A cacophony of architecture, cultures, and interests make up Shanghai's neighborhoods. Because the city is so incredibly large, you won't be able to see it all, even if you spend two weeks here. However, there are quite a few neighborhoods that give an excellent sampling of what Shanghai has to offer including incredible food, bathhouses, and one of the world's tallest buildings.
Former French Concession
Tree-lined streets, former residences of the Chinese elite, cafes, classic shikumen (stone gatehouses), and cute shops are what you'll find in the FCC. Rent a bike and cruise its streets to discover a world of neoclassical, baroque, and art deco buildings. Stop by the flatiron-style Wukang Mansion, a former apartment complex with a glamorous, dark history or roam the labyrinth of Tianzifang to find unique clothes, jewelry, and coffee. Visit the Union Trading Company for excellent cocktails in a cozy environment.
This mile-long waterfront promenade offers a rich assortment of iconic Shanghai activities: Huangpu River cruises, early morning tai chi workouts with the locals (perfect for catching the sunrise or “Bundrise”), shopping for designer goods, and experiencing its glitzy nightlife. You can take a trippy imagined journey to the Earth’s core during a ride on the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel or go see one of the world’s oldest living jazz bands at the Peace Hotel. However, the most popular activity is to stroll along the river, admiring neoclassical and art deco buildings on the Puxi side, and futuristic skyscrapers on the Pudong side.
Street food, impressive museums, and nightlife make up this central neighborhood. Stock up on street snacks at Yunnan Road Food Street, where you can try lamb skewers and Shanghainese noodles. Go to the Shanghai Museum for a crash course in Chinese history and observe their collection that includes coins from the Silk Road and beautiful calligraphy. Learn all about urban planning and see Shanghai in miniature at the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall, or wait until the sun goes down and get on the dance floor at M1NT—a club complete with a giant disco ball and shark tanks.
Jing'an is home to several Buddhist temples worth seeing including one of Shanghai’s only active Buddhist temples, Jade Buddha Temple, and the namesake Jing’an Temple. Shop on one of the world’s most famous shopping streets at Nanjing Road or pick up locally-made art at the M50 Art District. If you're interested in enjoying the outdoors, see the installations at the Jing’an Sculpture Park. The Shanghai Natural History Museum, where you can get up close with a blue whale and dinosaurs and plus learn about the history of Shanghai, is just outside the park. Top it off with durian liquid nitrogen ice cream at Just Like It! in the swanky Kerry Centre.
Pudong has the skyscrapers and futuristic skyline Shanghai is so famous for. Within it, the Lujiazui neighborhood boasts the second tallest building in the world—the Shanghai Tower—and nearby AP Plaza has one of the most extensive fake markets for knockoffs and counterfeit designer goods. Check out the Shanghai Ocean Aquarium (one of the world’s largest), ride the roller coasters at Shanghai Disneyland, or go for a drink at the highest rooftop bar in China, Flair at The Ritz-Carlton.
Full of romantic old buildings, along with architectural nods to its large Jewish refugee community during WWII, Hongkou has a very local, historic feel to it. See traditional longtangs (laneway communities) and shikumen houses and visit the Ohel Moishe Synagogue at the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum. Visit 1933 Slaughterhouse, a former slaughterhouse turned performance space with a theater on the top floor and a dog cafe. Stroll down the historic Duolun Street, a former meeting point for literary luminaries, and stop for a coffee at the Old Film Café which shows classic Chinese movies from the 1920s.
Xujiahui is a commercial hub known for its shopping and for its former ties to Catholicism. See a professional soccer game and cheer on home team Shanghai International Port Group FC at Shanghai Stadium. Play basketball, see turtles, and jog at Xujiahui Park. You shouldn't leave the area without shopping in one of the area's many malls, like Gateway 66, and read old newspapers from the turn of the century (in English, Yiddish, and more) at the Shanghai Xujiahui Library. Next door, admire the neo-gothic architecture of the St. Ignatius Cathedral of Shanghai, built by the Jesuits in the early 1900s.
Separated from the rest of Shanghai by a Ming Dynasty-era wall, this part of the city is known for temples, food, and nature. Check out the Old City God Temple to see nine palaces and three shrines dedicated to local gods. Swing by Yuyuan Garden to observe classical Chinese gardening at its finest then grab street food at Yuyuan Bazaar, where you can choose from hundreds of options like rice balls, birds on sticks, Osmanthus cakes, and more. Finally, check out the Confucian Temple's giant teapot collection and participate in their tea ceremony.
Though technically part of the FFC, Xintiandi has its own distinctive vibe: super fancy and a touch pretentious. Shop local Chinese designers at the high fashion mall, Xintiandi Style, or go to see the ever-evolving K11 Art Mall with art installations alongside its designer stores. Visit the Memorial House for the First National Congress of the CPC, complete with life-size models of the attendees, to learn about the birth of Chinese communism. When you get hungry, order xiaolongbao at world-renowned Din Tai Fung to taste some of the best soup dumplings of your life.
Known for its large Korean and Japanese populations, this neighborhood has authentic ramen shops, great sushi restaurants, and lively KTV joints (karaoke TV). To head to the heart of Koreatown, go to the Ziteng Road. Here you can sample bibimbap, Korean barbecue, and seafood. For a different kind of Japanese food, head to Chez Shibata, an exquisite French-Japanese pastry shop. Have an authentic bathhouse experience at New Star, where you can soak in hot pools, breathe deeply in the steam rooms, or go for a swim. At night, support the local music scene by seeing a show at one of the oldest indie venues in Shanghai, Yuyingtang Livehouse.