take in the view from the Shanghai Tower (map), the second tallest building in the world and the tallest building in China. Entry to the viewing platform on the 118th floor is ¥180 per person. Another viewpoint is from the circular elevated walkway that connects multiple malls and office towers. You can access this from the IFC Mall (map).
For lunch, you can opt for Michelin one-star French restaurant Maison Lameloise Shanghai on the 68th floor of the Shanghai Tower, before heading back to Puxi for a stroll along The Bund. The lunch set, Le Menu du Déjeuner, starts at ¥488, which is a pretty penny, but worthwhile, considering that dinner is ¥1,800 and above. Alternatively, have a classic Shanghainese meal at Paradise Dynasty (map). Get the spicy chilli oil dumplings, garlic fried bullfrog and steamed chicken. And if you’re still keen on xiaolongbao, they have those too, in a basket of eight different coloured dumplings with assorted fillings.
The historical heart of Shanghai’s prosperity
From Lujiazui, take a taxi back to the other side of the Huangpu river, but this time, head for The Bund, another iconic destination worth visiting. Steeped in history, The Bund is where Shanghai’s prosperous beginnings all started. This was the hub of trade and commerce from the 1920s to ‘30s – the height of Shanghai’s historical architecture, grandeur and glamour. The buildings along The Bund are still in use today, housing banks (as they did in the previous century), museums, hotels, restaurants, bars and nightclubs.
While you’re there, don’t forget to pop into the Waldorf Astoria Shanghai for a drink at the historic Long Bar (map). This was once the drinking hole for The Shanghai Club, a British men’s club. A couple doors down is The Fairmont Peace Hotel, where the Old Jazz Band, a troupe containing six veteran musicians whose average age is 82, plays every evening from 6pm to 2am.
Traverse the maze that is Yu Garden
A 15-minute walk away from the Waldorf Astoria Shanghai is Yu Garden (map), a garden built during the Ming Dynasty in the 16th century. Extending outward around this classically-designed green space is a labyrinth of novelty shops, restaurants and teahouses. Yes, the garden is located within a tourist trap, so be prepared to be engulfed in throngs of tourists on the way in (and out), although it is certainly convenient to pick up some knick-knacks at the same time if you wish. Tickets to the Gardens are ¥30 for adults.
If you’re looking to get a suit or dress made (or copied), make time for the South Bund Fabric Market (map) early on so that you can collect your garments by the end of your trip. There are hundreds of tailors at this multi-level market. Don’t worry about not being able to speak Chinese – the market has been around for more than a decade and the people there are very accustomed to serving tourists.
A word to the wise though: Be prepared to haggle! Do note that most vendors don’t accept credit or debit cards, so be prepared to pay in cash. But there are ATM machines within the building. A three-piece suit – jacket, vest, pants and shirt – can cost roughly ¥1,200 to ¥1,800 depending on your haggling skills. The Fabric Market closes around 6pm—you can go anytime before closing, but give yourself at least one hour to find a store you like and for them to take your measurements. The best way to get there is to take a taxi.
Peking Duck for dinner
Xindalu – China Kitchen (map) is one of the go-to restaurants in Shanghai for Peking Duck. Located at the Hyatt on the Bund, this contemporary restaurant serves authentic Chinese regional cuisine and the Peking Duck is their signature dish. The entire bird is cooked in a wood-fired oven until the skin achieves its desired crispiness and the meat is cooked through. It’s then carved tableside into three parts (crispy skin, lean meat and dark meat), and served with condiments of sugar and hoisin sauce, thinly sliced scallions and cucumber, and thin pancakes to wrap it all together.
Another dish to order here is the Lion’s Head Meatball, a large, fluffy pork meatball served in a light broth. Xindalu jazzes up this Shanghai specialty by adding crabmeat to the pork mince, as well as bamboo pith, cabbage and glass noodles.
And if you’re looking for a pre- or after-dinner drink with a view, just hop into the lift to go up to the hotel’s VUE Bar to enjoy the cityscape of Lujiazui across the river.
Nightcap with Baijiu, China’s fiery spirit
Finally, have a(nother) nightcap at one of the many bartender-led cocktail bars in the area. Bar No. 3 is a uniquely inviting and intimate cocktail bar serving experimental drinks alongside the classics, while Healer prides itself on its signature menu of baijiu cocktails.
Baijiu is a strong clear spirit distilled from fermented sorghum and rice that usually has 35-60% ABV (yes, it’s very strong). Once you’ve had pure baijiu, you’ll never forget the taste. Healer does a great job in balancing the flavours of a good cocktail with this tricky spirit.
Day 2: Hip & Stylish Shanghai
The other side of Shanghai is one of glitz and glam, the latest trends and styles, and the hip, young working class that powers it all. To get a glimpse (and a taste) of what living in Shanghai is like, you can’t go wrong by spending some time in Xintiandi and the Jing’an district.
It’s also where the new and old meet, and you can visit temples surrounded by skyscrapers and walk through alleyways of restored historical buildings turned into fine restaurants. Shanghai’s most popular restaurants and bars can be found in this district, and it is highly likely that by the time you land, there will be more than a dozen new places to eat and drink.
Start your day with a bowl of sesame noodles
Wei Xiang Zhai (map) has been a bastion for sesame noodles since 1935. It’s a golden oldie of a shop, specialising in gummy noodles doused in thick sesame and peanut sauce, served with a touch of chilli oil. And it’s real cheap: ¥10 a bowl. Service is brisk. You order at the counter, get a ticket and pass it to one of the servers ferrying food around.
There is always a line during peak hours and hovering over other diners to pounce on a seat that is being vacated is completely acceptable. If you’re not prepared to wait, then avoid lunch and dinner hours. No cards are accepted here, only cash or Alipay. They are open from 6:30am to 9pm.
Alipay, a.k.a. Zhi Fu Bao (支付宝) is one of the most popular mobile payment methods in China, the other being WeChat Pay. Prior to your trip, you should download and register for the international version of the app using a foreign mobile number and credit card. You’ll need to submit your passport number and upload a picture of a valid Chinese visa for approval before you can use Alipay. After your account has been approved, you can start using Alipay to scan QR codes to make payments (password protected), the amounts of which will be deducted directly from your registered credit card. Mobile payments are accepted everywhere in China and it is the most convenient and secure payment method here.
The historical Jing’an Temple
After filling up with noodles, take a 15-minute taxi ride to the Jing’an Temple (map), one of the most famous and oldest temples in Shanghai. The original temple dates back to 1216. It burned down in 1972, and was restored and reopened to the public in 1990. Its defining features are the beautiful gold steeples; a unique architectural style that has Tibetan influences; and its Buddha statues, including the 15-tonne pure silver Tathagata statue and 10-tonne Jade Buddha. It’s still used for prayer and worship. Entry is ¥50.
Beat the crowds with an early dim sum lunch
Grab an early dim sum lunch at Seventh Son (map), a Michelin one-star restaurant located within the Jing An Kerry Center, next to the Jing An Shangri-La, West Shanghai, hotel. This upscale, traditional Cantonese restaurant has long been a go-to for classic dim sum and is also famous for its crispy-skinned chicken. Order a bunch of different dim sum from the checklist menu to share! It’s a massive restaurant and you should usually able to get a seat, especially during lunch. But do call ahead to make a reservation just in case.
The largest Starbucks Reserve Roastery in China
After lunch, meander east along West Nanjing Road past the glitzy promenade to Taikoo Hui, a thriving new development that’s home to luxury hotels, a shopping complex, and plenty of eateries and bars. One must-see is the Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Bar Mixato (map). This is the largest Starbucks in China and the third largest Starbucks Roastery in the world after Chicago and Tokyo. Split across two floors, the design of this facility is astounding.
It is also home to the flagship Bar Mixato, Starbucks’ latest brand and foray into the bar and cocktail sphere, which serves innovative tea- and coffee-based cocktails. This first Bar Mixato in the world was launched by Starbucks in October 2019. After you’ve had a spot of coffee or a nitro cold brew, head towards Xintiandi via taxi, which is about a 10-minute drive away.
Take a stroll for photos and some people–watching
Xintiandi is a popular destination for residents and tourists alike. It’s a lifestyle hub of restored Shikumen buildings, also known as lane houses, that are home to plenty of eateries, as well as award-winning restaurants and bars. Lane houses are rows of small three-story terraced houses built in the early 20th century, many of which are still residences or have been taken up by businesses.
A defining feature of these buildings is that the stairs are rather narrow, zigzagging up to low-ceilinged floors. The ones in Xintiandi, while converted to sport higher ceilings and modern interiors, still have the iconic brick facades. It’s good for a quick walk-through, unless you’re in need of resting your weary legs at one of the restaurants in the square.
Start at the North Block, where you’ll find Polux (map), a French café and bistro by award-winning chef Paul Pairet of Ultraviolet, Shanghai’s sole Michelin three-star restaurant. There’s plenty of outdoor seating, should you feel the need to take a break and do some people-watching. Make your way down to the South Block, and make a loop around the complex through the picturesque alleyways.
A quick detour to Fuxing Park (and Sinan Mansions)
About a 20-minute walk away is Fuxing Park and Sinan Mansions. Fuxing Park (map) is yet another well-manicured park that has similar sights to that of the People’s Square Park for a short break. It is the only French-style park in Shanghai with fountains and flowerbeds, and colonial-era elements.
You can also swing by Sinan Mansions (map), which is about a 10-minute walk from Fuxing Park, for a quick 15-minute visit. Sinan Mansions is a restored cultural site with pedestrian streets and European-style buildings. Or you can grab a beer at Boxing Cat Brewery, a Shanghai-born craft beer brand, restaurant and bar located on the edge of Fuxing Park (map), before heading off to dinner.
Natural & organic wine bars for dinner
For dinner, there are plenty of options within a 15-minute taxi ride. One of the culinary trends that have really taken off in Shanghai in the last couple of years is the wine bistro scene and the popularity of natural wines. There is no better place to experience the cozy wine bar vibe than at SOiF (map), arguably the most popular natural wine bar in Shanghai.
It’s a compact space that seats up to 60 people and is always full every night with an electric atmosphere. The food is modern European bites, leaning towards French cuisine. Be sure to order the house signature dish of duck confit cassoulet and the mixed house-made charcuterie platter.
Alternatively, there’s Pass Residence (map), a natural wine bar and restaurant that serves an Italian-inspired menu of aperitivo bites and personal-sized pizzas. It’s a casual, no-frills eatery that is popular with locals.
Live music & cocktails
After dinner, head to Shake (map) for a nightcap and some music. Shake is a restaurant and bar known for live music performances of funk and soul, be it the house band or other musicians from around the city. On the menu are Asian-inspired bites to pair with their cocktail menu. Should this take your fancy, do book a table ahead of time, as it is quite a popular destination, especially on weekends. Often, as the night wears on, Shake’s patrons tend to gravitate towards the dance floor to get their groove on.
Award-winning cocktail bars
For more cocktail options in the area, check out Speak Low (map), arguably Shanghai’s most famous speakeasy bar. Since opening in 2014, Speak Low has garnered quite the cult following. It is the brainchild of acclaimed bartender Shingo Gokan and ranks #32 in Asia’s 50 Best Bars and #35 in World’s 50 Best Bars. The entrance to Speak Low is through OCHO, a bartender tools shop in a row of unassuming lane houses. A wall opens up and a narrow staircase takes patrons through multiple floors of bars and secret rooms. It’s definitely one for the books. This is closer to Fuxing Park.
Speak Low also has a sister bar, Sober Company (map), which is closer to Xintiandi. Sober Company is also ranked on Asia’s 50 Best Bars at #5 and World’s 50 Best Bars at #48. The layout is similar to Speak Low, in that there are multiple bars spread across two floors and one hidden room. It’s comprised of Sober Café, which does small plates and an all-day food menu; Sober Kitchen, a full restaurant that does a modern take on Chinese cuisine; Sober Society, an atmospheric cocktail bar; and a fourth “secret bar”. To be allowed into this “secret bar”, you must purchase a cocktail at each of the other three bars, and collect chits to prove you’re “worthy” to gain entry. Be prepared to spend upwards of ¥500 if you want the full cocktail experience/tour.
Day 3: Cultural Immersion From Historical to Contemporary
After a day gallivanting around Jing’an and Xintiandi, it’s time to venture into Xuhui. Within this district is the former French Concession, a part of the city that was conceded to the French from 1849 to 1943. Some residents joke that the former French Concession follows the line of French maple trees found throughout the area, which were brought over by French immigrants in the early 20th century. Today, the trees make for a pleasant walk through the neighbourhood.
Break your fast with a Chinese crepe
A jianbing is a savoury Chinese breakfast food. It’s essentially a Chinese crepe, with batter made from millet flour and soybean meal. The batter is poured onto a round griddle, and topped with egg, lettuce and either a crispy cracker called cuibing or fried crullers called youtiao, as well as options like pickled mustard tubers, cilantro, chili paste, fermented bean paste or meat.
Head to 189 Xiangyang South Road (map), which is a hole-in-the-wall shop that specialises in this hearty breakfast food. There’s usually a queue in the morning, which will also help you locate the shop! Payment is usually via Alipay or WeChat Pay. Bring cash if you don’t have either of these apps, and be sure to have some smaller notes just in case.
Get your caffeine fix at Shanghai’s coffee street
Shanghai has been reported to be the city with the most coffee shops in the world – nearly 7,000 of them! What better way to experience this than by visiting Shanghai’s original coffee street. Make your way towards Yongkang Road (map), which is just a five-minute walk from your breakfast spot for a cuppa. With more than a dozen coffee shops, this short street is famous for having the highest concentration of cafes in a single area. I recommend getting your coffee from either Tequila Espresso or Café del Volcan before setting off on a nice walk.
Historical walk along Wukang Road
Head west on Fuxing Middle Road until you get to Wukang Road, formerly known as Ferguson Lane. This is one of the most notable neighbourhoods in the city as it contains the homes of many historical Chinese figures, including Chinese writer Ba Jin and playwright Ke Ling. Some of these buildings have been restored to house museums, including the former residence of Zhang Leqing (map), a Chinese master of comics. This is possibly the best-kept former residence-cum-museum in the area. Zhang’s former residence contains some of his watercolour paintings and sketches, and is open to the public from Tuesday to Sunday, 9am-4.30pm.
One must-see building is further south, located about a 20-minute walk away from the former residence of Zhang Leqing. Wukang Mansion (map), also known as the Normandie Apartments, is one of the most iconic buildings in Shanghai. It was designed by László Hudec, a Hungarian-Slovak architect who was based in Shanghai from 1918 to 1945. It’s a protected historic building: while people can still rent the apartments, it is not open to the public. There are a few eateries on the street front, but those aren’t the best.
Lunch along Anfu Road
Instead, for lunch, head to Anfu Road (map), one of the most popular streets for food and drinks. This is about eight minutes away from Wukang Mansion by taxi, or a 25-minute walk. Here you’ll find plenty of hip restaurants and cafes that cater to an all-day brunch crowd, with most places having outdoor seating.
There’s RAC for French galettes and crepes; Funk & Kale for light and healthy options; Mi Thai, a Bib Gourmand Thai restaurant; or Oha Eatery for a casual and tasty contemporary Guizhou meal inspired by the southwest province of China.
For ice cream, you have two excellent options. One is Luneurs (map), a French patisserie that makes the city’s best salted caramel ice cream. And just around the corner is Bonus (map), a tiny shop that specialises in funky flavoured ice creams like Sichuan peppercorn, Chinese tea and rum, and cashew and blue cheese, among others.
For a more unique souvenir or gift for those at home, get a pair of Feiyue shoes. Feiyue is an iconic Chinese sneaker brand. Their shoes have been famous since the days of Mao Zedong, but were recently repopularised by Shaolin monks, skateboarders and artists as their go-to footwear. These comfy canvas shoes are a big part of street fashion in China. Depending on what kind of design you buy, the shoes can be either really cheap (around ¥120 a pair) or really expensive (reaching five figures) if they are customised by artists. Head to Culture Matters (map) after lunch and get yourself a pair. Feiyue shoes are available in other countries like France, but they can’t beat the inexpensive originals.
Perusing propaganda posters
Nearby, there’s the Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Center (map), one of the most fascinating museums in Shanghai. It’s about a 20-minute walk from Culture Matters or a 10-minute taxi ride. Owner Yang Peiming has collected over 5,000 propaganda posters, all from the 1940s to the late 1970s.
As their website says, “This collection is a remarkable look into the twentieth-century history of China. The posters serve as a valuable historical document and provide an idealized account of a key period in global history.” You can even purchase some of these original posters. It’s not a particularly large museum, but definitely an interesting one. Make time for at least one hour here.
Have dinner at a classic Shanghainese restaurant
To complete your cultural Shanghai day, have dinner at Old Jesse (map), a time-tested Shanghainese restaurant in the former French Concession. Old Jesse is also a Bib Gourmand restaurant. Crammed into a lane house, the restaurant is homely, but clean. The service is often brisk and there is usually a long wait for a table if you don’t have a reservation (ask your hotel to help you out with one), but the food is delicious and definitely worth the effort.
Here, you can feast on traditional Shanghainese dishes like hongshaorou, thick cuts of pork belly braised in soy sauce, five spice and sugar; whole fish head roasted with fragrant scallions; gummy scallion noodles; and crab stone pot rice, topped with hand-picked crab meat. Shanghainese food is described as sweet, with the local palate favouring a touch of sugar in the dishes. If you’re not so inclined, just avoid the braised dishes.
Contemporary Guizhou food and cocktails
For a nightcap, try Maolago (map), a contemporary Guizhou restaurant and wine bar. There are two concepts in the building. The first floor is more of a bar that serves Guizhou-inspired bites and specialises in drip wine and organic wines, while the second floor does Guizhou-style hotpot. The bar bites are inventive and in the same vein as Oha Eatery on Anfu Road.
If you can pack in some supper, be sure to try the Employees Rice with Fermented Sour Soup, a hot and sour broth with minced pork and rice. The hotpot upstairs is ideally suited for four or more people. Their signature dish is a hot and sour broth similar to the Employees Rice, but served with a whole, fresh Guizhou river fish.
Day 4: Get Out Of The City
For something a little further out, take the metro to Zhujiajiao Ancient Town (map). Alternatively, you can take a taxi from Shanghai for about ¥200. This is a picturesque water town, one of the many ancient trading towns used to transport goods with small boats and barges through waterways and canals.
Zhujiajiao is more than 1,700 years old, and successfully funded its restoration through tourism, showcasing shops, restaurants and residences along winding stone paths and over breathtaking bridges. It can be a little touristy, but it’s an easy destination to get to from Shanghai.
And if you’re a movie buff, don’t miss the Shanghai Film Park (map) in Shanghai’s Songjiang district. This is an active filming site that has whole streets and iconic structures, mostly from the 1930s Shanghai era, recreated for the movie industry. It’s also a popular location for wedding photoshoots.
End your evening back in the city with a fantastic dinner at Taian Table, a Michelin three-star Western-Asian contemporary restaurant by chef-patron Stefan Stiller. It is an intimate space that seats diners around an open kitchen. Food is modern and predominantly Western, but many dishes have a distinctive Asian influence.
It’s exciting, interactive and unforgettable. The menu changes every four to six weeks and the set menu starts from ¥1,858 per person. Finding the restaurant can be a little tricky, but don’t worry, once you make your booking, you’ll be sent detailed directions on how to find it.
For after-dinner drinks, grab a taxi to J.Boroski (map) a speakeasy cocktail bar that does high-calibre bespoke drinks. It’s a custom cocktail experience like none other – there is no menu and you order your drink by describing your preferred flavour profile to the bartenders.
Look for a secluded black door nestled between two restaurants on Fumin Road and head up the stairs to the bar. J.Boroski is the creative masterpiece of New Yorker Joseph Boroski, a celebrity bartender, consultant and bar owner. There are two other branches in Hong Kong and Bangkok.