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
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.
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.
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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