40 tips about Shanghai you can’t find in any guidebook

40 tips about Shanghai you can’t find in any guidebook

With tourists swarming Shanghai for the holidays -- and many locals sticking around -- we look beyond the guidebooks for the best that Shanghai offers
Wedding photos - Shanghai

1. Photo worthy

Sign up for an over the top wedding photo series. If you’ve spent more than a couple of days in the city, you’ve surely seen the elaborately costumed and coiffed wedding couples posing for photos in select picturesque spots around town. Why not sign up for one yourself, either with an ironic twist (enact damsel -- or dashing gentleman -- in distress scenes?), or simply for a hilarious memory to show your grandkids?

Photo packages at any of the professional studios typically include a variety of costume changes, a make-up artist, and often a printed photo book with your selection of images.

Maitian Wedding Dress Photography (麦田婚纱摄影), +86 21 6203 2001 ext. 602, packages from RMB 1,888-3,899; Pinwei Photography Studio (品薇摄影美学馆), +86 21 61471191, packages from RMB 2,999-12,999

2. Scrub up in Koreatown

Shanghai has a plethora of bath houses and massage places to choose from (a thorough overview here), but our top pick is New Star, smack in the middle of Koreatown. It’s open 24-hours-a-day. Entrance is a flat RMB 58 fee, and you add on Shanghai's famous massages and other treatments ranging from RMB 28-268.

New Star, No. 1, Lane 258 Jinhui Nan Lu, near Wuzhong Lu 金汇南路258弄1号, 近吴中路, +86 21 3432 1717

3. Go strawberry picking

Less than 50 km from the center of the city lies the village of Zhaotun, littered with strawberry farms. Most of them are open to the public from early-November through May, and charge RMB 10-20 per kilo. Buses leave every couple of hours from Madang Lu (Huangpi Nan Lu metro station).

Qingpu Zhaotun Strawberry Park, 11 Luopu, Zhaotun Village, near Laobaishi Lu, Qingpu District, 青浦区赵屯镇古浦罗浦19号, 近老百石路, 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., +86 21 5921 7231, season runs November-May

4. Custom-order art

At this alleyway full of tiny galleries and artist workshops, you can custom-order a copy of any painting in the world, or you can commission a portrait or a painting made from your favorite photograph. Prices are reasonable; many painters are young graduates of art schools.

Painter’s Street, 212 Wending Lu near Nandan Lu 文定路212号, 近南丹路

5. Skip the SWFC Observation Deck

Instead of hitting the Shanghai World Financial Center, have tea (or something stronger) in the lobby of the Park Hyatt, on the 87th floor of the same building. You’ll save a bit of money and still get a stellar view of the city in the deluxe environs of the world’s highest hotel. Go Monday to Thursday to avoid the RMB 100 entry fee.

Park Hyatt, 79-93/F, 100 Century Avenue, near Dongtai Lu 世纪大道100号73-93楼, 近东泰路, +86 21 6888 1234

6. Make like Sandra Bullock in "Speed"

Hop on a random city bus and see where you end up. You’re guaranteed some excellent people-watching. It’s the best RMB 2 you’ll ever spend. You can check out bus routes (English), but this Shanghai adventure is more fun the less planning you do in advance.

7. Shop for shades

Whether you’re on the search for some gimmicky sunglasses or prescription lenses, the Shanghai Eyeglasses Market has it all. Ignore the sticker price and bargain away.

4-5/F, 188 Muling Lu across from the south exit of the Shanghai Railway Station, Metro Line 3/4, Exit 3 穆棱路188号4-5楼

8. Eat healthy hot pot

Chinese-style hot pot is delicious, but if you’re looking to cut back on the grease, we recommend Japanese-style hot pot (shabu shabu) as a healthy alternative. The standard broth is simply hot water and seaweed, which sounds boring but is actually quite refreshing, especially when mixed with some tangy ponzu or sesame sauce. Gokohai is our go-to spot, with an all-you-can-eat deal for RMB 88.

Gokohai, 1720 Huaihai Lu, near Wuxing Lu 淮海路1720号, 近吴兴路, +86 21 6471 7657, 11 a.m. to midnight

9. Have a makeshift outdoor cocktail hour

For those familiar with places where open container laws are rigorously enforced, drinking in Shanghai’s great outdoors holds a particular thrill. It’s a simple three-step process:

1. Purchase your poison from your nearest convenience store
2. Plop down on some grass (be wary of the famous Shanghai grass Nazis)
3. Drink

Our favorite leafy hideaway is the park on the grounds of the Okura Garden Hotel.

Okura Garden Hotel, 50 Maoming Nan Lu, near Huaihai Zhong Lu 茂名南路, 近淮海中路

10. Have a collegiate lunch

Pack a picnic lunch and head to the verdant State-level Garden Unit for Excellent Afforestation, aka Tongji University. Technically it’s trespassing, but if you're looking for one of the quietest spots in Shanghai, this is it. Soak in the calm with lunch.

Tongji University, Siping Campus, 1239 Siping Lu, near Zhangwu Lu, Metro line 10, Tongji University Station

11. Shanghai graffiti

Photograph yourself or just the fantastic graffiti art at Moganshan Lu near Changhua Lu, one of the only places in Shanghai where this street art is quietly sanctioned, just a block away from the renowned warehouse art galleries of M50. Spraypainted on the cement wall are dozens of artworks by both young Shanghai artists and international graffiti artists.

The graffiti wall includes part of Changhua Lu as it crosses Suzhou Creek; you can walk down the main stretch of Moganshan Lu from the intersection with Lu Changhua to see some of the best examples of graffiti in Shanghai.

12. Be an urban beach bum

RMB 20 gets you a lawn chair on the idyllic shores of Sunny Beach, smack in the middle of the city. Sure, there isn’t an actual “shore” to speak of on this sand-covered parking lot, but it’s still one of the best and newest ways to spend an afternoon taking in the city.

Sunny Beach, Waima Lu, near Maojiayuan Lu 外马路, 近毛家园路, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m, RMB 20 entrance

13. Go on an organic farm tour at BioFarm

This 100-acre organic farm launched in 2004 and is located about 10 minutes drive from Pudong Airport, is planted with a lush variety of vegetables, herbs and edible flowers and even has a sprout warehouse. The friendly community of farmers welcomes visitors for both organized group tours and private visits.

Visit www.biofarm.cn for info

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14. Educational outing

Visit one of the quirkier museums in town, like the typewriter museum which displays dozens of historic and antique typing machines collected by a connoisseur of all things typist. Or get some local history in at the the Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Center with a huge collection of historic original posters illustrating Maoist  and Communist themes.

Shanghai Typewriter Museum, 248 Wuxing Lu, near Jianguo Xi Lu; 吴兴路248号, 近见过西路; Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Center, Rm. BOC, 868 Huashan Lu, near Wukang Lu 华山路868号总统公寓B座OC 室, 近武康路 +86 21 6211 1845, www.shanghaipropagandaart.com

15. Shop local

One Shanghai area in particular is dense with local designers. Head to Changle Lu and make your way down from Xiangyang Lu to Chengdu Nan Lu to find some of the hippest Shanghai labels and outfits from hip-hop hoodies to haute couture and avant garde apparel.

16. A walk down Yao Ming’s memory lane

Halfway down the leafy French Concession block of Kangping Lu, between Wanping and Wuxing, lies the 1930s apartment complex where Yao Ming lived as a child (Apartment 602). According to Yao’s father, the family decided to remove the transom over the front door to prevent the younger Yao from hitting his head.

95 Kangping Lu, near Wanping Lu 康平路95号近宛平南路

17. In the kitchen

Aspiring or experienced cooks: a great way to explore the local cuisine is to take a wet market tour and then a wok cooking class (RMB 200 per person) with Chinese Cooking Workshop. Local cooking teachers help you choose fresh ingredients at the market and then lead you through simple, tasty recipes back at their spacious workshop. Check website for details and to sign up online.

Chinese Cooking Workshop, chinesecookingworkshop.com

18. Tune in

Watch free movies in cool venues every week. Friendly neighborhood dive Dada Bar hosts Sub-Cinema, every Tuesday at 9 p.m. Sample movies recently shown include "Naked Lunch," "Blade Runner," and "Hedwig and the Angry Inch." Popcorn is free.

Another cozy film event across town is hosted by Vienna Café, showing arty films every Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Screening is free, but reserve ahead to ensure a seat and save time before or after the flick to explore the quiet confines of Shaoxing Lu.

Dada, 115 Xingfu Lu, near Fahuazhen Lu 幸福路115号, 近法华镇路 150-0018-2212; Vienna Cafe, No.2, Lane 25 Shaoxing Lu, 绍兴路25弄2号 +86 21 6445 2131, www.viennashanghai.com

19. Hit the road

Rent a bike and explore the tree-lined streets of the French Concession on two wheels. Sponsored by the Xuhui Tourism Bureau, this affordable bike rental service (RMB 2-4 per hour) offers bikes at convenient points around the French Concession. The bright orange bikes are all made by historic brand Forever. Bike rental cards can be bought at two locations; Make sure to bring RMB 400, for your deposit plus rental credit and a passport or ID card.

Bike Card Registration points, Xujiahui Tourist Information Center, 1068 Zhaojiabang Lu 徐家辉旅游咨询中心, 肇嘉浜路1068号, +86 400 820 1898, hours: 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Wukang Lu Tourist Information Center, 393 A Wukang Lu, 武康路旅游咨询中心, 武康路393A甲, +86 400 820 1898, hours: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

20. Click

Are you a retro-chic photographer? Browse a bewildering selection of LOMO cameras and all their accessories at the friendly Lomography Gallery Store. Check out their excellent website for tips on shooting like: “Approach the objects of your lomographic desire as close as possible.”

126 Jinxian Lu, near Maoming Nan Lu 进贤路126号, 近茂名南路, +86 21 6256 1054, www.lomography.cn

Ganlanba 距市區較遠,但以本地最佳釀造啤酒馳名。
21. Try locally brewed beers

Boxing Cat Brewery, a popular expat hangout serving American comfort food, often has three or four brews on tap such as Right Hook Helles or Donkey Punch Dunkel. Paulaner Brewhaus is a locally-launched German-themed chain with both light and dark brews on tap -- good enough to get the approval of many a German expatriate. And for your “off the drinking track” brew, head to Ganlanba, a restaurant by Century Park in Pudong, which serves Dai cuisine (a minority from Yunnan), as well as light and dark homemade beers.

Boxing Cat Brewery, 82 Fuxing Xi Lu, near Yongfu Lu 复兴西路82号, 近永福路, +86 21 6431 2091 ext. 801, www.boxingcatbrewery.com; Paulaner Brauhaus, 150 Fenyang Lu, near Yueyang Lu; 汾阳路150号, 近岳阳路, +86 21 6474 5700; Ganlanba, 1025 Meihua Lu, near Yinxiao Lu 梅花路1025号, 近银霄路, +86 21 5059 6282

22. Do good

Volunteer to help sort donated clothing for needy people in Anhui and other provinces. Leading with the principle that most of us use only 20 percent of our things 80 percent of the time, the River of Hearts charity solicits used clothing and then distributes it to the neediest in  China. They regularly require volunteers to help with organizing the donated goods. Sorting parties are held regularly, check www.riverofhearts.org.

Flicker 玩家Robert S Donovan
23. Taxi al fresco

Why look out a cab window when you can see everything first-hand from the back of a motorcycle? Motorbike taxis tend to congregate outside most major subway stations around rush hour. The Science and Technology Museum stop on Metro Line 2 is a safe bet. Even though you’ll agree on a price in advance, and expect to pay roughly twice the amount you would for a normal taxi, that is the cost of convenience and the exhilarating feeling of wind whipping through your hair.

24. Sip, sniff and swirl

Learn the secrets to your own palate at Napa Wine Residence. Winesign is a unique interactive wine tasting program which helps you predict exactly which types of wines fit your tastebuds. At this twice-weekly program (RMB 260 per person) guests are led through an entertaining blind tasting of six wines. Using remote control devices, guests indicate their top wines. At the end, everyone receives a print-out which describes their preferences and lists wines which fit them precisely. Check website for full details.

NAPA Wine Bar & Kitchen, 1-2/F, Wine Residence, 57 Jiangyin Lu, near Huangpi Bei Lu, 江阴路57号1-2楼, 近黄陂北路, 6318-0057, www.napawinebarandkitchen.com

25. Shanghai high tea

Perhaps the best, and surely the highest, afternoon tea in town is at the Park Hyatt, with a view from the 87th floor down onto all of Pudong and Shanghai. The pastries including scones, a mini-bagel with salmon and a flaky egg tart, are not just stunning and delicate, but uniformly delicious. Other good options around town are the newly opened Peace Hotel, the Peninsula Hotel and the Portman Ritz-Carlton.

Park Hyatt Shanghai, 100 Century Avenue, 87/F Shanghai World Financial Center (SWFC), 上海柏悦酒店, 浦东世纪大道100号, +86 21 6888 1234; Peninsula Shanghai, Bund 32, 32 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, near Beijing Dong Lu 中山东一路32号, 近北京东路, +86 21 2327 2888; The Portman Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, 1376 Nanjing Xi Lu, near Xikang Lu 上海波特曼丽嘉大酒店, 南京西路1376号, 近西康路; +86 21 6279 8888, www.ritzcarlton.com; Fairmont Peace Hotel, 20 Nanjing Dong Lu, The Bund, 南京东路20号, 近外滩, +86 21 6321 6888

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26. The Shelter part II: KIN

One of Shanghai’s best known DJ’s and club owners, Gary Wang (founder of The Shelter) and his partners have launched a hip urban boutique and casual café called KIN. Head here for their delectable sandwiches, homey desserts and Gary’s own recipe for tonkatsu ramen.

KIN, 65-5 Maoming Bei Lu, near Shengping Jie, 茂名北路65号-5, 靠近升平路, +86 21 6217 3355

27. Tea time

Drink endless rounds of tea and enjoy a buffet of snacks like nuts and fruit at this beautiful traditional Chinese teahouse filled with carved wooden furniture and even a fish pool. It's complete with a crucial modern update: Wi-Fi and plenty of outlets for surfing or freelancing your afternoon away.

De He Teahouse 2/F, 135 Jianguo Xi Lu, near Shaanxi Nan Lu, 建国西路135号卢湾体育馆2楼, 近陕西南路, +86 21 5468 1117

28. Hustle at a billiards club

The Baowai poolhall in Changning district is hopping seven nights a week with Shanghainese of all ages shooting pool the breeze.

Baowai Zhuoqiu Club, 3/F, 738 Dingxi Lu, near Niuqiao Lu, +86 21 6280 1533, 10 a.m.-midnight, RMB 45 per hour for a table

29. Snack on Shanghai street food

Eleanor Roosevelt famously advised: “Do one thing every day that scares you.” Nothing wrong with the tried-and-true xiaolongbao, but if you want to take your taste buds (and stomach) off the beaten path, check out the array of fried things on offer on the food street at Lane 209, Fanyu Lu (番禺路209弄) and in the surrounding area.

30. Shanghai live music

Check out live rock, metal, punk, folk and just about all types of music from local bands as well as international acts at some of the top venues in town for performances. Check listings for weekly live acts.

Yuyintang, 1731 Yan'an Xi Lu, Entrance at Kaixuan Lu 延安西路1731号, 入口在凯旋路, www.yuyintang.org; MAO Livehouse, Bldg 32, 570 Huaihai Xi Lu, near Hongqiao Lu 淮海西路570号32栋 www.maolive-sh.com; Zhijiang Dream Factory, B4/F, 28 Yuyao Lu, near Xikang Lu 余姚路28号B4楼, 近西康路 www.zjdreams.com

31. Root for the home team

Swill some beer and cheer along with thousands of your closest friends at Hongkou Soccer Stadium, proud home of the Shanghai Shenhua Football Club.

Hongkou Football Stadium Station, 444 Jiangwandong Lu, near Huayuan Lu, Metro Line 3/8, RMB 50-200, schedule and tickets: 400-810-1887 (9 a.m. to 11 p.m.)

32. Hair care

Get your head massaged, hair washed, ears cleaned, shoulders rubbed, plus a blow dry all for the tidy sum of around RMB 30-40 at hair salons all over town. Look in the window of neighborhood salons for groups of ladies and gents with great piles of suds atop their heads and attendant massage therapists at work.

Prices are generally clearly marked in the window; the cheapest price is usually for the massage and shampoo, sans haircut.

33. Visit your local mah jong parlor

Grab three friends and head to one of Shanghai’s thousands of mah jong parlors. Most are open 24 hours, so you can stay as long as you like, though we recommend you go home and bathe/sleep around the 12-hour mark.

Dong Duo Que Guan (东凙雀馆), open 24 hours, 3/F, 1333 Huaihai Lu, near Changshu Lu 淮海路1333号, 近常熟路, +86 21-6431-4013; private rooms available from RMB 25-48.

34. Fish for your dinner on Chongming Island

Dvir Bar-Gal, photojournalist and Shanghai historic tourguide, recommends casting your line out at Chongming Island’s ecological park on the Southeast end of the island, where you can take your catch home with you (starting from RMB 16 per kilo). With an artificially abundant lake, even novice fishers are likely to get a bite. “You might be able to milk a goat there too” says Bar-Gal. Random.

Yindong Ecological Village, Baichen Gong Lu, near Beichen Gong Lu, Chongming Island, 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., +86 21 5943 6276; Buses to Chenjia Village departing from Wenshui Road Station (Metro Line 1) and Shanghai Science and Technology Museum Station, (Metro Line 2): RMB 12, entry: RMB 20, net and pole rental: RMB 10, boat rental: RMB 10

35. Go postal

Dvir Bar-Gal reckons that “the best kept secrets are best because they are in fact secrets.” Still, he points us toward the roof of the Shanghai Post Museum for “stunning views of Suzhou Creek and the Bund” not to mention the funky Baroque clock tower.

Shanghai Post Museum, 250 Suzhou Bei Lu, Wednesday to Thursday, Saturday and Sunday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., RMB 10, +86 21 6362 9898

36. Watch a burlesque show at Chinatown

Billing itself as the first burlesque show house in Shanghai in over half a century, this shrine to cheeky showgirls and show tunes is located in a 1931 Buddhist temple. Watch the singing and dancing show while sipping a classic cocktail and imagine a trip back in time to the city’s days of decadence.

Chinatown, 471 Zhapu Lu, near Haining Lu 乍浦路471号, 近海宁路, +86 21 6258 2078, www.chinatownshanghai.com

37. Channel the lovechild of Rambo and Jackson Pollock

Per Weicheng Paintball Shooting Sports Center’s website, they mean business: “Feel the rush of a forest full of enemy combatans [sic] and a hail of gunfire. It will leave you breathless.” Grab your gun, get out of the city and start shooting.

388 Chenhua Highway, 辰花公路388号松江青青旅游世界内, +86 137 9537 7828, www.sh-paintball.com, 8:30 a.m to 10 p.m.

38. Something borrowed, something blue

Buy fabulous, flamboyant, frilly discount wedding dresses, tuxedos and all kinds of formal wear at the wholesale wedding market. The upper floors of this giant mall are filled with two types of shops: photography equipment and wedding wear. The dozens of wedding boutiques are bursting with gowns and suits in every shade and style. The quality goes from secondhand and samples to high-quality labels and they also offer custom tailoring services.

Be prepared to bargain.

Shanghai Zhaocai Hunsha Cheng, 360 Meiyuan Lu, near Tianmu Xi Lu, across from Shanghai Railway Station, South Square, southeast exit 上海照材婚纱城, 梅园路360号, 上海火车站南广场东南出口对面, +86 21 6354 9376

39. Visit the oldest mosque in Shanghai

That would be the Fuyou Lu Mosque on the outskirts of the Old City, which dates back to 1870 and at one time served as the headquarters of the Shanghai Islamic Board of directors. Pop around the corner for some Halal eats at Zhengzong Lanzhou Niurou La Mian.

Fuyou Lu Mosque, 378 Fuyou Lu, near Houjia Lu 福佑路378号, 近侯家路 ; Zhengzong Lanzhou Niurou La Mian: 163 Houjia Lu, near Fuyou Lu 侯家路163号, 近福佑路

40. Wear your PJs

Although Shanghai authorities have tried to eradicate the practice for the 2010 Expo, local residents are still holding on tightly to their PJs as outerwear tradition. Make sure your nightclothes are up to seeing the light of day, then throw them on and hit the streets like you were born here. Bonus points if you can find a small fluffy dog with a pink tail and/ or booties to walk while you’re at it.