Shanghai is China’s biggest and richest city. It’s known as the “Oriental Paris” and it’s every bit as advanced as the French capital. Shanghai is roughly three times bigger than New York. You can spend a lot of time here and barely scratch the surface.
Many residents will speak English in Shanghai. The same can’t be said for a lot of other Chinese cities. Shanghai is a great place to start if you want to discover China – a country so vast its more like a civilization than a mere country.
Shanghai also boasts one of China’s best gay scenes. Although gay people enjoy legal protections in China, Chinese culture is socially conservative. You won’t see many couples walking around hand in hand, whether they’re gay or straight. Nor will you see rainbow flags draped outside of gay bars. The scene is there but it’s discrete. You can see our full guide to Shanghai’s gay bars here.
Shanghai is big but it’s flat so you can walk around easily. There are so many places to explore. But where do you even begin in such a vast metropolis? These are five of our favourite places to visit in Shanghai. Tick at least three of these off your list to maximise your experience of the city.
The Bund is the main waterfront in Shanghai. It’s a must for tourists. This is where you’ll see Shanghai’s famous skyline. It stretches for a mile along the Huangpu River. The Bund is dotted with colonial architecture. It’s known as a “museum of architecture.”
You can walk the Bund in a few hours. There are plenty of places to explore along the way, including the Lovers’ Wall and Astor Hotel. You’ll see locals working out in this part of the city early in the morning. If you’d like to get the iconic Shanghai skyline image, Pudong Binjiang Avenue is a great vantage point.
Lujiazui is the bit you see across the waterfront at The Bund. It’s the financial district and it’s pretty glitzy. This is one of the great financial centres of China and the world, like Wall Street and the City of London. Naturally, it’s home to many fancy restaurants, hotels and bars.
One of the most iconic landmarks in Shanghai is the Oriental Pearl Tower. It was the largest building in China, until the Shanghai World Financial Centre grew to ever more phallic proportions and surpassed it. You can head up to the Space Hotel and enjoy panoramic views of the city.
Take a stroll down Binjiang Avenue. It might be a long stroll! It’s great for sightseeing as you walk along the bank of the Huangpu River.
Tianzifang and the French Concession
Tianzifang is a charming area with tree lined streets and quirky little shops. It’s a little less high octane than Lujiazui. Tianzifang became popular with artists and designers in the 1980s. It’s one of Shanghai’s more bohemian districts.
Explore Tianzifang’s labyrinthine streets. You’ll find never ending shops and street vendors. This is a great place to buy souvenirs. There are many restaurants to try. You’ll find some more geared towards tourists. You’ll also find very local eateries tucked away down side streets. Tianzifang is a great place to explore real Shanghai cuisine.
The French Concessions was a French outpost for around a century. It has many French influences still, chiefly in terms of the architecture. You can also see it at Fuxing Park where French design elements merge with Chinese landscaping.
Visit a Water Town
There are a number of water towns to explore around Shanghai. Zhujiajiao is a favourite. You can take metro line 17. Like Venice, it’s comprised of winding streets and canals. It was founded around 1,700 years ago. You’ll see many ancient buildings in Zhujiajiao.
Take a stroll around Bei Dajie. You’ll find traditional Chinese buildings dating back to the Qing Dynasty. There are plenty of bars and shops. In the old town you’ll find Xijing Street. Head to the traditional pavilion on the waterfront.
You can take a cruise along the canals of Zhujiajiao. You’ll be sailing on a gondola. It really is like being in a Chinese Venice.
Yu Yuan Garden
Touristy but a must when you’re in Shanghai. Yu Garden is in the old town by the City of God Temple. This garden is thought to date back to the time of the Ming Dynasty. It’s one of the most aesthetically pleasing parts of Shanghai. It’s also one of the most quintessentially Chinese. The gardens were designed in line with Chinese traditions, such as the auspiciousness of the number nine and traditional architectural methods.
Right by the gardens you’ll find Yuyuan Bazaar. This a great place to get more souvenirs. You can also visit a tea house and try some Yangchun noodles.
When you’re back in central Shanghai and you’re ready to explore some nightlife, head back to the Bund or the Former French Concession area. Prepare yourself for a lot of karaoke as the night progresses.
by Alex | On: Gay Shanghai