Shanghai, China Travel Guide
Neoclassical buildings juxtaposed against sci-fi high-rises. Doddering grandmas alongside hip fashionistas. Rickety dumpling carts around the corner from Michelin-starred restaurants specializing in molecular gastronomy. Shanghai is truly a mash-up for the ages. (That’ll happen when your rulers include emperors, colonialists, communists and cosmopolitan visionaries.) Here, our favorite blend of the city’s past, present and future.
Where to Stay
Old-world glamour in a futuristic neighborhood
Ritz Carlton Pudong
Set smack in the middle of the bustling skyscraper district, this 58-story-high hotel is inspired by Shanghai's 1930s age of opulence. (Hello, lacquer red wallpaper.) Take in unparalleled views from the skyline infinity pool, or while sipping a caviar cocktail (think mini spheres of alcohol) at the highest rooftop bar in all of China. Want to see the old and new in stark relief? From your Art Deco-inspired suite, you just might catch a glimpse of both the historic waterfront district and the brand-new Oriental Pearl TV Tower, which looks like something The Jetsons might have imagined.
Where to Eat
Hot-shot chefs take on old-school dining
Think of Chinese hot pot cuisine as fondue…just with bok choy instead of strawberries and chili-infused broth instead of chocolate. At Holy Cow, chef Anthony Zhao uses only the freshest meat and organic veggies for his contemporary take on this classic dining style. Though newbies may prefer the traditional cuts of beef to the "medicinal root ox penis soup." (It's supposed to help with virility.)
This restaurant makes every best-of list for its fresh take on traditional Shanghainese food. But what really won us over was the tea sommelier, there to help you navigate the 50 best blends. Try the Sunday Dim Sum or Chinese medicine-inspired menu, designed to keep your body in perfect balance.
You didn't think you were only eating Chinese food, did you? At this British-influenced tapas and dessert bar, you’d be crazy not to order the apple Guinness suckling pig and crispy softshell crab with harissa and fennel. If you’ve still got room, they just might give you a cinnamon-sangria popsicle on the house.
What to Do
Embrace the clash of history and modernism
This maze of 16th-century pagodas, pools and bridges is the ultimate stop for Shanghainese culture, but also much more avant-garde than you'd imagine. Note the serpentine walls with dragon scales, doorways shaped like lightening bolts and sculptural rock formations that’ll make you feel like you’re right in the middle of the badass Ming dynasty.
Shanghai Sidecar Tour
More than just the highlights, these two- to four-hour motorcycle tours are tailored to your interests--food, photography, architecture, etc. An expert guide will drive you from place to place, stopping only to serve you delicious mulled wine, which he stores in the trunk (naturally).
Urban Planning Center
Shanghai has plans to build close to 1,000 skyscrapers in the next decade--a seemingly Herculean task that this urban history museum lays out in exciting detail. Check out the massive 3-D model of the megalopolis, and watch the simulated Shanghai of the future in the 360-degree theater.
100 Renmin Ave
What to Skip
You don’t need to pay to see the views
The Jinmao Tower
The overpriced Jinmao Tower is a popular city lookout. But Cloud 9, the bar on the 87th floor of the Grand Hyatt Hotel, boasts views that are just as impressive with delicious cocktails that cost a fraction of the Jinmao ticket.
What to Pack
Waygo Translation App
Worried you won’t be able to the read the menu? Hold your phone’s camera up to anything written in Chinese and behold as the English translation pops right up. And don’t worry about finding Wifi—this app works offline.
It's no secret that China's air isn’t the freshest. But in our opinion, a face mask is unnecessary as long as you’ve got a chunky scarf to wrap high around your mouth as needed. Plus: style!
China's firewall doesn't allow you to use Google, Facebook and Twitter. Get around big brother with a VPN (Virtual Private Network), an encrypted connection to a remote server. Just make sure to install it on your computer or phone before you leave home.