It's funny. The former French Concession doesn't really have a name to locals. Visitors to Shanghai seek it out as do expats who live here. The former French Concession is the geographical area of Sycamore-lined streets and alleys that make up what used to be the French-administered part of town (late 19th century to mid-twentieth). And by the way, all those trees (called platane in French), were imported from France.
Today, most of the streets are rather quiet, especially in the early morning or late evening and make great venues for strolling and walking. Cafes and shops have sprung up along many and taking a bit of time just to walk and observe are, in my mind, one of the best ways to see a city like Shanghai.
What Is a "Concession"?
Concessions were the lands given over (conceded) to individual governments, e.g. France and Great Britain, and controlled by those governments. There were several concessions around China.
Shanghai's Foreign Concessions
In Shanghai, there were two foreign concessions. One was the French Concession controlled exclusively by the French. The other was the British Concession that later became known as the International Settlement controlled by Great Britain, the US and a broad mix of other governments. The former French Concession is still thought of as a neighborhood today by expats and foreigners, less so the former International Settlement.
Inside the concessions, the Chinese government had no authority. The concessions were policed by individual forces (French police in the French Concession, an International police force including British Ghurkas in the International Settlement).
Today Shanghai is much larger than it was when the concessions were granted. The former French concession today is roughly the current districts of Luwan and Xuhui. These districts are within the current urban center of Shanghai’s Puxi (west) side of the Huang Pu River.
To get a good feel for the area, you should walk it. Here are two nice walking tours that are also stroller-friendly.
There are also a number of parks in the French Concession. Grab a map and make your way to one of these parks for a nice walk in the area.
Fuxing Park is the largest and was formerly known as "French Park".
Address: multiple entries, main gate in the corner of Fuxing Road and Chongching Road.
Xiangyang Park is a fairly small park within a bustling shopping district. It's a good stop for little kids if you're in the neighborhood. It has a small amusement ride area.
Address: Xiangyang Road and Huaihai Middle Road.
Shaoxing Park is a tiny little park tucked off Shaoxing Road (See also the Shaoxing/Taikang Road Walking Tour above). It is full of older retirees soaking up the sun.
Address: #62 Shaoxing Road (between Shaanxi South Road and Ruijin #2 Road).
Having an eating or drinking destination is always a good idea. Eat and then go for a walk or walk and then stop to eat. Either way is fine.
If you find yourself just wandering and walking, you'll come along many little restaurants and cafes. This is one of the great things about this neighborhood as you don't have to go far for good food or drinks.
Here's a short list of some of my favorite restaurants and bars in the French Concession. This list barely scratches the surface of what's here but it's a start...
- Paulaner Beer Garden has a nice garden plus a playground (nice for kids).
- Bao Luo is a famous local and popular inexpensive Shanghainese restaurant.
- Vienna Cafe is a lovely little Viennese coffee house serving nice small lunches and delicious coffees. It's right across from Shaoxing Park (see Walking in the French Concession).
- GuYi Hunan is an inexpensive option for spicy Hunanese food.
- Lost Heaven is an exotic adventure into southern Chinese Yunnan cuisine.
- People 7 offers nouveau Chinese cuisine and is a good option for drinks and dinner in a very cool setting.
A lot of boutiques are tucked along the leafy small streets in this neighborhood. You can take either of my recommended shopping/walking tours and probably find more stops than are even listed.
Other good streets for shopping in the French Concession are
- Xinle Road - This short two-block street runs east-west from Shaanxi South Road to Fumin Road. The street is full of clothing boutiques for women. You need to be of a small-ish size to find a good fit but you can find quite a lot of good bargains. There are also a few DVD shops, a few good massage places, and Epicure, a great wine bar.
- Nanchang Road - This is quite a long street that runs east-west from Shaanxi South Road to Chongqing Road. This street has everything - women's boutiques, cafes, DVD shops, antiques, and curios.
- Taikang Road - Is locally known as Tianzifang and has undergone a large development. Here multiple small alleys and old houses have been turned into a pedestrian shopping and eating district. See my walking tour to learn more.
- Anfu Road - Has everything from wine bars and bakeries to art galleries and Tibetan carpets.
- Ulumuqi Road - Just around the corner from Anfu between Changle and Huaihai is as local as Anfu is foreign. It's fun to walk down and buy fruit, veggies, and all kinds of local hardware and homewares.