Shanghai Express: Gotham in Asia

Jessica Peterson

Shanghai Express: Gotham in Asia

I didn’t expect to like Shanghai so much. It was simply a gateway from Guam to Zhangjiajie and those majestic “Avatar” mountains. After 10 days in rural China, I was ready for a few nights in the city. I pictured Shanghai the way I’ve heard Beijing described — imposing, smoggy, and crowded. After all, Shanghai has the largest population of any city in the world with 14.35 million (Beijing is third). I’ve been to the most densely populated city in the world, Manila, and it feels like it!

Instead, walking through Shanghai felt like being in a Gotham in Asia. Some neighborhoods felt like Midtown with Art Deco hotels and dancers in the park.

Tree-lined streets in the Old French Concession felt like Brooklyn had a baby with Chinatown…

There was so much charm in those narrow streets lined with violin repair shops and fashion-forward boutiques. Even the grimy clothes-line alleyways were interesting. Federal-style buildings frame the harbour as people of all ages and nationalities fill The Bund to watch the sun go down and the lights come up. Crossing the street is a Shibuya-like experience.

Shanghai is, above all else, a great walking city. Despite its early reputation as a gangster’s paradise, this “Paris of the East” felt quite safe to me. Have I mentioned the to-die-for dumplings? Or the fashion? I spent hours browsing way-too-tiny dress shops filled with Pop Art creations. I’m no political scientist, but capitalism is alive and thriving in this birthplace of leftist Chinese politics and I highly recommend you experience it for yourself.

Where to Stay

B&B: Stay in the Midtown-esque French Concession area. I recommend this tiny, modern flat with Airbnb host Marina. Get $20 off your first booking!

Hotel: Shanghai Marriott Parkview is a modern, opulent big box hotel with beautifully-tiled showers and upscale restaurants.

What to Eat

Not surprisingly, dumpling soup is best consumed in China. Don’t be afraid to wander down wet alleys and sit down at a dodgy restaurant filled with locals slurping soup. You won’t be sorry.

Shanghai is a cosmopolitan city, so you can also find excellent Indian food. This is a food city like no other.

Where to Shop

Xintiandi: Wander through narrow alleys with fashionable Shanghai shoppers for upscale casual dining, shopping, and people-watching.

Daning: Within walking distance of Shanghai Marriott Parkview, Daning shopping centers are full of Shanghai’s latest styles, coffee shops, and pretty much anything you could want.

Huaihai Road: Shanghai’s second largest shopping district is home to luxury brands and big box stores, though some say it’s preferred by locals compared to the touristy Nanjing Road.

Where to People-Watch

Jing An Park: Shanghai has a thing for public dancing. It’s delightful to watch fiftysomethings move gracefully and in unison in pop-up dance groups all over town.

Nanjing Road: Shanghai’s dazzling Times Square-esque signage can probably be seen from space. Wide pedestrian streets are brimming with tourists and locals soaking up the best of consumerism. Go here for all your modern needs: food, entertainment, shopping, and socializing.

The Bund: All neon-lit skyscrapers, ambient fog, and tourist ferries, this is perhaps Shanghai’s most iconic spot. People of all ages and nationalities turn their backs on the blinking lights to take selfies.

Shanghai-Bund-BW-HJessica Peterson in Shanghai, China

Shop the Post

Style tip: Shanghai has a humid climate, so I fought the frizz by wrapping my hair in a scarf I purchased there. I’m too old to wear uncomfortable shoes to a walking city, so I take these lightweight, lace-up boots (option 1, option 2) with me everywhere. Black leggings are a travel staple as is this waterproof trench (similar). My camera bag is a very sturdy purse to which I added a camera cooler. Read my three travel beauty secrets…

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  1. Coleman Concierge
    Coleman ConciergeReply
    February 27, 2017 at 11:16 pm

    I love your title picture and the layout of your article. It’s so easy to read and get right to your salient points. We were in Shanghai for a layover on the way back from Thailand and man, they really take their rules and authority seriously there. It seemed like all of the usual airport warnings were followed by threats of punishment. If they take that kind of draconian approach at the airport, I couldn’t imagine any criminal activity in the city what so ever. Good to hear a girl can walk New Gotham in peace.

  2. Luxurybackpacking
    February 27, 2017 at 11:48 pm

    Personally I cannot wait to visit Shanghai! I’ll be travelling 6 months throughout Asia in 2018, and this is definitely on my list! Your pictures of Shanghai’s skyline are breathtaking! I’ll also be checking out your accommodation recommendations too! I love using Airbnb, so that is a viable option, but wouldn’t say no to a top luxury hotel either 😛

  3. Kathy James
    Kathy JamesReply
    February 28, 2017 at 3:40 am

    I really want to visit Shanghai but I am worried that I will find it too busy and public transport would be a maze. I am really happy to read your post that it is great for walking around. This is how I prefer to see a city.
    I love your photos. Looks like a very photogenic city!

  4. Sam Sparrow
    February 28, 2017 at 6:16 am

    Wow! You’ve sold Shanghai to me, and with the pictures of the all wonderful lit up buildings I’m not surprised it has been described as the Paris of the East. I’d definitely head to Xintiandi for the narrow streets and people watching. I also love a city that you can get to know by walking around! 🙂

  5. Gemma Baker
    Gemma BakerReply
    February 28, 2017 at 5:48 pm

    This is perfect timing to find your post, as I’ll be in Shanghai on a layover soon. It definitely sounds like a vibrant city and I can’t wait to check out The Bund with it’s neon skyscrapers! Your pictures are really stunning!

  6. Anastasia Sofia
    February 28, 2017 at 7:18 pm

    I adored Shanghai when I visited a few years ago, there was so much going on. Absolutely stunning photos, you make Shanghai look so stylish. Now I’m dying to visit again, although I admittedly I already wanted to especially since the new Disneyland opened recently!

  7. Adventuroustrails
    February 28, 2017 at 8:50 pm

    Love your photography. Captures the vibe perfectly. I have not been to Shanghai before, but from the photos it certainly doesn’t feel like the most populated city in the world. I love the style thats going on there, I would probably shop until I’m poor haha!

  8. Ami Bhat
    March 1, 2017 at 8:54 am

    How elegant and sophisticated this is. I would love to just walk around and discover more. I love window shopping and this place just gives me enough opportunity to do so.

  9. Diana C
    Diana CReply
    March 2, 2017 at 11:18 am

    I love your photos! I’m going back to Shanghai in a month so glad I came upon your post for some inspiration before my trip 🙂 That hello kitty backpack is what I really need tho 😉

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