The thought of moving to another country (where you don’t know the language!) and starting a business is as terrifying a thought as it is exhilarating. And that’s exactly what childhood friends Claire Russo and Liza Serratore did. After college, Claire and Liza both moved to Asia and happened to cross paths in Shanghai. They quickly fell in love with the city and, upon discovering the ancient 3,000-year-old process of Nankeen textile dyeing, they launched LuRu Home, which aims to bring hand-printed Nankeen fabrics and art to homeowners across the world.
When they first moved to China in 2009, Georgia’s Shanghai Guide was a huge resource for them, but as with any quickly-evolving city, Shanghai has since seen hundreds of new shops open and close. So today, Liza and Claire are thrilled to share their updated guide (written by Liza), which is overflowing with the best in food, fashion, design, entertainment and culture, all broken down by neighborhood! –Sabrina
My love affair with Shanghai and greater China began 11 months into my now six-year stay. My friend Claire, with whom I founded LuRu Home, came to visit and subsequently stayed.
We bought bikes, studied Mandarin, ate street food, and formed a “family” of locals and expats. Founding LuRu Home helped us get to know the individuals and the stories of China’s evolution, from traditional to modern, through the lens of Nankeen indigo fabric printing. The process of starting a business illuminated my experience.
Here are some of my favorite bits of the city I call home. Shanghai is vast and evolves quickly, favorite spots come and go, so consider this a snapshot.
Xuhui – The Former French Concession
After the First Opium War, in 1842, colonists carved up key cities on China’s seaboard. At the time, Shanghai was no more than a fishing village, but the French, Germans, British and Americans quickly got to work developing and westernizing the areas they’d been granted. These concessions flourished as hubs of commerce for decades. The French Concession is the best preserved; even the hundreds of Plane trees (sycamores) which the French brought from Paris still thrive along each street.
Le Sun Chine, on the western edge of the Former French Concession, is housed in the 1930s home of the Sun family. The 17-room hotel, complete with period furniture, is perfectly private and cozy, a great jumping-off point for exploring the FFC by foot or bike. Shanghai Lane Life lists similarly gorgeous and beautifully appointed short-stay apartments. For those wanting to live like a local, AirBnB has an eclectic array of apartments to offer, too.
Hop on Untour Shanghai’s Breakfast Tour to get an intimate peek at how the locals start their day. Fellow Shanghai entrepreneurs Jamie and Kyle lead a host of nuanced and refreshing tours around themes like dumplings and night markets.
Next, walk west on Changle Lu toward the Chinese Printed Blue Nankeen Exhibition Hall, where a display of antique weaving and printing tools traces the 3,000-year-old tradition of Nankeen indigo dyeing. This place is very near and dear to my heart; it’s where we first worked alongside specialists on Nankeen dyeing to preserve the craft.
Continue on Changle Lu by foot to reach the Propaganda Poster Museum, where collector and curator Yang Pei Ming shares his rare collection. His gift shop is a gem; the original posters and reproduction postcards and notebooks make refreshing souvenirs.
There are scores of beautiful shops tucked down alleyways, but my favorites include Platane’s East-meets-West home décor, Ban Yan Ka La’s herbal Chinese skincare products, and Charles Phillip’s footwear with a Shanghai twist.
Urban Tribe is a destination in itself, with educational exhibitions of the traditional fabric techniques which inform their collections. Garments tend to be flowing, loose and beautifully draped, with natural materials in calm colors.
The ultimate in expat shopping, though, is Culture Matters, where a mom-and-pop team vend iconic Feiyue sneakers out of a hole in the wall. Most pairs are under USD 10, so grab the white classics — their thick rubber soles stand the test of time.
The French Concession is at its finest when it comes to food. For sampling street snacks, stick to the stands with the longest lines; eat what the locals eat. Don’t be afraid to point to other people’s dishes if the language barrier is complicating your order. The Chicken Lady, a stand I frequent on Wulumuqi Lu, does salt & pepper fried chicken right. She’s there from about 3 pm to 6 pm daily.
To start the day, Farine Bakery in the Ferguson Lane complex is a charming spot. Outdoor benches provide a birds’ eye view of locals bicycling through the streets, and Ferguson Lane is home to a handful of shops and wine bars.
For sit-down meals, Hunnan House’s lane location will prove a treat; Dongbei Four Seasons Dumpling King serves authentic northeastern fare – my favorites include boiled dumplings, scallion pancakes and flattened chicken. The calamari salad at Spice Bazaar and goat cheese at Mia’s Yunnan Kitchen make the cut, too. Sichuan Citizen’s drink list and almost kitschy, Chinesey ambiance are not to be missed; they do both food and décor right.
Enjoy happy hour on Yongkang Lu, once a wet market and now lined with international bars of all stripes. Cheap and fun, it’s a great place to kick back at the end of a long day of walking, and drinks can easily evolve into dinner at one of the many restaurants. As the night progresses, head to Senator Saloon for bourbon craft cocktails.
For those feeling swanky, Yongfoo Elite, a former consulate replete with antique Chinese furniture and koi ponds, makes for a magical tipple.
North of the French Concession, Jing’An boasts a mix of international brands and shops alongside traditional alleyways. Exploring on foot is the way to go.
The Puli provides a zen-like retreat from the bustle of busy Jing’An. A particular favorite of mine for guests, the hip URBN Hotel is China’s first carbon-neutral hotel with a splendid, relaxed bar where an international mix gathers nightly.
Jing’An Temple sits smack-dab in the center of Shanghai’s shopping mecca, Nanjing Xi Lu. The 400-year-old temple has been beautifully restored; ignore the addition of touristy shopping stalls to its ground floor.
Wander east on Nanjing Lu, soaking in the juxtaposition and density of flagship stores, and then head north to the Jing’An Sculpture Park. The garden features international works of art amidst landscaped terrain. Ideal for an after-lunch stroll in good weather.
Head North and visit 50 Moganshan Road Art District to meander among the hundred or so artist studios and galleries. Incredible street art and sculpture have transformed this traditional neighborhood into a destination.
Should you need a rest from all the walking, head to Subconscious Day Spa on Fumin Lu for one of their famous massages.
Visit Spin Ceramics to browse minimalist and contemporary pieces hand-crafted in the birthplace of porcelain, Jingdezhen. The prices are happily reasonable and the staff takes care to pack purchases safely for travel.
Design Republic is chockablock full of international designer furniture, but makes my list for its architecture alone. Powerhouse architecture firm Neri & Hu have worked wonders on this former colonial police station.
10 Corso Como is former Italian fashion editor, Carla Sozzani’s, ode to art, design, and fashion. Housed in a freestanding four-story building, it’s a design destination, complete with gallery, bookshop, restaurant and café.
Madame Mao’s Dowry features local brands like Paper Tiger, Pinyin Press, Finch and Flatter Me Belts alongside well-curated socialist kitsch. Just across the street find Dong Liang, a hot-spot for independent Chinese fashion labels.
Nearby Brocade Country features beautiful Miao fabrics and wares from southern China.
As lunch looms, head to Hai Di Lao, a fun hot pot joint with wild amenities — get your nails done while you wait for a table. After lunch, walk through Jing’An’s flower market, which is just around the corner.
Don’t miss the Uighur minority food served up at Xibo. Dinner here is a must. Make a reservation, order the fried lamb and bread dish, and wash the Silk Road spices down with a Xinjiang Black Beer. For lighter fare, taste Shanghai’s specialty soup dumplings, xiaolongbao, at Din Tai Fung.
Wondering where in China you can find some General Tsao’s Chicken? Jet over to Fortune Cookie for an American Chinese food fix.
Le Café des Stagiaires on Wuding Lu is an immersion experience in French expat culture. Their happy hour is long and generous.
After dinner, pop into Mokkos, a quirky Japanese spot, for their Grapefruit and Shochu.
Shanghai is divided into two main sections by the Huangpu River. To the west lies the older Puxi area; to the east, the newly developed Pudong.
The Bund (Wai Tan), on the river’s western bank, boasts a promenade of baroque, art deco, and neoclassical architecture built during the colonial era.
In Huangpu, the neighborhood behind the Bund, glass skyscraperss and traditional shikumen lane houses now vie for space.
The Waterhouse at South Bund is exceptional – a renowned jewel of a space, integrating existing Shanghainese architecture with contemporary design.
The Peace Hotel on the Bund, which opened in 1929, is opulent Shanghai Art Déco at its best. The bar has nightly live jazz.
Sunrise on the Bund is not to be missed. Groups of tai chi practitioners, kite fliers, sword handlers and other athletic enthusiasts gather in the peace of the early morning.
From the Bund, walk west on foot into The Old City, exploring the neighborhood’s food markets, shops, and street life. Yu Gardens, though wildly commercialized on first glance, offers plenty of quiet, daily-life moments in back alleyways. Worth exploring.
A short taxi ride to the west lies the Insect Market on South Xizang Lu. Get your camera ready, you’ll snap shots of locals buying their birds, pet food, lucky grasshoppers, fighting crickets, dog outfits and more.
As for art, check out the contemporary exhibitions and events at Rockbund Museum. China’s largest private museum, the Long Museum’s collections cover the breadth of Chinese art history, and the space draws traveling exhibitions from around the globe. The Power Station of Art, looming over the Huangpu River at South Bund, is the first state-run museum dedicated to contemporary art in China. The museum is housed in – you guessed it – a former power plant. Views from the roof deck are splendid in clear weather, it’s a great spot to relax with a book and a beer.
Slip into a pair of Denise Huang’s expertly crafted silk embroidered slippers or shoes at Suzhou Cobblers.
The Fabric Market is a place of legends. Bring your favorite duds from home to be copied. For a smooth experience, book a day with Shopping Tours Shanghai. Avoid haggling and get pointed towards the best tailors. If you want to wing it, try our beloved tailor, Zhang Ya Lin, in booth 379 on the third floor; tell her Bai He sent you (my name translates to White Crane in Chinese).
For lunch, pass by Tock’s, where Montreal native Brian Tock serves up Western deli eats. Their smoked meats are out of this world.
Baoism, modern Chinese street food, will open the doors to its fast-casual Xintandi location later this year. In the meantime, head to one of their monthly Shanghai pop-ups and get a taste of the Chinese food of the future.
Lost Heaven is the ultimate dinner spot, with a roof deck overlooking the Bund and savory Yunnan fare. Darkly lit and highly romantic, the interior sculpture and architecture transport you directly to the highlands of China’s southwest.
A trio of international chefs brings the freshest and finest of European cuisine to Table No. 1. Reservations necessary, fun for groups.
Catch a sunset view of the Bund from swanky Vue Bar, then pretend you’re a 1920s diplomat with an evening at the House of Blues and Jazz or the Long Bar at the Waldorf Astoria. Both give a glimpse into why Shanghai’s called the Paris of the East, the Pearl of the Orient. Alternatively, spice things up at Latin lounge, Unico. All are great reasons to get dressed up.
On the east bank of the Huangpu River, skyscrapers rise above the clouds in the race for the Asia’s tallest building. Iconic megaliths include the space-age Oriental Pearl TV Tower, the World Financial Center, known fondly as the Bottle Opener, and the soon-to-be-finished Shanghai Tower. International shopping and dining cater to the business crowd.
The Grand Hyatt Shanghai, at the top of the Bottle Opener, offers stunning vistas on a clear day. Shanghai is vast, and the view from each room confirms the utter enormity of it all.
To cross over to Lujiazhui from the Bund, take the public water taxi for a mere 2 RMB. Departing from the southern portion of the Bund, the water taxi used to be the main means of transport across the Hunag Pu River before the subway was built.
You must, must, must see the view from one of the tall buildings; a drink in the bar on the 87th floor of the Grand Hyatt is a clever way to avoid the whipping winds at the observation deck at the top of the Bottle Opener. The plush chairs by the window allow one to soak in the scale of the city in comfort.
Living in Shanghai brings me constant inspiration — and often it’s the people behind the ideas that are most exciting. As I write, I’m devouring a Strictly Cookie, the best cookie on the block and for that matter, in this country. I just flicked through the latest edition of The Cleaver Quarterly, an up and coming Chinese foodie mag. Later this week, I’m planning to visit our friend Jonas Merian’s design studio. He creates inspired home accessories by repurposing the tea tins of Shanghai’s past and I’ve long wanted one of his lamps. As my mind wanders, I’m thinking of how my new lamp would look great resting on an antique sideboard from Hu & Hu.
To navigate the city with ease, download the Smart Shanghai App, which lists addresses in English and Chinese, and the Explore Metro App, which makes riding Shanghai’s subway a breeze. In addition, download one of many Mandarin phrase apps for quick translation needs.