Shanghai has exploded onto the map. It’s a mesmerising; a hyper-lit Blade Runner metropolis with a population the size of Australia. A city dominated by soaring skyscrapers and lurching construction cranes. With its vibrant mix of Art Deco architecture and a futuristic skyline, this city has everything.
Despite the soaring skyscrapers it’s at street level where the humanity of the city is discovered: grandparents wheeling their dark eyed, impossibly cute grandchildren under verdant plane trees; a cluster of people sitting outside an antique shop gossiping and playing mahjong; teenage cliques strolling arm in arm in arm talking and giggling and texting all at once.
Walking The Bund (the iconic waterfront strip on the west bank of the Huangpu River), taking in the gorgeous architecture in the early morning sunshine is a joy.
Old Shanghai can be found in abundance at Yu Garden, a complex of stunning historic buildings in Ming and Qing dynasties’ style, with a water pavilion and tranquil garden filled with Swiss cheese-like limestone rock formations – very auspicious to the locals who flock here. In the surrounding area are endless souvenir shops selling all manner of trinkets.
The stunning gilt-roofed Jing’an Temple, with its hulking lions standing guard at its entrance on West Nanjing Road is a delightful respite from the peak hour bumper-to-bumper traffic outside. More quiet can be found across the road in Jing’an Park.
Much has been made of China’s modern art scene and one of the best places to track the next generation of artists is M50 Shanghai Creative Industry Clustering Park (50 Moganshan Road), an art collective of over 100 galleries and studios spread across an old industrial site in the Putuo district.
Food is obviously a huge drawcard when visiting Shanghai. Head to Old Town God Temple eatery Lu Bo Lang which is famous for its delicious Shanghai dim sums. For something a bit more upmarket head to Whampoa Club, a sophisticated restaurant on The Bund serving modern Shanghainese food in a superb Art Deco setting. Other dishes that you must try in Shanghai include Peking duck, Xiaolongbao (soup dumplings), sesame noodles and Shengjian bao (pan-fried buns).
If you really want to treat yourself during your visit to Shanghai, book a table at Ultraviolet, a three Michelin-starred ‘experiential’ restaurant conceived and executed by French chef Paul Pairet, located somewhere so secret, no one actually knows where it is (a bus transports you to an unmarked entrance).
It wouldn’t be a trip to Shanghai without a little retail therapy. The Jing’an area is a luxury brand nirvana with everyone from Loewe to Saint Laurent to Marni to Tory Burch to Milan-native 10 Corso Como plying their lovely wares.
If you are looking for serious bargains for serious kitsch then Dongtai Road Antique Market is a must. Head to the former French Concession, an irresistible jumble of streets and longs (lanes), where Shanghai is forging a reputation as a burgeoning fashion plate.
It is on these thoroughfares, next to the trendy bars and behind the traditional dumpling shops, that a new breed of designers and retailers is innovating, creating, thriving – and subverting the stereotypes attached to being Made In China; bespoke instead of mass-produced, high design instead of designer rip-offs, fast but excellent.