You’ve gazed at the Bund during both day and night, you’ve fought your way through legions of tourists in Shanghai’s Old Town and gardens… what now?
Shanghai has an incredible cafe culture and bar scene, but for something a bit more substantial/ cultured/ alternative to fill your days then check out the following suggestions:
Address: Lane 210, Taikang Road. Nearest metro: Dapuqiao
Probably the least alternative location on this list, Tianzifang is undeniably touristy, but only because it is really is a must-see. A gorgeously arty labyrinth of lanes, it has been completely regenerated since 2005. Before this it was a Shikumen residential district in the French Concession. Unlike Xintiandi, another Shikumen redevelopment, the area doesn’t look overly gentrified despite shopping by the masses taking place there. The cutesy small streets are filled with over 200 small businesses and stalls: cafes, art galleries, bars, craft stores and more. As long as you’re willing to haggle, you can find some really gorgeous bits and bobs, particularly jewellery. Don’t try explore the area in a rush – its charm lies in getting lost there. Oh, and Tianzifang is the only place in Shanghai I’ve been able to hunt down Hong Kong’s delicious street food, egg waffle. Don’t miss out.
The Cool Docks
Address: 479 South Zhongshan Road. Nearest metro: Xiaonanmen
Though there is something inherently uncool about an area labelling itself as ‘cool’, The Cool Docks ARE in a fascinating location. A stone’s throw from Xiaonanmen and right by the South Bund waterfront, it’s an up and coming neighbourhood in the midst of a decaying one facing rapid redevelopment. It has yet to live up to the title of ‘new Xintiandi’, but it is home to an interesting selection of restaurants and shops (discounting Haagen-Dazs and Starbucks). The area has a slightly strange feel to it, like it hasn’t quite found itself, but sitting by the water in the central square is undeniably lovely. An area to keep your eye on, I’d be surprised if it isn’t inundated with trendy bars and expensive flats in the next few years.
Fuyou Antique Market
Address: 459 Middle Fangbang Road. Nearest metro: Yuyuan Garden
This antique market is a rare slice of ‘real China’ amongst the touristy hustle and bustle of Shanghai’s old town area. Go on a Sunday, before mid afternoon to the third floor, as this is when the venue holds host to the ‘ghost market’. This is where sellers from more rural, countryside regions gather to sell their wares. As is often the case in Shanghai, you need a good eye to spot the rubbish from the genuinely sweet souvenirs, but overall, there’s some really nice beads, pots and miniature statues to be found. The first and second floors of the building house a permanent antique market, but be very dubious about their ‘antique’ status. And avoid the toilets at all costs.
Address: 50 Moganshan Road. Nearest metro: Zhongtan Road
Although M50 is in Lonely Planet’s top 10 things to do in Shanghai, the contemporary art district still seemed quite an underrated, un-touristy place to hang out. A five minute walk from Zhongtan Road metro station, past Suzhou Creek, takes you to the lovely graffiti-lined Moganshan Road. As long as you don’t come expecting thought-provoking, political statements, you’ll find the graffiti very pleasing on the eye. For extra hipster points you can nab an edgy profile picture there too. Take that, Berlin Wall. The area is also home to factories and warehouses that have been converted into some really great art galleries. There’s a calming, modern feel for wandering and, though sometimes bizarre and abstract, the art is genuinely good. An abundance of cute coffee shops makes this a perfect place to spend a laid back afternoon.
Area: French Concession. Nearest metro: South Shaanxi Rd
The sprawling, tree-lined French Concession is a well known haven for drinking, dining and shopping. For the latter, the area around South Shaanxi particularly excels. For vintage shops, Xinle Road is unbeatable. Unlike a lot of shops with similar looking, low quality tat you can find pretty much everywhere, the retailers here are attractive, trendy and quite reasonably priced. A pleasant area for chilling in cafes in the daytime and bars and restaurants at night, this is part of the city really worth your time.
Propaganda Poster Art Centre
Address: 1845 Room B-OC, President Mansion, 868 Huashan Road. Nearest metro: Shanghai Library/ Changshu Rd/Jiangsu Rd
The only place on this list that isn’t free, the propaganda museum is really worth the 20RMB entry. This is one of the most satisfying places you’ll go in Shanghai, if at all interested in art and/ or history. It’s a struggle to find (basement blocks of apartment building B at above address) but this just adds to the excitement when you finally arrive. Unlike Chinese to English translations in much of the city, the information plaques are well written and very informative. The exhibition takes you throughout many years of Chinese history, with well preserved examples of propaganda (and art) throughout. Though small, it is extremely interesting, and the gift shop is an excellent source of funky postcards and other memorabilia.