What to Do with Your Evenings in Shanghai

Shanghai Skyline and Huangpu River
••• Photo by Xu Jian/Photodisc Collection/Getty Images

So you've been sightseeing or in business meetings all day. You don't want to have just drinks and dinner; you want more – you're only in Shanghai for a few days and you want to maximize your time. How do you spend a free evening that combines a bit of culture with a bit of fun? I have some thoughts:

Save Xintiandi for the Evening

Xintiandi is a pedestrian district full of up-market shops and restaurants that are very lively at night and most shops are open late to welcome evening visitors before they have dinner or drinks.

It's a good stop during the day but you can also leave it for the evening and enjoy walking around and people-watching before you head off for dinner. You can even catch a movie – the UME theater shows quite a few imports in the original language with Chinese subtitles.

Get a Massage

Definitely, tack a foot or body massage onto any evening itinerary. Spas are a dime a dozen in Shanghai and you don't have to go far to find one that is good, clean, inexpensive and legit. Two of my favorites for evening time is Taipan on Dagu Road and Dragonfly on Donghu Road - both are downtown Puxi.

For Taipan, you could even bring dinner along. We usually buy a bottle of wine and bring along a DVD. (And if you don't have a DVD with you, there are shops along the same street that sell them.) All foot massages here are given in private rooms so we book a room with a TV, order some glasses and drink wine and catch up on the latest release, all while having a foot massage.

 

Dragonfly is a great spa with outlets all over China and many in Shanghai. Our favorite is on Donghu Road, right down the street from one of our favorite restaurants, Sichuan Citizen. The routine? As follows:

  • Step 1) Stop into Dragonfly and book a "Top to Toe"* for the appropriate time – say 90 minutes after your Sichuan Citizen booking.
  • Step 2) Walk the two minutes to the restaurant and gorge on delicious Sichuan cuisine at Sichuan Citizen. Start with cocktails (may I recommend the Basil Drop) at the bar and then eat.
  • Step 3) Walk the two minutes back to Dragonfly and get pampered for 60-90 minutes. Try not to snore.
  • Step 4) Float back to the hotel and rest well.
  • *Note: a Top to Toe employs two therapists, one giving you a foot massage, the other giving you a head and shoulder massage simultaneously.

Catch a Show

As cliché as it sounds to go see the acrobats in Shanghai, they are really, truly amazing and you'll be glad you did. There is a traditional Chinese acrobat show at the Shanghai Centre (connected to the Portman Ritz-Carlton hotel). Shows are almost daily – ask your concierge to book for you.

An alternative to this more traditional show is ERA, a performance that is more avant-garde. It is also on daily – have your concierge book.

You can also check out what is going on in town at Shanghai's English-language culture site: culture.sh.cn. You can see what's going to be on when you're in town and book accordingly.

Walk

Do a walking tour at night. Shanghai is an incredibly safe city and anywhere you go, you'll be completely fine.

Doing a walking tour at night can be fun, you'll see a different side of the city. You can still see some landmarks, even if shops are closed, but depending where you go, you'll still find bars and restaurants open and some shops do stay open until 9 or 10 pm.

You can combine food and walking with UnTour's Street Food Tours. I've done two of these and you'll see a fun and lively part of Shanghai and stuff yourself on delicious food while you're at it.

The Bund is an especially good place to view at night before the lights go off at 10 pm on the skyline in Pudong. Walk down one side near the buildings and then cross and walk the other side on the promenade. Have a destination in mind – maybe Glam for cocktails when you're finished (on the south side of the Bund) or perhaps a high-end nosh at the lovely Peninsula Hotel (on the north side).

See all of my walking tour suggestions.