The 24-hour Shanghai travel guide

The 24-hour Shanghai travel guide

A race between tourists and one of the fastest growing cities in the world
Shanghai in 24 hours -- main
The Bund is the heart of the mega-city that never sleeps.

A single day in Shanghai is nowhere near long enough to experience the city's many sides.

If you've got 24 hours, however, you can squeeze in at least 24 different experiences.

Morning

Shanghai in 24 hours -- jianbingEnergy source for a hectic day.

1. Breakfast the local way

Breakfast is a big deal in Shanghai and there are many ways to eat it, from fish congee to greasy youtiao (fried dough stick).

The most local way is to munch a jianbing, China's answer to the crepe.

Jianbing are pancakes cooked on a large round hotplate, topped with an egg and fried cracker.

It's all smothered in a sweet hoisin sauce, a smear of chili sauce and a handful of cilantro and then served wrapped up, ready to eat on the go.

Jianbing stalls can be spotted on streets between 6 a.m.-9 a.m. Grab one on Shandong Lu between Guangdong Lu and Fuzhou Lu. This will position you in a good part of town for the coming itinerary.

Shanghai in 24 hours -- bundMorning is the only time when the Bund isn't crowded.

2. Bund walk

The Bund is Shanghai’s most iconic street.

Settled by the British after the first Opium War, it was here that the big trading companies built headquarters, most of them in grand, neo-classical style.

Over the past 10 years, Shanghai has seen an about-face in the street’s fortunes and the riverside boulevard is now (once again) some of the most prime real estate in the city.

The Bund is the go-to place to orientate yourself, with its foreign past on one side and the skyscrapers of Pudong rising up on the other, totems of the city’s future.

The Bund, Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, 中山东一路

3. The old walled town

Before foreigners arrived, Shanghai was little more than a fishing village.

The original, oval shape of the walls that ringed the old town is mostly demolished but it can be traced by the shape of Zhonghua Lu, which still encloses a cramped part of Shanghai where locals live in narrow lanes and crowded storefronts. 

Avoid the more touristy parts of the old town around Yu Garden in the north and spend your time instead in the narrow lanes that start south of Fuxing Dong Lu.

This is one of the most traditional parts of Shanghai.

Start at the corner of Fuxing Dong Lu and Lingji Jie Lu and head south, wandering down any small street you happen upon.

Shanghai in 24 hours -- bubble teaYour Shanghai elevenses.

4. Pearl bubble tea at a tea kiosk

After the sensory bombardment that is the old town, chill out with a cup of zhenzhu naicha (珍珠奶茶), or pearl bubble tea.

Originally a Taiwanese import, pearl bubble tea is a chilled, sweet, milky concoction that bears very little relationship to traditional Chinese tea.

The pearl bubbles are balls of tapioca that bob around the bottom of your cup.

At first, the texture of the chewy, slightly slimy tapioca balls may feel a little strange, but this is one of the most popular soft drinks for young people in China.

Try it at: Happy Lemon, 82 Xizang Zhong Lu, People's Square, near Yan'an Dong Lu 西藏中路82号, 近延安东路; +86 21 6322 2065; open daily, 9 a.m.-10 p.m.

Shanghai in 24 hours -- taiqiSecret to long life in China.

5. Taiqi in the park

People's Square was originally used as a racecourse to provide entertainment for well-heeled foreigners during the early days of Shanghai’s rise to prominence.

After the revolution, the course was flattened and turned into a park, People's Park.

The central green space plays host to some interesting local culture -- the elderly practicing taiqi (often using swords or fans), and a marriage market on Saturday and Sunday afternoons when parents come down to try to match up their children with suitable spouses.

231 Nanjing Xi Lu, near Huangpi Bei Lu 南京西路231号, 近黄陂北路; open daily, 6 a.m.-8 p.m.

Midday

6. Authentic fish noodles

It's time for more of Shanghai's number-one pastime -- food. Ding Te Le (顶特勒粥面馆) is a bustling 24-hour noodle shop on the commercial stretch of Huaihai Lu.

The most famous dish here is xuecai huangyu wei mian (雪菜黄鱼煨面), which translates as simmered yellow croaker noodles with pickled vegetables.

Sharpen your elbows -- this hole-in-the-wall gets busy at lunchtime -- fight your way to the cash register and order. Squeeze into a seat somewhere and wait for a steaming bowl of fragrant fish stock filled with fresh noodles and chunks of buttery yellow croaker.

No. 22, 494 Huaihai Zhong Lu, 
near Yandang Lu 淮海中路494弄22号, 近雁荡路; +86 21 5107 9177; open 24 hours

Shanghai in 24 hours -- electronicsArmy of Chinese knockoffs.

7. Electronics shopping

Xujiahui, a main shopping area in southwest of downtown, is Shanghai's electronics center with three huge malls stuffed with computer, cell phones and cameras.

Be aware that some are "gray imports" -- goods bought tax-free in Hong Kong and then smuggled onto the mainland. 

There is also "shanzhai" merchandise -- electronics that look a lot like familiar brands but are actually near-identical copies.

Bargain hard and be aware that nothing in these malls comes with a guarantee and, while deals can be found, you shop at your own risk.

Metro City (美罗城), 1111 Zhaojiabang Lu, 
near Tianyaoqiao Lu
 肇嘉浜路1111号, 近天钥桥路; open daily, 10 a.m.-10 p.m.

Shanghai in 24 hours -- SWFCShanghai World Financial Center (right) and the Jin Mao Tower.

8. Pop up the 'bottle opener'

For the other side of Shanghai's high-tech persona, head to the Shanghai World Financial Center, the tallest building on the mainland (for now).

The "bottle opener," as the skyscraper is known colloquially, is 492 meters high and dominates the Pudong skyline.

Park Hyatt takes up the 79th-93rd floors, and there’s a glass-bottomed observation deck on the 100th floor (admission RMB 150, or US$24).

Or head to the Park Hyatt's 100 Century Avenue Bar on the 92nd floor, which serves fine cocktails and staggering views for miles around.

Park Hyatt, 100 Shiji Da Dao, near Dongtai Lu 世纪大道100号, 近东泰路; +86 21 6888 1234; shanghai.park@hyatt.com, shanghai.park.hyatt.com. Rooms from RMB 5,500 plus 15 percent service charge.

Shanghai in 24 hours -- pearl towerPioneer of Shanghai's rocketing skyline.

9. Pearl Tower

The strange pink and beige rocket-shaped structure is held in much affection by locals as the 468-meter tower was the first skyscraper built in Pudong in 1994.

Some find it ugly. Some find it kitsch. But no trip to Shanghai is complete without rocking up to check out the TV Tower.

There are 15 observatory levels, the highest at 350 meters.

Oriental Pearl TV Tower, 1 Shiji Dadao, near Lujiazui Huan Lu 世纪大道1号
近陆家嘴环路; open daily, 8 a.m.-9:30 p.m.

10. A walk along the Creek

Running from the north of the Bund westwards all the way through the city is Suzhou Creek.

After the Treaty of Nanjing opened Shanghai up to the trading powers, the Creek formed the boundary between the British and American settlements.

When the Japanese took the city in 1937, it formed a boundary between their concession to the north and the international areas to the south.

In more recent years it silted up and fell out of use, but a major renewal program was launched in 1998 (and completed in 2010) and the route of the Creek now makes a pleasant walk, its banks studded with old warehouses and factories.

Suzhou Creek meets the Huangpu River at the north end of the Bund. Follow the north bank west for glimpses of some of Shanghai’s former days.

Shanghai in 24 hours -- moganshan artTop stop for art aficionados.

11. Moganshan Lu art

On the south bank of the Creek in Putuo District sits M50, the city's largest collection of art galleries.

Most of the complex is housed in the old Chunming Slub Mill, which escaped the wrecking ball and became first artists' studios and then private galleries.

M50 now hosts more than 100 galleries and studios. Work is for sale throughout, from cheap prints in smaller shops up to major works for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

50 Moganshan Lu, near Changhua Lu 莫干山路50号, 近昌化路. Recommended stops: Island6 and ShanghART.

Afternoon

Shanghai in 24 hours -- former french concessionA slow, peaceful and skyscraper-free Shanghai.

12. Former French Concession

The former French Concession is the most walkable area of Shanghai and occupies a few square kilometers in southern downtown.

Apart from the Bund, the tree-lined area is the best place to experience Shanghai’s colonial history.

Quiet and narrow streets are filled with 1920s and 1930s European architecture, with plenty of art deco still to be seen.

Find a quiet starting point, such as Hunan Lu near Wukang Lu (武康路近湖南路), turning into any lane or quiet street you see; or follow the walking tour route designed by a former French Concession native

Shanghai in 24 hours -- shoppingDesigner boutiques abound in the former concession.

13. Shopping

The shopping options in the former French Concession are almost as intricate as the layout of the streets, with new stores popping up and closing down with the seasons.

Wuyuan Lu, east of Wulumuqi Lu, is home to some vintage-wear and designer jewelry. Local fashionistas frequent the intersection between Taojiang Lu and Yueyang Lu for the high-fashion multi-brand store The Villa.

This peaceful crossroads of Taijiang and Yueyang contains a bust of Alexander Pushkin in its center (evidence of the area's former Russian flavor) as well as a number of good bars, restaurants and homeware stores.

Wuyuan Lu, near Changshu Lu 五原路, 近常熟路; The Villa, 1 Taojiang Lu, near Yueyang Lu 桃江路, 近岳阳路; +86 21 6466 9322; open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. (Tuesday-Sunday)

14. Street snacks

Shanghai street food tends to be oily, greasy and stuffed with carbs, but don’t let that stop you.

The section of Wukang Lu, between Anfu Lu and Wuyuan Lu, has a selection of afternoon snacks.

Try the flat, herb-crusted bread or one of the baked dough swirls -- vegetarians beware, they contain pork fat.

There is also a buzzing wet market in the area, the places for locals to buy meat, vegetables, live fish and poultry.

Wukang Lu, near Wuyuan Lu 武康路近五原路

Shanghai in 24 hours -- blind massageRelaxation the Chinese way.

15. Chinese massage

It's time to get off your feet for an hour and enjoy a massage.

Chinese consider totally blind and partially sighted masseurs having a superior sense of touch so they can really feel where your body needs work.

Traditional Chinese massage doesn't use oil and is done over clothing and it can be very firm. For a softer option, ask for an oil massage or just let them work on your feet.

Yilin Blind Massage, No. 1, Lane 100 Nandan Dong Lu, near Tianyaoqiao Lu 南丹东路100弄1号, 近天钥桥路; +86 21 6464 3786; open daily, 10 a.m.-1 a.m. An one-hour body massage costs around RMB 60.

Evening

16. Walk in the shoes of criminals

For a peep into the golden days of Shanghai in the 1930s, opt in to the Gangster Walk which threads a path through the opium trade in 19th and eary 20th century. The war built Shanghai from a muddy stretch of riverbank into the metropolis it became.

Follow the footsteps of infamous gangsters such as "Big Ears" Du, who controlled the trade and was one of the wealthiest men in Shanghai, along with his friend and cohort "Pock-Marked" Huang, a senior member of the French police force and the head of the local Green Gang back in pre-revolutionary China.

Newman Tours' Gangster Walk is an English guided tour and takes place every Friday and Sunday afternoon. Their guides accept private tour request in other times. Price for an adult starts from RMB 260. Reserve a spot at info@newmantours.com then meet at exit three of Changshu Metro Station, Huaihai Zhong Lu near Changshu Lu, 淮海中路, 近常熟路

Shanghai in 24 hours -- park dancingTwists and turns on the streets.

17. Dancers in the park

Every evening around dusk, Shanghai's older residents gather at a number of parks and green spaces for public dancing sessions.

Most people practice formal ballroom dancing in pairs to contemporary pop music, which blares from a set of portable speakers. Locals consider it a fun way to socialize and keep fit.

No one minds if you watch.

Fuxing Park (复兴公园) and Xiangyang Park (襄阳公园) are good places to catch some public dancing.

Shanghai in 24 hours -- jesseJesse's signature creamy crab and potato soup.

18. High-class local cuisine

Shanghainese food is nothing like Chinese food overseas. It's oily and sweet, laden with dozens of varieties of bean curd and usually packed with bones. Jesse (吉士 in Chinese) on Tianping Lu is a popular venue to enjoy the local fare.

This is a tiny place so expect to wait for a table. Try specialties such as hongshaorou (a sweet, fatty pork dish) and kaofu (a sweet, spongy tofu variant).

This is the original Jesse. If it's too crowded and hectic, there are four others (called Xin Jishi, or New Jesse) dotted around town that have more of a chain-restaurant feeling.

The original Jesse, 41 Tianping Lu, near Huaihai Zhong Lu 天平路41号, 近淮海中路; +86 21 6282 9260; open daily, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., 5:30 p.m.-midnight

Xin Jishi at Xintiandi, North Block, Lane 181 Taicang Lu, near Madang Lu 太仓路181号新天地北里, 近马当路, +86 21 6336 4746, open daily, 11 a.m.-2 p.m., 5 p.m.-11p.m.

Shanghai in 24 hours -- cocktailA toast to the city that never sleeps.

19. Finally, cocktails!

Cocktails are not traditionally part of Chinese culture, but they have been a fixture in Shanghai since the early 20th century when the city was a treaty port.

Head to any of the three local-run Constellations bars for possibly Shanghai’s best cocktails.

The emphasis here is on finely made traditional cocktails, though the bars also have great whisky selections.

For something as strong-spirited as the city itself, go for a T&T, a mixture of Tanqueray gin and Wild Turkey bourbon. It may be elegantly served by a waistcoated bar steward, but this drink will leave most visitors on the floor.

Constellation 1, 86 Xinle Lu, near Xiangyang Bei Lu 新乐路86号, 近襄阳北路; +86 21 5404 0970; Constellation 2, 33 Yongjia Lu, near Maoming Nan Lu 永嘉路33号,近茂名南路; +86 21 5465 5993; Constellation 3, 251 Huangpi Bei Lu, near Jiangyin Lu 黄陂北路251号, 近江阴路; +86 21 5375 2712; open daily, 7 p.m.-2 a.m. (all three outlets)

Shanghai in 24 hours -- baijiuChina's fragrant drink.

20. Local poison

The local spirit that’s been consumed in China for millennia is baijiu -- literally, "white liquor."

Distilled from sorghum or rice, baijiu runs from exceedingly cheap to extremely expensive. While some only cost a few yuan, one of the nation's most popular brands, Wuliangye (五粮液) has a bottle that retails for RMB 26,800.

All Chinese restaurants will have baijiu on the menu ranging from 80-120 percent proof. To the uninitiated palate, baijiu will almost always taste like a sip of liquid fire.

If that's just too strong for your blood, sip some of its weaker, sweeter cousin, huangjiu (yellow liquor), which can be found in Chinese restaurants or in supermarkets.

More on CNN: Baijiu factory tour: How Chinese brew their national liquor

21. Where the locals play

Chinese nightclubs are some of the gaudiest places on earth, where the sons and daughters of the local elite compete in excessive displays of disposable wealth against a soundtrack of never-ending Lady Gaga remixes.

Club like Shanghai’s No. 88 or Phebe mounts a flatscreen TV on every wall, their wait staff dressed like Akihabara rejects.

Instead of a spacious dancefloor, a bar, or even a discernable DJ, these places go for golf-playing models and pianists in their underwear, KTV rooms, fruit plates and parades every time customers order an expensive bottle of Champagne.

Phebe 3D Club, 10 Hengshan Lu, near Gao'an Lu 衡山路10号, 高安路; +86 21 6555 9998, +86 21 5481 0421; open daily, 9 p.m.-5 a.m.

Club No. 88, 88 A Mansion, 2/F, 291 Fumin Lu near Donghu Lu 富民路291号2楼,近东湖路; +86 21 6136 0288; open daily, 9:30 p.m.-4 a.m.

Shanghai in 24 hours -- jazzThe Peace Hotel's elderly jazz band is a household name in Shanghai.

22. Jazz at the Peace Hotel

One of the oldest hotels in Shanghai still stands to this day and, though the name has changed, you can still catch up on some traditional jazz there every night.

Back in 1929, the luxury hotel was opened by Victor Sassoon as the Cathay Hotel, and its jazz band was the talk of the town. The hotel re-opened as the Peace Hotel in 1956, but was closed in 2007 for a major facelift.

Now, the Bund estate is back to its former glory, an art nouveau palace with the same jazz standards roaring away nightly in the back bar. Some of the eldest jazz musicians in the band have been playing there since the pre-1949 Shanghai.

The Jazz Bar at Fairmont Peace Hotel, 1/F, 20 Nanjing Dong Lu, near Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu 南京东路20号, 近中山东一路; +86 21 6321 6888; open daily, 5 p.m.-2 a.m.; www.fairmont.com. Elderly Jazz Band showtime: Tuesday-Saturday: 7 p.m.-9:45 p.m.; Sunday-Monday: 7 p.m.-1 a.m.

Shanghai in 24 hours -- ktvYour private stage.

23. Karaoke

Since being introduced to the Chinese mainland in the 1980s, karaoke -- or KTV, as it's known here -- has become one of key evening pastimes in Shanghai.

The most popular KTV chains are Haoledi and Cashbox. Each rent rooms from small cupboard-sized affairs to huge suites suitable for 20 or more.

Rooms run from around RMB 60 an hour to much more for something lavish, but all have a decent selection of Western songs with English subtitles as well as thousands of Chinese pop.

Most KTV places stay open very late and it's not uncommon to head out singing at 3 a.m., after first soaking up some courage in a club.

Cashbox Partyworld has branches all over the city, but this is a popular one: 109 Yandang Lu, near Fuxing Zhong Lu 雁荡路109号, 近复兴中路; +86 21 6374 1111; open daily, 11 a.m.-6 a.m.

Ditto with Haoledi: 6/F, 479 Nanjing Dong Lu, near Fujian Zhong Lu 南京东路479号6楼, 近福建中路; +86 21 6311 5858; open 24 hours

Shanghai in 24 hours -- shouningThe locals' gourmet choice.

24. Shouning Lu

For one final meal before the sun comes up, head to Shouning Lu for a street-full of all-night barbecue seafood restaurants. Each serves a range of mollusks and crustaceans.

Chinese specialties available here include Xiaolongxia, or crayfish, in summer and hairy crab in autumn.

Xiaolongxia is usually cooked Sichuan style (very spicy) and served by the bucket in shells that glow so red they look almost radioactive.

Add plenty of cheap, local beer. This is messy, fun, cheap, and extremely tasty food.

Shouning Lu, near Xizangnan Lu 寿宁路, 近西藏南路

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