There’s so much to do in Shanghai, it can be daunting. But you can pack in a lot in 48 hours, since it’s easy to get around the flat and compact city. You can reach most places on foot; anything farther flung can be reached by cab or by metro. Check out our itinerary for how to spend two idyllic days exploring Shanghai.
After arriving at Shanghai Pudong International Airport, ride the lightning-speed Shanghai Maglev, which covers 18.6 miles in just seven minutes and 20 seconds. The bullet train deposits you at the Longyang Road metro station, where you can grab lines 2 or 7, or hop in a cab. To ensure you’re in the middle of the action, book a room at Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star The Langham, Xintiandi, Shanghai. The hotel sits across the street from Xintiandi, a complex of renovated traditional stone houses, called shikumen, which are now home to upscale shops such as Zen Lifestore and restaurants such as South Beauty. The neighborhood is a stone’s throw from hot shopping strip Huaihai Lu (lu means “road” in Mandarin), where you can browse the racks at stores such as Stella Luna, where you can pick up heels from Chinese-American designer Stephen Chi.
Eating is a national pastime in China, so if you can bear to pull yourself away from your ultra-plush bed, walk east to dinner at Lost Heaven. Shanghai has two branches of this low-lit, romantic restaurant; this location, at the southern end of the Bund, has a large roof deck. Lost Heaven serves cuisine from China’s Yunnan province, with heavy influences from Burma and Thailand. Be sure to order the refreshing Burmese tea leaf salad (crunchy fried peas, fava beans, pickled tea leaves and shredded cabbage), which you won’t find elsewhere in Shanghai, as well as the cod, a tender dish steamed in banana leaves and coated with a fiery blend of spices.
Fight the urge to return to your room and surrender to jet lag with a stroll along the Bund. Shanghai’s waterfront promenade is lined with the city’s richest collection of Western historical architecture — 52 buildings done in styles such as neo-classical, Beaux Arts, art deco, Romanesque, Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance Revival. The beautiful buildings are the city’s strongest reminder of its colonial past.
Walk the length of the Bund north to Five-Star The Peninsula Shanghai for a nightcap at Salon de Ning. The funky-chic bar is one of a kind; it has an upside-down room and an underwater-themed alcove complete with a deep-sea diver and shark. Order up a Salon de Ning rosé and relax on an animal-print ottoman to the tunes of a live band.
Jet lag will likely have you up early on day two; after grabbing coffee and breakfast at your hotel, head to Fuxing Park in the city’s French Concession. Life in Chinese cities happens not behind closed doors but out in the streets, and even at an early hour you’ll find this park dotted with elderly locals. Across the park, seniors practice tai chi, walk their pet birds (no leashes are involved — people carry wooden cages with the animals perched inside), practice calligraphy on the pavement and drink tea while playing cards and mah-jongg. There’s a small kids’ play area, and on the open field, you’ll often find people flying kites; they’ll be happy to let your eager offspring try their hand at the activity.
After the park, make your way to Tianzifang, a maze-like warren of lanes in the French Concession whose red-brick houses are filled with independent boutiques, restaurants, cafés and bars. Nearly all of the eateries have outdoor seating, but if you’re finding the labyrinth overwhelming, take respite on Origin’s top-floor terrace, where you can sip a fresh-squeezed watermelon juice in peace and quiet. Don’t miss Demeter Fragrance Library, where you can sniff dirt-, popcorn- and paperback-scented perfume; Shokay, which sells yak down clothing and accessories made in Tibet; and Urban Tribe, where you can snap up handmade jewelry and earth-toned garb made from only natural fibers.
For lunch, grab a cab to Shanghai Centre, the plaza that’s home to Four-Star hotel The Portman Ritz-Carlton, Shanghai, a slew of restaurants, an international clinic and a pharmacy. Your destination is Din Tai Fung, a family-friendly xiaolongbao (soup dumpling) restaurant extraordinaire. While you wait for a table, watch through the plate-glass window as the restaurant’s team of chefs rolls, folds and pinches dumpling dough into shape. Order the supple, melt-in-your-mouth black truffle and pork or crab and pork xiaolongbao, and round out your meal with delicate steamed vegetarian dumplings, prawn noodle soup and crunchy green beans with garlic.
Head north into the Jing’an District for a stop at contemporary pottery shop Spin, whose sleek, minimalist space spans two floors. Among the easier items to transport home are the celadon chili-pepper-shaped chopstick rests. Spin’s helpful employees are happy to arrange courier service to hotels and international shipping, so you won’t have to schlep purchases around with you. From here, it’s on to the Propaganda Poster Art Centre, which houses some 5,000 Chinese propaganda posters from 1949 to 1979. The collection is unrivaled across the country.
If you’ve made reservations far in advance, head to dinner at Ultraviolet, chef Paul Pairet’s magnum opus. The 20-course meal is a lengthy, delectable piece of performance art; each course includes a dish, corresponding drink, scent, sound and visual. If you haven’t booked ahead at Ultraviolet, take a window seat at Jade on 36, Four-Star Pudong Shangri-La, Shanghai’s top-shelf French restaurant. Chef Franck Elie Laloum’s exquisite dishes include a fantastic house-smoked mackerel with licorice yogurt, black radish, pickled cucumber and Thai basil. The wine list, though appropriately heavy on French wines, also offers bottles (and a few glasses) from South Africa, the U.S., Spain and Australia.
After your stomach is full of rich food and drink, take in the surrounding views before retreating back across the Huangpu River for a restful night’s sleep in the luxe confines of your hotel.
Photos Courtesy of iStock and The Peninsula Shanghai