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A New Yorker’s Guide to Shanghai

Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in NYC anymore.

Before I returned to the states for college, I had spent the majority of my adolescence in Shanghai, China. Moving from a place like California to China at just 7 years-old was a little bit of a culture shock. But what began as a frustrating place for my childhood transition soon became one of my favorite cities in the world. 

Today, I call New York City home. The city’s fast-paced and cutthroat atmosphere may be overwhelming to some, but to me, this is an all-too-familiar taste of Shanghai. With endless opportunities to meet new people and experience something different every day, I’ve found myself drawing parallels between The Big Apple and the Paris of the Orient. If you’ve caught the travel bug and are packing for a trip to the East, here’s what your itinerary in Shanghai might look like through the lens of a New Yorker. 

For morning eats…

NY: TriBeCa / SH: Xintiandi (新天地)

If you want a bit of old-meets-new.

Translating to “new heaven and earth,” Xintiandi is a charming little “town” within the city. Traditional Shikumen architecture combines with modern art galleries, outdoor dining eateries and luxury shopping spots to give Xintiandi its unique, oxymoronic charm. Here, old Shanghai meets the new Shanghai. It’s the perfect place to slowly start out one of your first mornings in the city. Brunching? I recommend some of the highest-quality Chinese food you’ll ever have: Dintaifung. If you don’t order the xiâo lóng bāo (soup dumplings) here, just go home.

For “ooh’s and aah’s”…

NY: Empire State Building / SH: Pearl TV Tower (东方明珠塔)

If you’re looking for some killer views.

Looking at a picture of Shanghai’s stunning skyline, the first thing you’ll probably notice is the Oriental Pearl TV Tower. Standing at 468 meters, the TV tower is made of three full-scope spheres, which allow visitors to enjoy breathtaking views of the city. Be a real tourist and pay a visit to one of Shanghai’s most impressive architectural trademarks– and don’t forget to take home a souvenir!

For a coffee (or tea)…

NY: Greenwich Village / SH: French Concession (法租界)

If you want to slow it down.

When traveling abroad, everyone needs a couple of still moments to fully appreciate their new surroundings. Shanghai’s former French Concession is a tranquil, tree-shaded neighborhood perfect for slowing down the pace. Amongst preserved mansions, you’ll find boutiques, cafés, salons and more. Here’s a tip: Some of the best Shanghainese food will be at the crack of dawn when store owners are just starting to open up shop, and the smell of freshly steamed shēng jiān mán tǒu (pan-fried steamed buns) is just beginning to sift through the quaint streets. If it’s midday and you’re in need of a cappuccino, I recommend grabbing an outdoor table at Coffee Tree and people-watching the afternoon away.

For treating yourself…

NY: 5th Ave / SH: Huaihai Road (淮海路)

If you know you deserve it.

With the corporate environment of midtown but combined with the upscale glamour of 5th Ave., Huaihai Road is the star of Shanghai’s downtown district. You come here for one very specific reason: to shop til’ ya drop. From stores like Zara and Uniqlo to Louis Vuitton and Gucci, there’s something for everyone. Miss the malls? You’ll find that the Hong Kong Plaza and Parkson Shopping Center will more than scratch your itch. Happy shopping!

For evening eats…

NY: Dumbo / SH: The Bund (外滩)

If you miss being near the water.

Most of the skyline shots you see of Shanghai were probably shot from the west side on The Bund. Lined with colonial buildings of various architectural styles, this spot is a popular destination for both local and international tourists alike. Take a stroll down the promenade next to the Huangpu River before stopping for dinner at one of Shanghai’s finest restaurants. There are tons of great places to brunch as well, but you’re not going to want to miss the way The Bund glitters at night. I recommend Mr. and Mrs. Bund for impeccable French food with a side of breathtaking city views.

For sips…

NY: Lower East Side / SH: Tianzifang (田子坊)

If you need to bar-hop efficiently.

A cozy enclave that twinkles with fairy lights and lanterns in the evening time, Tianzifang is an absolute must-see during a trip to Shanghai. The softly-lit and narrow alleyways are brimming with little stores, restaurants, art galleries, cafés, and plenty of laid-back bars. End a jam-packed day with a drink at the homey Bell Café & Bar. Pro tip: Pick the nook on your left when you go up the stairs, which has a window for people-watching and a lofted bed! Because why not?

Illustration by Lisk Feng. @LiskFeng

Alicia Zhang

Originally from Los Angeles, Alicia lived in Shanghai for 11 years before moving back to the states to attend the University of Miami, where she graduated with a bachelor’s degree in public relations and minors in art and philosophy. Currently residing in New York City, Alicia applies her knowledge of strategic communication and design in her career. She enjoys painting, rugby, exploring, and more often than not, you’ll find her petting someone’s dog.

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