When you touch down in Shanghai, it’s normal to feel overwhelmed. After all, the soaring skyscrapers look like they’ve dropped out of space, and the crowded city is packed with more than 24 million people. But it’s one of the most-visited places in the world for a reason. From the dynamic architecture to the famous Bund, Chinese cuisine and historic parks, Shanghai effortlessly blends history and contemporary urban culture.
There’s also no shortage of choice when it comes to finding a hotel — you can’t go wrong with a stay at the iconic Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Waldorf Astoria Shanghai on the Bund or the art-deco Five-Star Peninsula Shanghai, which is housed in a 19th-century heritage building right by the popular waterfront district.
While it might be hard to peel yourself away from the city, Shanghai is at the doorstep of the Pearl River Delta, a region packed with beautiful rustic scenery, dewy tea plantations, forgotten temples, bamboo forests and more. Here, we’ve rounded up a few of the best side trips for a quick escape from China’s commercial capital.
One of Shanghai’s largest neighbors, Hangzhou is just an hour away by bullet train. Here, you’ll find China’s famous West Lake — considered one of the most poetic places on earth thanks to its half-moon bridges and weeping willows.
Surrounding the lake are luxurious hotels, such as the Five-Star Four Seasons Hotel Hangzhou at West Lake, that keep the magic alive with traditional pavilion-style architecture, lush gardens and lotus ponds all around.
The hotel is also home to one of Hangzhou’s best restaurants, the Four-Star Jin Sha, should you work up an appetite after touring the surrounding tea plantations, pagodas and temples.
Farther afield, the Four-Star Banyan Tree Hangzhou transports you to a land of romantic waterways and 14th-century tea houses, thanks to its scenic address inside the Xixi National Wetlands Park.
While Shaoxing often falls into the shadow of the more imposing “water towns” (such as nearby Suzhou or Wuzhen), it’s an off-the-beaten-track option for those with a penchant for adventure. The city, which sits 120 miles from Shanghai, is best known for its 4,000 ancient stone bridges and canals, which have given rise to the nickname “Venice of Asia.”
Whether or not the comparison holds true, the pedestrian streets — like Lu Xun Middle Road, where most of the action takes place — night markets and whitewashed village houses feel like a different world than nearby Shanghai.
For a historic and relatively upscale place to rest your head in the pedestrian area, try the Xianheng Hotel, which features gorgeous inner courtyards with lotus ponds and pavilions. While you’re there, don’t miss out on the idiosyncratic cuisine — the city is famous for a few dishes, including its Shaoxing rice wine, braised pork belly and stinky tofu.
During the 19th and early 20th centuries, Moganshan was the summer getaway for Shanghai’s expats, wealthy Chinese and politicians. The region endured a rough period during World War II, when it was bombed by the Japanese, but the area resting roughly 110 miles from Shanghai has since begun to regain its popularity thanks to an influx of luxury lodges and heritage renovation projects.
Now dubbed the “Hamptons of China,” the area has evolved into a rural resort where you can enjoy cool mountain air, hiking trails and lush bamboo forests during Shanghai’s brutal summers.
The first luxury address in the area was Le Passage Mohkan Shan, a 42-room French-country-style getaway that opened in 2011. Part tea plantation, part hotel, the impressive property is serenely nestled into the lush hillside. Inside, you’ll find vintage-style restaurants, historic photos on the walls, a heated pool and even a subterranean wine cellar stocked with French vintages.
For something even more exclusive, Le Passage recently opened a VIP villa up a hill called La Residence. The beautifully designed house includes eight bedrooms, a private chef and a pool terrace overlooking the tea plantation.