Best boutique hotels in Shanghai

Best boutique hotels in Shanghai

Here are six top Shanghai hotels for travelers looking for intimacy and personality

Bigger isn’t always better, and that’s certainly true for Shanghai.

The city's home to a slew of enormous hotels, which are high in stature -- one in the world’s third-tallest building -- but often lacking in intimacy and character.

When it comes to boutique hotels though, visitors to Shanghai are spoiled for choice. Here are our top six picks.

URBN Hotel

Boutique hotels in Shanghai -- URBNURBN’s studio lounge. The 26-room boutique is China’s only carbon-neutral hotel.

When this 26-room establishment opened on a none-too-gentrified street in 2008, it did so with green in mind -- and we’re not talking cash. URBN is China’s only carbon-neutral hotel.

This boutique hotel recycled and sourced every piece of building material locally. It has its own water filtration system for on-site purification. Environmentally friendly cleaning products, light bulbs and shades are used to cut down the hotel’s energy use.

URBN’s in-house eatery, Downstairs, is run by Shanghai-based restaurateur David Laris. Head chef Siobhán Gough uses local ingredients whenever possible, such as Gouda cheese from Shanxi province.

There’s also a rooftop Champagne bar appropriately named Upstairs, and a fourth-floor lounge called The Social.

Aside from its commitment to the environment, URBN houses an oasis-like, tree-lined courtyard, which is truly idyllic in Shanghai’s blue-skied, humidity-free late fall and early spring.

More on CNNGo: Shanghai's swankiest hotel suites

URBN Hotel, 183 Jiaozhou Lu, near Xinzha Lu 胶州路183号, 近新闸路, +86 21 5153 4600, room rates: from RMB 1,400 + 15 percent,

Les Suites Orient

Boutique hotels in Shanghai -- Les Suites OrientEnjoy sweeping views of the Bund and Pudong skyline at the largest and most historic boutique hotel in Shanghai.

With 168 rooms, Les Suites Orient is the largest boutique hotel in Shanghai.

The building’s foundation and first four floors date back to 1860; the then-Orient Hotel added another 19 floors in the 80s, before Taiwanese management group Les Suites came onboard in 2006. Les Suites Orient soft opened in April, 2010.

Despite its size, Les Suites Orient retains its charm with homey common spaces, a small yet warmly decorated restaurant and eclectic decor that mixes vintage radios with traditional Chinese pottery. All of these make the place feel much smaller.

The river-facing rooms of this Shanghai boutique hotel provide sweeping views of the entire Bund and the curve of the Huangpu River. The night view is particularly impressive when buildings on both sides of the river are lit up.

Offering true Taiwanese hospitality, guests enjoy little touches like Gilchrist & Soames bath products, room key cards that double as Shanghai traffic cards and a bedside control panel for everything from lowering the shades to calling for housekeeping.

More on CNNGo: The Shanghai scenes tourists don't see

Les Suites Orient, 1 Jinling Dong Lu, near Zhongshan Dong Er Lu 金陵东路1号, 近中山东二路, +86 21 6320 0088, room rates: from RMB 1,600 + 15 percent,

The Waterhouse at South Bund

Boutique hotels in Shanghai -- waterhouseThe Waterhouse brings travelers a slice of Shanghai’s industrial past.

Located in a former warehouse-turned-military HQ from the 1930s, this Shanghai boutique hotel opened its doors one and a half years ago and is as industrially chic as its architecture.

The four-story, 19-room hotel is the product of three buildings and three years’ renovation that managed to return the space to its former glory while upholding its industrial past.

The hotel’s decor is a purposeful and clear contrast of old and new. Exposed brick, concrete and recycled wood rub elbows with a Tracey Emin neon light sculpture and mid-century-inspired furniture from local brand neri & hu.

Guests can dine at Table No. 1, helmed by Scott Melvin, who used to work at Michelin-starred London restaurant Maize. Offering a modern and seasonal European cuisine, the restaurant sources all its menu items from local farms.

Food isn’t the only way the Waterhouse helps its guests go local. The hotel also provides tours of Shanghai’s old city on vintage bicycles and scooters with sidecars.

More on CNNGo: The 10 best Shanghai tours for the truly tour group-phobic

The Waterhouse at South Bund, 1-3 Maojiayuan Lu, near Waima Lu 毛家园路1-3号, 近外马路, +86 21 6080 2988, room rates: from RMB 1,750 + 15 percent,

88 Xintiandi

Boutique hotels in Shanghai -- 88 xintiandi88 Xintiandi offers the service and style of a five-star hotel on a much smaller scale.

Travelers who want to be in the heart of a chic shopping, strolling and eating complex can do no better than stay at 88 Xintiandi, one of the first boutique hotels in Shanghai.

The hotel’s 53 rooms, which include 12 suites, are decked out in an East-meets-West style, with beds so soft you may want to stay in them all day.

All the rooms are well proportioned and overlook either Taiping Lake or the gray stone shikumen in Xintiandi. Those with balconies are particularly coveted and enviable in Shanghai’s sunny, temperate fall.

If you’re a light sleeper, request a room on an upper floor.

Langham’s operation group recently took over the nearby boutique, so guests can enjoy Langham’s Chuan Spa by either walking up the block or having a spa technician come over.

With a 70 percent return rate, 88 Xintiandi has a long list of loyal guests who consider the boutique hotel their home base in Shanghai.

More on CNNGo: Wang Fangqing: Why Xintiandi isn't Shanghainese

88 Xintiandi, 380 Huangpi Nan Lu, near Xingye Lu 黄陂南路380号, 近兴业路, +86 21 5383 8833, room rates: from RMB3,300 + 15 percent,

Pudi Boutique Hotel

Boutique hotels in Shanghai -- Pudi Boutique HotelEnjoy the best of Shanghai’s former French Concession in the art deco hotel.

Not to be confused with the PuLi Hotel in Jing'an, this Chinese-owned boutique hotel is situated on a short, cobblestoned, palm-tree lined street that’s more sunny Santa Monica than Shanghai.

With 52 rooms, a roof terrace, a champagne bar and a cigar room, the hotel has got plenty of space and five-star service to back it up.

The art deco aesthetic is reminiscent of Shanghai’s golden age, and there’s an aura of calm and quiet throughout the hotel, providing respite for pavement-weary tourists.

Like 88 Xintiandi, Pudi is super centrally located -- tucked between the commercial Huaihai Zhong Lu and quaint, boutique-decked Nanchang Lu. Its outdoor space is awash with leafy plane trees.

The hotel is a stone’s throw from Fuxing Park and is situated right in the middle of two food and beverage complexes: Xintiandi and Sinan Mansions.

Though roughly in the same neighborhood as 88 Xintiandi, Pudi is slightly more wallet-friendly and is particularly good for business travelers on a budget.

More on CNNGo: The best Shanghai hotels for the penny-wise traveler

Pudi Boutique Hotel, 99 Yandang Lu, near Nanchang Lu 雁荡路99号, 近南昌路, +86 21 5158 8888, room rates: from RMB 1,275 + 15 percent,

JIA Hotel

Boutique hotels in Shanghai -- JIAThe hotel takes its name from “jia,” Mandarin for home.

Editor’s note: Following a fire outside the building in late September, JIA is closed as of writing this. The hotel is expected to re-open in mid-December.

When this sleek, 47-room boutique hotel opened on Wujiang Lu in 2008, it appeared anachronistic.

The old Wujiang Lu was one of Shanghai’s most popular food streets, rich with all manner of greasy cheap eats. And JIA, housed in a restored 1920s building, put jet-setters at no distance to the pungent pedestrian street.

Today, the revamped Wujiang Lu is packed with American ice cream chains, pho restaurants and cosmetics shops, but JIA still stands proudly.

Though its outside is a relic of Shanghai’s past, the inside is all mod -- clubby sofas, Eames- and Arne Jacobsen-inspired chairs, and sleek oversized steel birdcages hanging from the ceiling.

In-house restaurant Issimo serves some of Shanghai’s most authentic Italian dishes, with a young Italian chef in the kitchen turning out expert al dente risotto and wood-oven fired pizzas whose crusts are dotted with perfectly charred dough bubbles.

More on CNNGo: China's 8 best heritage hotels

JIA Hotel, 931 Nanjing Xi Lu, near Taixing Lu Lu 南京西路931号, 近泰兴路, +86 21 6217 9000, room rates: from RMB 2,000 + 15 percent,

Sophie Friedman is an exiled New Yorker living in Shanghai. 

Read more about Sophie Friedman