Shanghai has to be a contender for the buzziest city in Asia, a thriving business hub that’s brashly modern yet wears its history on its sleeve. Dense with glitz and grit, the city has a sophisticated and international feel that makes it completely unlike any other mainland metropolis. And these days, as the hub of China‘s boom, it’s a city very much on the up.
But where should you base yourself? The subway network – the biggest in the world – makes whizzing around town easy, but you’ll have an easier stay if you plonk yourself in the right area to start with. Whatever kind of trip you’re planning, here’s our expert’s guide to the best area to stay in Shanghai.
Best for sightseeing: People’s Square
People’s Square is bang in the middle of the city, and from here you can walk to most of the attractions. It’s served with countless places to eat and shop, and there are a couple of museums right on your doorstep. Architecturally, it’s a total mish-mash, but then that is very Shanghai. If the hustle and bustle get too much, People’s Park makes a great retreat.
Budget bargain: Mingtown Etour. The city’s best backpacker hostel, featuring decent rooms (all shared bathrooms), a great bar with a courtyard, and an amazing location, tucked in an alley behind Tomorrow Square.
Cheap and cheery: Metropolo Classiq. This long running and well respected traveller’s staple won’t win any design awards, but it’s in the thick of the action, right next to a metro station – and affordably priced, too.
Best for designer digs: Jing’an
Jing’an is the city’s modern centre, and it’s Shanghai at its busiest and buzziest, with a plethora of places to eat, drink and (mostly) shop. Many places to stay here are undistinguished business hotels, but there are a few quirkier venues tucked away too.
Fashion on a budget: Cachet. Stylish, small and well located, in what was once an old apartment block. Ask for one of the higher floors – and it’s worth paying a little more for a balcony.
Chic and sleek: Puli. Elegant and attractive (and featuring a spa and a pool), Puli is off the main road, so not too noisy. Go for a high room with a view of Jing’an Park.
Best for a hint of tradition: Old City
Shanghai’s Old City was once a warren of alleyways: historically, it’s where the Chinese population lived. In truth, there’s not much history left, as the place is being torn down and rebuilt at a fearsome rate.
The area’s traditional character remains in the bazaar around the Yuyuan gardens. You’ll need to get cabs in and out, as it’s the one area that isn’t well served by the subway.
A boutique option: Indigo. This lavish modern property is right on the river, so the best rooms have great views.
Elegantly oriental: Narada Boutique. Looks like another corporate behemoth from outside, but dashes of oriental decor help this good-value place stand out.
Best for a touch of luxury: The Bund
The Bund, on the west bank of the Huangpu river, was where the great European trading houses and banks built their headquarters, competing to produce the grandest edifice. Today this strip of incongruously western architecture, facing the flashy skyscrapers of Pudong on the opposite bank, is China’s Champs Élysées. If you’re feeling flush, it boasts the city’s plushest hotels, swankiest shops and a plethora of fine dining and upscale nightlife.
Heritage escape: Waldorf Astoria. In what was once the city’s oldest gentleman’s club, this stylishly updated heritage hotel is a feast of Neoclassical opulence.
A piece of history: Fairmont Peace Hotel. The most famous hotel in Shanghai is an Art-Deco marvel steeped in history with a renowned jazz bar.
Best for colonial charm: French Concession
The old French Concession is Shanghai at its most relaxed and sophisticated, with no high rises and a damping down of the commercial frenzy that characterises the rest of the city. Many of the mansions tucked discretely off the tree-lined roads have been converted into stylish eateries, chic boutiques or quirky hotels. It’s an area that invites, and rewards, leisurely strolling.
Intimate and sophisticated: B’LaVii House. This elegant, well-appointed mansion has fourteen rooms arranged around a courtyard, all decorated with dark wood and red lacquer.
Retro retreat: Mansion. This painstakingly reconstructed 1920s mansion, stuffed with period furniture and detailing, was once the home of a notorious gangster.
Best for views: LuJiaZui
Hard to believe, but the glittering sci-fi cityscape of Pudong, on the east side of the Huangpu river, was pretty much just paddy fields 30 years ago. Many of the gleaming new skyscrapers near the river, in Lujiazui, have luxurious hotels taking up the top floors: here, it’s all about the fantastic views, so try to get a high floor, and a room on a corner. A word of warning: accommodation here doesn’t come cheap.
Spectacular sights: Grand Hyatt. Rooms here, on the top floors of the elegant Jinamo Tower, have floor-to-ceiling windows, and the very top floor has one of the world’s highest cocktail bars.
Business class: Eton. Corporate but comfortable, and nice big rooms – a little far from the centre, but right by the metro.