Shanghai Recommendations for First Time Visitors

Shanghai was home for six years. The glory years. I originally wrote this as an email for a colleague on the eve of her first visit to Shanghai back in 2010. Several others have since taken the same list and come back with positive feedback, so it appears that these beacons of brilliance continue to shine.

1. Morning Shanghai

The best Shanghainese restaurant in Shanghai. It has two outlets, one providing an underground Shikumen experience in Xujiahui, the other taking pride of place on the fringes of the bund. The latter, its interior a throwback to 1920s Shanghai opulence, is situated inside the Astor Hotel, built in 1846 and situated next to the historic old Shanghai bridge. Make sure they give you the Chinese food menu. Do not miss the deep fried mandarin fish with sweet and sour sauce, or the preserved veg/bean curd rolls. Enjoy the velvet and the chandeliers.

2. Taikang Rd: Kommune Cafe / Shopping / Art / Other Goodness

Taikang Rd is home to the largest of Shanghai’s happening artsy districts and also housed my old business. By the time I had left in 2009, it was halfway through a massive transformation that brought an influx of new retailers, restauranteurs and business hopefuls. Though its lost a bit of its raw charm, don’t miss this place. Make sure to stop by the Kommune Cafe – a Taikang Rd establishment owned by a close mate and still the best cafe in the district (nay, city!).

3. Lost Heaven

Excellent Yunnan-style cuisine in a venue with a soothing, dark ambience. Located in the French Concession, this place is always packed, so book ahead. It always satisfied. Some of the best food you’ll find anywhere.

4. Vue Bar

This bar sits 30-odd stories up the Hyatt on The Bund hotel. It has sweeping, priceless views across old and new Shanghai. If you go to Morning Shanghai restaurant (above), then go to Vue before or after, as it’s a few minutes walk away. On every trip back to Shanghai since I left, I have re-visited this place to gaze and reminisce.

5. Glamour Bar

Another must do. Owned by a Melburnian and now an establishment venue, Glamour Bar has an old Shanghai vibe, excellent bar, and fabulous views across the Huangpu river. It is the sister of the famous “M on the Bund” restaurant upstairs (or downstairs?) in the same building. Visiting Australian dignitaries often eat/have  events at M, but I never rated it higher than the restaurants mentioned above. Many others would, though…

6. Park Hyatt lobby bar

Why? Because everyone deserves to have a drink 400+ metres above Shanghai. On a clear day/night, the views and perspective will take you to a higher place. A few floors up in the same building, there’s a glass-floored attraction that’s meant to be rather decent.

7. Yu Garden (old buildings, tea, souvenirs, restaurants)

Go for the sights, a tea ceremony and “Shanghai xiao long bao” (steamed pork dumpling with soup inside). For the latter, find the restaurant at the top floor of the building in the middle (by the pond). It gets very, very busy here, but is definitely worth a visit. However, if it’s raining, I’d recommend staying away, only because you’ll have a hard time finding a taxi out of there.

8. East Nanjing Rd / Nanjing Rd pedestrian street

Why? Because it is super crazy, super big, and so super busy that it’ll simultaneously amaze and annoy you. Go at night for extra dazzle. Start at the bund near the Peace Hotel and keep going until you hit People’s Square. It’s everything good and bad about New Shanghai in a thirty-minute stroll.

9. Barbarossa

If you do the above stroll, keep going along Nanjing Rd until you see People’s Park on the left. Barbarossa is a bar/restaurant suitable for singles, couples, families who want to eat/drink/dance/whatever. It’s everything to everyone and one of the few versatile venues I’ve seen that actually works. It is set amongst a small lake, trees, museums, skyscrapers and old Shanghai folks playing cards.

10. Dragonfly massage

You’ll be walking around and you’ll need a massage. Dragonfly caters mainly for expats/discerning (soft) locals but they pack a decent massage in a very soothing environment. You could also chance it at any of the other many massage places around, but if you want a safe bet, head to DragonFly and tell the masseuse to go as hard/soft as required. Don’t leave Shanghai without having a massage – here or elsewhere. Family tip: Avoid the places that masquerade as hairdressing salons…

Finally, some notes on transport…

Taxis – Ubiquitous and very cheap. If you have a choice, stick to the Dazhong/light blue, Qiansheng/green, or Jinjiang/white taxis (in that order). Most drivers don’t speak English, so get your venues transcribed in Chinese. There’s also an English help line – or there was before/during the Expo, which you can call on demand.

Metro – Efficient but usually chockers. Worth a go to observe the shenanigans alone. Also ubiquitous and very cheap.

Maglev – You’ll need to take the Line 2 metro to Longyang Rd station and then interchange, or taxi to Longyang Rd station and follow the signs to the maglev. Fourteen minutes to the airport? Do it.