Shanghai has some of the most distinct and interesting neighborhoods in China. With pocket parks scattered among a warren of low-rise buildings and narrow lanes, Shanghai is perfect for those who love to explore on foot. This “walkability” distinguishes Shanghai from most big Chinese cities. You can leisurely stroll through many neighborhoods—something not possible or recommended elsewhere in China, where a walk around the neighborhood might feel more like Frogger, where one false step might cost you a limb. So enjoy strolling through some of the pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods and you might discover a terrific shop, café, gallery, or quite simply a relaxing way to spend a day in Shanghai!
Shanghai has so many neighborhoods it would take years to explore them all fully, so we’ll focus on a very few popular areas where locals and expats live, work and play.
Gubei: Located on the Puxi side, this area has become a popular destination for foreigners. Because of its large numbers of expats from Korea, Hong Kong, Japan and Taiwan, Gubei is sometimes informally known as ‘Little Tokyo,’ ‘K-town,’ or ‘Little Taipei.’ Some of the best Japanese and Korean restaurants can be found here. There are many parks and shops including a Carrefour supermarket. Gubei is also close to Hongqiao International Airport. The airport received a massive facelift in time for the 2010 EXPO and is the primary domestic hub for Shanghai, but has some international flights as well.
Huangpu: Probably one of the best known areas in Shanghai, this neighborhood includes the Bund, Nanjing Road (major shopping area), Xin Tian Di, People’s Square and the various cultural centers including the Shanghai Grand Theater, Shanghai Museum, Shanghai Museum of Contemporary Art and Yu Yuan Garden (probably the best example of “Old Shanghai,” if you can ignore the presence of the nearby Starbucks!). Huangpu district is one of the most densely populated areas in the world with more than 600,000 residents, not counting the thousands of Chinese and foreign tourists that flock daily to the many top tourist sites located here. Don’t forget to check out the newly RockBund as well as the former French Concession (see below).
The Former French Concession: Though not usually referred to these days as the French Concession, this area still retains many of the elements from the time when it was called the French Concession. Many of the streets are lined with leafy ‘French’ plane trees and you can still see bits of the old colonial architecture. The streets such as Hua Hai Road (formerly known as Avenue Joffre) are startlingly reminiscent of the Parisian boulevards they were modeled after. Other roads like Shaoxing Road (Rue Victor- Emmanuel III) and Hengshan Road (Avenue Petain) are popular for shopping and dining and also home to many Shanghainese families. Foreign students, visitors, and expats also congregate in this part of the city to shop, work, eat and play.
The French concession is packed with clothing boutiques, international restaurants, nightclubs, and lounges. Some of the best cafes with really good espressos, fresh juice and croissants, like Wagas, can be found in this neighborhood. After a long day of work or sightseeing, try one of the spas that also abound in this neighborhood. Some stay open till very late at night and you can just drop in at any time. Most have someone on staff who speaks English. There are some fancy spas, but also many no frills classic Chinese massage and reflexology parlors. And if you go for reflexology, remember the number of the reflexologist; they don’t go by their names, just a number. So, if you like #56, remember that number for your next appointment!
Luijiazui: Luijiazui, on the Pudong side, includes the financial district, a cluster of five star hotels, the Jinmao tower (China’s tallest building), the well-known and easy to recognize Oriental Pearl TV Tower, the Shanghai Stock Exchange, Ocean Aquarium, and Century Park, to name a few notable local institutions. Luijiazu is also home to some of the earliest smart buildings, international schools, the main international airport, the super fast Maglev, and a number of cultural venues. There are tons of shops and shopping centers including one of our favorites, the Jun Da Mall, known in English as the 13-story Super Grand Mall (literal translation: Real Big Mall).