Our team had an away game in Shanghai so I was completely stoked to have my first chance to explore a city I’ve heard so much about! After asking my teammates for the lowdown on what to see and do, I took advantage of our down time. My dad was in town, it was Thanksgiving, and there’s no better way to see a city then to eat your way through it! Also, it gave me an excuse to not have to eat another road-game, hotel-provided meal consisting of something covered in oil or lathered in sauces I couldn’t pronounce. While you’ll find culture and history layered throughout the streets, Shanghai’s food and nightlife is where it’s at.
There are many ways to travel to the city depending on where you’re coming from. China’s train system is quick and efficient, navigating from city to city without having to hop on an airplane. If you’re a foreigner or first-time China traveler and overwhelmed by the idea of traveling by train, don’t be! The system is pretty basic and easy to understand. To get to the downtown area, it’s anywhere from an hour to two hours from the train station or airport. Welcome to crowded Shanghai.
I typically find an Airbnb or something your average 24-year old can afford. However, my dad was staying at The Hyatt on the Bund. Between the free breakfast at the concierge club to the incredible view of the entire Bund area, I was absolutely determined to soak up all the hotel had to offer.
My dad is my ALL TIME travel buddy; so as soon as we dropped our bags off, we went straight out to explore. If you know a little history, or if your hotel has a cheat sheet of info on the city like ours did, Shanghai was originally a British settlement until the Chinese Civil War. What resulted was a seamless combination of international and Chinese influence seen throughout the buildings, food and the nightlife. We toured The Bund by walking the waterfront on the Huangpu River and admiring the architecture of both the banks and trade houses.
And when you haven’t seen Europe or America in a while, seeing the little hints of a familiar culture can give you ALL the feels. There’s also great shopping throughout the streets. You can find local, authentic goods or hit the high-end brands and treat yourself!
TIP: While we didn’t have time, if you get the chance head over to the contemporary art museum M35. Video art exhibits and interactive displays, it’s on my list for when I head back!
I’m basically the worst when I haven’t eaten and my dad insists on only consuming Diet Coke for breakfast. It makes for some hangry times, and so after much pestering, we stopped for lunch. Obviously, you can’t come to a city and NOT try something traditional. That’s part of the experience. Shanghai is best known for its Xiaolonbbao “soup dumplings.” Lost Heaven, in The Bund area, has great authentic Chinese food. But it is a little pricey (thanks dad). Our next stop was to the People’s Square – a popular place in Shanghai to hang out and practice Tai Chi or check out the Yu Gardens on Fuzhou Road. About a ten-minute taxi ride from the People’s Square, we headed to the Xintiandi area, formerly known as the French Concession. Xintiandi provides a unique urban combo of historic Shanghai and 21st century life. We were surrounded by shopping, bars, a variety of restaurants and an overall sense of new world China.
If you’ve read any of my other posts, you can get the vibe that when I’m looking for food, it’s typically authentic or nutrition based. And when I stumbled upon Green & Safe in the middle of Xintiandi, I almost cried with happiness. The food was organic, farm-to-table and made right in front of you with incredible healthy food flavors. I grabbed an almond milk latte, blueberry and lemon tonic water, the salad combo accompanied by spring rolls, an order of the Japanese roasted pumpkin, and a peanut butter dark chocolate cookie. FAT AND SO SO SO HAPPY. The entire restaurant has the cutest layout complete with overall attire fitted waiters. It’s part Whole Foods and part Mendocino Farms.
If you aren’t looking to eat at this point, find a tea shop or get a head rub, foot massage, or weird, Chinese herbal medicine type of healing at any of the spas scattered throughout the alleys. Just trust. No one does it better than the Chinese when it comes to healing. It might seem sketchy and it probably is, but it works in magical ways. After we had our fair share of exploring, we headed back to The Bund area where most of the nightlife and swank clubs are.
One thing my dad and I share, besides love of travel, is our passion for REALLY GREAT cuisine. Our hearts were set on eating at Mercato, a Michelin-starred restaurant with Italian influence created by chef Jean-Georges. While the atmosphere is warm and comfortable, the food is defined as “farm chic.” And the meal was just that and more. Fresh, homemade, soft focaccia bread dipped in rich olive oil, fried ricotta risotto balls, crispy asparagus wrapped in prosciutto with burrata, and a pasta meatball rigatoni with fresh Parmesan and thyme just to start. At this point, I was zoned out of the conversation and day dreaming of Italy. The main course was a traditional Thanksgiving feast complete with pumpkin cheesecake and a glass of Rosso. I also had a slice of my dad’s prosciutto-basil four-cheese pizza for research purposes. It hit the spot.
After one hell of a meal and a pretty intense food coma, I was determined to walk it off. A night in Shanghai isn’t complete without checking out the iconic Jazz Bar at the Peace Hotel so that’s where we headed. It’s known as one of the oldest bars in Shanghai and still maintains that flapper-esque 1920s nostalgia.
Lastly, you cannot come to Shanghai without getting a rooftop view of the city! It’s one of the best things to do if you’re near or staying in The Bund area. Luckily for us, the Hyatt has one of the top-rated bars with panoramic views of the city, The Vue. It’s typically booked (at least the good tables are) so make sure to reserve something ahead of time.
With so many different parts making up this epic city, 24-hours seemed to just graze the surface. I’m already looking forward to returning. If you’ve been, what are your must sees?!
If you’re vacationing in Asia, check out my tips to seeing all of this rad country!