Where to Stay in Shanghai: 8 Best Areas

Where to stay in Shanghai

Are you looking for somewhere to stay in Shanghai on your first visit to China? In this blog, to help you make the most of your stay, I have highlighted eight districts that are not just great areas to stay, but also allow quick and easy access to other areas of this mind-boggling city of the future.

My favourite areas to stay in Shanghai are The Bund, People´s Square and the French Concession. Others, such as Old Shanghai, Pudong or Jing´an, are also excellent choices.

Situated on the Chinese Yangtze River’s southern estuary, Shanghai is the world’s busiest container port. It is also the world’s third-largest city, and has a population of close to 25 million inhabitants.

In a country renowned for its ancient history and culture, Shanghai is a scrupulously clean, modernistic, high-tech, vibrant city that generates over nine trillion Chinese Yuan per annum (over US$1.25 trillion) – and wants the world to know about it.

It is a major universal centre for finance, business and economics. A cutting-edge hub for research, science and technology. And an epicentre for manufacturing, transport, culture and tourism.

Shanghai not only attracts thousands of business travellers on an almost daily basis, but a broad range of leisure travellers looking to explore its old – and its new.

From old landmarks that date back to the 13th century to its modern, futuristic skyscrapers and numerous parks and green spaces. You can investigate its ancient culture and art scene, as well as its theatres, museums, and galleries.

Now, let´s dive into the best areas and places to stay in Shanghai.

Where to Stay in Shanghai: Best Areas

1. People’s Square and Nanjing Road, where to stay in Shanghai for first-time visitors 

People´s Square

What better place to stay than in the very heart of the city? In the early 20th century, the area now known as the People’s Square was a major horse racing track and casino owned by the Shanghai Race Club.

Gambling is a favourite pastime of the Chinese, and the track was highly popular with both locals and European expats. During WW II, racing was halted. And in 1949, with the coming of the Chinese Communist Party, it was banned altogether.

In the early 1950s, the land was converted into a large square for (communist) party gatherings named People’s Square and a large park for leisure activities, called the People’s Park.

In the centre of People’s Square, you will find a large circular fountain, which provides a musical accompaniment with its spray. If you’re out and about early enough you can join some of the locals on the square practising Tai Chi for their daily exercise.

Or, on a Saturday, you can take in the old tradition of Shanghai’s marriage market. Local parents arrive with large posters displaying their sons’ and daughters’ skills and qualities, with a view to marriage potential.

Now a highly popular retail and commercial district, the square dissects East Nanjing Road and West Nanjing Road and is bordered by a pedestrianised area of Nanjing Road to the north.

With its numerous bus stops and metro stations, it is also ideally placed for those wanting to get away for a day to explore other areas of the city.

The bustling, vibrant streets surrounding the square are full of revealing landmarks, municipal and commercial buildings, museums, hotels, shopping centres, small retail outlets and numerous cafes and restaurants.

With so much to see and do in this pulsating district, if things get a little too hectic, the relaxing aura of People’s Park is just a short walk away.

Since the late 20th century, much work has been undertaken in the area, and you can find the Municipal Government Headquarters on the square and the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Centre.

There is also a Madame Tussauds, Shanghai Museum, the Shanghai Museum of Arts (housed in the old race track clubhouse) and the virtually all-glass Shanghai Grand Theatre.

For shopaholics, Nanjing Road is worth mentioning in its own right and is certainly a place to head for.

Nanjing Road is over 100 years old and located in the Huangpu District of Shanghai. It stretches 2 kilometres from the Bund at one end, to the People’s Square at the other, attracting thousands of visitors daily.

As famous as Oxford Street in London, the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris, or Fifth Avenue in New York: Nanjing Road attracts fashion, shopping and entertainment lovers from around the world.

With over 600 hundred shops to be perused, visitors can investigate small, chic, modern boutiques or head for big-name fashion stores such as Mont Blanc, Tiffany, Dunhill or Omega. You will also find around 100 outlets offering silk goods, wool and embroidery and jade ornaments and jewellery.

Add to that the architectural differences, cultural attractions, traditional food shops, fabulous bars, restaurants and a buzzing nightlife scene. And Nanjing Road is the place to head for day or night.

A good selection of lodgings from hostels to all hotel accommodation levels is available for those considering a stay in Shanghai around People’s Square and Nanjing Road.


2. The Bund, great area to stay in Shanghai for nightlife

Best place to stay in Shanghai: The Bund

Located at the bottom of Nanjing Road, on the HuangPu River’s western bank, The Bund is an exclusive district full of European-style architecture dating back to the 1842 signing of the Treaty of Nanjing.

This treaty saw the end of the Opium Wars, and began the colonial trading period in Shanghai and other Chinese cities with the French, English, American and, to a lesser degree, the Japanese.

As trading increased, more grand commercial properties were constructed, many owned by the leading banks of the day. In 1865 for example, the headquarters of the Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation was built, better known today as HSBC.

Old-style European influence can still be seen in many of its hotels and commercial properties. 

The wide, paved river promenade cries out to be walked at a leisurely pace day or night. You can take in the river views, Pudong’s skyscraper skyline on the opposite bank, or enjoy a romantic meal as the city’s lights sparkle off the Huangpu River.

If you prefer to be on the water rather than beside it, several evening river cruises are available, complete with a meal or banquet, while you enjoy the twinkling Shanghai skyline by night.

Shaded behind tree-lined roads, you will find mansions and chateaus tastefully converted to fashionable restaurants and coffee shops, sophisticated hotels, quirky boutiques and stylish fashion houses.

For some of the best perspectives of the surrounding area, visit one of the many rooftop bars you will find in the Bund. Choose from a varied wine list, pick your favourite cocktail, or savour a sparkling Asian beer while you enjoy a bird’s eye view of the surrounding area.

The Bund is also recognised as the party place to be for those who like to see and be seen. With increasing numbers of visitors arriving, more sophisticated bars and clubs have opened, many importing top European DJs to entertain the guests.

Some of my favourite spots for nightlife are Bar Rouge, a rooftop bar with incredible views of Pudong´s Skyline, an M1NT, one of the most exclusive and vibrant clubs with an aquarium with sharks.

Accommodation in the Bund is primarily high-end hotels, but the extra is repaid in the unique ambience of this historical area, which is not often found in areas with high tourist numbers.

Also, with the nearest underground station just a five-minute walk away (Nanjing Road(E.)), you can be exploring other areas of Shanghai within minutes.


3. Old Shanghai, the historical centre of the city

Old Shanghai

Situated just southeast of the city centre between Zhongshan Road and Renmin Road, the Old Town is the place for a glimpse of old Shanghai’s history.

But you need to be quick. In recent years great swathes of historic buildings have been bulldozed to make way for yet more towering skyscrapers, with no sign that the regeneration will end any time soon.

Initially known as Chinese City during the colonial period, it was a labyrinth of narrow streets and alleys and a densely populated residential area for Chinese migrants who arrived looking for work. Hence the name.

During this period of the Ming Dynasty, the city was also surrounded by a defensive wall built to help ward off Japanese pirates, and which remained in place until it was demolished in 1912.

Nonetheless, enough of this ancient city remains to allow visitors the opportunity to enjoy an in-depth look at how things used to be.

Now known as Nanshi, the old town is a mix of small businesses, homes, souvenir shops, old architecture, cultural activities, immaculate gardens, temples, bars, bazaars, tea houses and restaurants.

You can visit the ancient Taoist City God Temple and the Xiaotayuan Mosque. Relax in the Lotus Flower Garden, or stroll the Yuyuan Garden, which is built in classic southern Chinese style and includes bridges, pavilions, and exquisite flora.

Explore the Mid-Lake Pavilion, Lignaloes Pavilion, and the former home of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, a leading figure in the setting up of the Chinese Republic.

Many old historic buildings will divulge long histories of the culture and customs of ancient and modern China and Shanghai.

If you enjoy hunting for personal souvenirs or antiques, visit the Antiques Market of Shanghai Old Town.

Located in the basement of the Yu Garden Shopping Complex and open daily, it has over 200 stalls selling a myriad of Chinese curiosities and artefacts, as well as silk clothing and dressing gowns, freshwater pearls, porcelain tea sets, handicrafts, posters, fans, scrolls and much more.

Don’t forget to haggle. It’s a popular pastime for Chinese traders, and you should be able to get an average 25% off most marked prices.

Another popular local bazaar is Yuyuan Bazaar, where you can browse the stalls and sample delicious local street food.

If you plan to visit during spring or autumn, you can enjoy the Old Town’s Lantern Festival. Or the Shanghai Tourism Festival in October.

Have you ever wondered what it was Confucius said? In the Old Town, you can visit the Shanghai Confucian Temple, and contemplate a few of the main Confucian rules and customs, such as, ‘Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.’

Accommodation options in the Old Shanghai area range from hostels and economy to high-end 5-star hotels.


4. Former French Concession (FFC), a place to soak up the history of old Shanghai full of charm

French Concession

Just a pleasant 20-minute stroll from the Shanghai Exhibition Centre, the Former French Concession (FFC) is a hangover from the Opium Wars of the 19th century.

As a sweetener, to encourage the signing of the treaties to end the wars, numerous concessions in Chinese cities were granted to a number of European countries and the US. To allow them to continue their lucrative trade with the East.

In downtown Shanghai, areas of the Xuhui and Luwan districts were handed to the French in 1849.

Wealthy French merchants and traders quickly took over the district, building opulent townhouses, villas and mansions. Other nationalities were also moving into the area. A large contingent of British arrived, followed by Americans and then Russians fleeing the Russian Revolution.

By the 1920s, the district was Shanghai’s most prestigious residential and commercial area, and continued to thrive from the trade generated.

Construction continued to boom. New retail outlets and commercial offices were built. Russian Orthodox Churches were constructed, to join the existing Catholic churches and synagogues already tending their flocks.

But, as they say, all good things come to an end, and in 1943, during WW II, Germany forced the Vichy French Government to sign the concession over to the Japanese.

Today, although the French colonial influence remains for all to see, FFC remains a busy, thriving, multicultural residential and commercial area. These days, attracting young, go-getting Chinese and European entrepreneurs.

As you explore FFC on foot, almost every avenue has mature sycamore or plane trees shading the old cobbled streets. Look for Wukang Lu, a pleasant street lined with quirky cafes, chic bistros and sophisticated wine bars.

Ferguson Lane is another popular pedestrianised expat haunt, with outside seating at elegant restaurants and stylish cafes, where you can sample local tapas and enjoy a sparkling glass of wine as you watch the locals go about their daily business.

If art, artistry and antiques are your passions, head for Fuxing Lu. A street awash with arty shops, art galleries and studios where a browse amongst the shelves might turn up that interesting, one-off, antique or quirky curiosity.

As you stroll the avenues and boulevards of FFC, history awaits behind the wrought iron gates of colonial properties. Although many have been turned into luxurious hotels or converted into workers’ apartments or offices, just below the surface could lay a story going back 150 years.

For instance, the Art Deco Okura Garden Hotel, on 58 Mao Ming Road, was formally the French Club, frequented by many affluent French and European expat businessmen.

Opposite the Okura Garden, you can see the Jin Jiang Hotel, said to be the only hotel operating in Shanghai after the Communist takeover of 1949. In 1972, American President Richard Nixon met Chairman Mao in the hotel in an effort to normalise relations between their countries.

Other attractions and places of interest in FFC include:

  • Tianzifang – an entertainment complex for the whole family.
  • Shanghai Museum of Public Security – at 518 South Ruijin Rd. Even for a hardened police officer, this museum of how the Chinese do it will be a real eye-opener.
  • Propaganda Poster Art Centre – Bldg B/4, President Mansion, 868 Huashan Rd. A museum of Chinese posters dating back to the 1950s/60s and 70s.
  • Liuli China Museum – 25 Taikang Rd.A collection of ancient artefacts, some dating back 2,000 years.
  • Shanghai Arts and Crafts Museum – 79 Fenyang Rd. Watch Chinese craftspeople at work while you admire paper cutting, needlepoint embroidery, lantern making, lacquer work, and examine ivory, jade and inkstone pieces.
  • Shikumen Open House Museum – Xintiandi North Block, Bldg 25. An exhibition over two floors of an old Shanghai home complete with period furniture and utensils.

Five underground stations are located around FFC, making moving from one area to another quick, easy and cheap.

Accommodation for your stay in Shanghai FFC is plentiful and covers everything from economical to 5-star luxury.


5. Xujiahui, a highly popular shopping area


Bordering parts of the FFC, Xujahui is said to be the second busiest district in Shanghai after Nanjing Road.

Initially, it was an area of poor-quality agricultural land, with several small streams running into the River Huangpu. Today, it is a thriving hub of apartment skyscrapers and commercial and retail areas where you can find almost anything you desire.

Nestling in the southwest of central Shanghai, Xujiahui is a highly popular shopping area with numerous large department stores, shopping centres and smaller retail outlets.

With Shanghai’s Metro Line No 1 covering the area of Xujiahui, it is easy to get from one suburb of Xujiahui to another, for more in-depth exploring on foot.

It also has an excellent reputation for good quality restaurants, cafes, and a number of gaming arcades. Making it a popular leisure destination for local residents.

If holiday shopping for clothing, accessories, jewellery, souvenirs, ornaments or particular food items is your main concern, you’ll be spoilt for choice. Look around Grand Getaway Plaza, Orient Shopping Centre, Pacific Department Store, Metro City and the Huijin Department Store.

If you’re looking for the latest electronics, check out Metro City, Pacific Digital, and Taiping Yang Suma Plaza.

Being so close to the FFC, Xujahui is also steeped in the history of the period, and there is a good selection of historical sights and attractions worth visiting, including:

  • Xujiahui Cathedral, 158 Puxi Road, Xujiahui – Designed by the English architect William Boyle and built by the French between 1905 and 1910.

  •  A Roman Catholic Gothic cathedral, also known as St. Ignatius Cathedral, is considered one of the grandest in Asia. It also found fame as a backdrop in the 1987 Spielberg film’ Empire of the Sun’
  • Longhua Temple, 2853 Longhua Road, Xujiahui – It is the oldest and largest temple in Shanghai, was built during the Song Dynasty, and is over one thousand years old. The temple has Buddhist statues and historical scriptures from the Qing, Ming and Tang Dynasties.
  • Tushanwan Art Museum, 55-1 Puhuitang Road, Xujiahui – Opened in 2010, the museum charts the history of traditional Chinese art and structure with priceless paintings and models. Visitors can also tour the printing house.
  • Shanghai Botanical Gardens, 1111 Longwu Lu, Xujiahui – 200 acres of pristine gardens housing bamboo trees, over 2,000 bonsai trees and 3,000 tropical plants, including azaleas and orchids. Be sure to include the Penjing Garden on your visit to learn the art of bonsai making. 

Other landmarks of interest include the Xu Guangqi Memorial Hall, Xu Guangqi’s Tomb, and Xujiahui Park, which includes the former Pathé Records site in Shanghai and the New Hengshan Cinema.

Accommodation in Xujiahui is plentiful and varied, although mainly hotel-based, running from economical to high-end. Prices are lower than in other areas, making it a popular base for backpackers and budget travellers.


6. Jing’an, getting a taste of modern Shanghai


Named after the temple of the same name, Jing’an is one of Shanghai’s busiest business, commercial and digital technology districts located in the city’s central area. 

Its resident population includes a high percentage of international expats arriving to take up positions in the many foreign businesses, restaurants and bars.

Although not as well blessed with historical landmarks as other areas of Shanghai, several temples are worth visiting. Especially so the Jing’an Buddhist Temple that the district is named after.

You can also visit the former home of Chairman Mao. Now converted into a small museum that provides a timeline of his rise to prominence.

It’s not just the architecture that’s changing in Shanghai either. You will find coffee shops everywhere you go, and a high percentage of those will be Starbucks. Young, modern Chinese are turning their backs on the traditional tea ceremonies in favour of their favourite Expresso, Flat White or Iced Mocha.

Starbucks Reserve Roastery, one of the largest Starbucks in the world, is located on Nanjing Road on the edge of Jing’an, and is easily reached on foot or by metro.

When it comes to resting those weary legs, drag yourself up to Jing’an Park. It is a one-time cemetery where prominent expat Brits and Europeans were laid to rest in the late 18th century. It was converted to a park after the Communist takeover of 1949.

It is a great park for the kids, with plenty of trees, greenery, caves, a pond, a café/restaurant, and more. All is laid out following feng-shui principles. 

Another one to keep the kids happy. Jing’an Sculpture Park is at the northern end of Jing’an. A large park full of greenery with paths criss-crossing the lawns, interesting sculptures and water jets for the kids to run through.

In the park, you will also find the new Shanghai Natural History Museum with prehistoric animals and a small zoo housing small native and other mammals. 

Accommodation in Jing’an is plentiful, and ranges from hostels to apartments and a range of hotel options.


7. Pudong, nice area for families and businessmen

Where to stay in Shanghai: Pudong

Situated on the east bank of the River Puang Pu, Pudong is one of the newest parts of the city’s commercial and financial district.

Less than 40 years ago, Pudong was an area of agricultural fields and rice paddies when the decision was taken to regenerate the area. Construction began in the early 1990s, and now, just 30 years later, it is Shanghai’s most futuristic area.

If you’re flying into Shanghai from Europe, you will likely land at Pudong International Airport, just a 20-minute cab ride from the city centre. Pudong Airport is one of two international airports handling air traffic arriving and leaving Shanghai.

New roads, mega shopping malls, flashy apartment blocks and hi-tech businesses are overlooked by monumental skyscrapers punctuating the Shanghai skyline in every direction.

Pudong also overlooks the colonial area of the Bund on the other side of the river. The comparison just accentuates the massive strides China has made over the decades to pull the country kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

Unsurprisingly, you would find little of Shanghai’s ancient history in Pudong a few years ago. However, in the last couple of years that has changed, with the opening of the Pudong History Museum in the Nanhui district of Pudong.

With over 3500 square metres of floor space, using exhibitions and relics, the museum tells the history of the ecological evolution of the east bank of the Huang Pu River through the centuries up to the modern day.

The lack of historic landmarks, however, is compensated for by the ability to admire some of the most remarkable modern-day structures in the world.

Look out for:

  • Shanghai Tower – 632 metres high (2073ft), 128 storeys and the fastest lifts in the world with a speed of 20.5 metres/second (67ft/s).
  •  Shanghai World Financial Centre – 494 metres high (1620ft), 101 floors, and opened in 2008. Due to its shape, it is called the bottle opener.
  •  The Jinmao Tower – Also called the Golden Prosperity Building. 420.5 metres tall (1379.5ft) and 88 storeys. Opened in 1999.
  •  The Oriental Pearl Tower – A functioning TV tower, 470 metres tall (1541ft). It opened in 1994 and is a breathtaking building when lit up at night.

I could go on and on, listing these impressive edifices, but at least you get an idea of what to expect during your stay in Shanghai.

Other places to visit in Pudong include the International Finance Centre Mall (IFC). A massive shopping centre where you can browse the likes of Chanel, Dior, Louis Vuitton and Gucci, enjoy a meal in one of the restaurants, or book a room for the night.

If you’ve got the little ones with you, you may be interested in the Shanghai Ocean Aquarium. It is one of the world’s largest aquariums and exhibits such aquatic gems as the Chinese sturgeon, the giant salamander, and the Yangtze alligator.

Also, Shanghai Disneyland. The sixth Disneyland Park to be opened worldwide and the first in China. Like Disneyland’s everywhere, it’s big, brash and noisy – and a virtual utopia for children, the young and the young at heart.

If you are staying outside of Pudong, it is easy to get there by metro. The whole area is full of mega malls, shops, cafes, small bakeries, coffee shops and restaurants, many with skyscraper views across the skyline.

Accommodation in Pudong is plentiful at all levels and all prices.


8. Hongqiao, one of Shanghai’s most affluent suburbs


Hongqiao is located 15 miles west of Shanghai’s city centre in the Minhang District and is a predominantly wealthy residential and commercial area.

It is an ultra-modern town and particularly popular with high-ranking, financially secure expats from mainland China, Hong Kong, Korea, Taiwan, Japan and Europe.

It is also a leading transportation hub to areas throughout China and has its own airport 12km (8ml) east of the town centre. With over 45 million passenger movements a year Hongqiao Airport handles domestic and regional flights throughout Asia with a smattering of international arrivals.

It also has a large modern railway station with 16 platforms, 30 tracks and 2800 daily services serving areas throughout China. Add to that its punctual and efficient metro system and touring Shanghai or further afield is pretty problem-free.

With the opening of the massive Hongqiao Transportation Hub in 2010, and the Central Business District (CBD) due to go live in the near future, a prosperous Hongqiao seems to be assured.

A favourite district of the uber-wealthy, property comprises villa compounds, low-rise condos and numerous high-rise skyscrapers.

Much of Hongqiao’s infrastructure is equally impressive, with high-end education facilities, several top international schools, health centres and hospitals, local shops and major shopping malls, excellent leisure facilities, coffee shops, cafes, bars and restaurants.

Many visitors to Shanghai choose to spend a day exploring Hongqiao, but booking into one of its many luxury hotels for a night allows you to enjoy both the daytime and evening attractions with some time away from the city centre crowds in Shanghai.

Red Town, at 570 Huaihai Road West, is a complex worth a visit. Set in a repurposed old factory, it is a creative retail and art complex containing the Shanghai Sculpture Museum, a gift shop and a pleasant café.

A popular day and nighttime destination with visitors and resident expats is Hongmei Entertainment Street. A pedestrianised road full of fitness centres, beauty salons, trendy boutiques, art galleries and shops.

In the evenings, plenty of friendly bars and international restaurants offer various dining options.

Gubei is a suburb of Hongqiao, and is locally referred to as K-Town due to the high percentage of Koreans, Japanese and Taiwanese who have chosen to live in the area. So, if you have a taste for different Asian cuisines, the cafes and restaurants in Gubei are the places to head for it.

In the Loushanguan suburb, just up from Yan An Road, are several embassies and diplomatic residencies alongside some excellent Japanese and Korean eateries.

Or you can head for the Laowai Jie area, which has a good selection of bars, restaurants and jazz clubs.

Another popular shopping spot is the Hongqiao Pearl Market, located at the junction of Hongmei Road and Yan An Road. At one time, it was a popular complex with locals selling cheap look-alike goods.

However, raids by the local and national police have done a lot to reduce the amount of counterfeit goods available, and the traders these days concentrate on selling souvenirs, pearls and jade.

Also on Hongmei Road, you will find Xiaonan’guo Tangheyuan, a Japanese thermal spa and hot spring.

Other areas for those who like to shop till they drop include the Rainbow Flower Market, which sells everything from pet food to furniture, and the Oriental Trade Plaza, a popular flea market.

Just a 20-minute train ride away from Shanghai’s city centre, a pleasant day can be spent wandering Hongqiao’s tree-lined streets, squares and parks away from the frantic hustle and bustle of Shanghai city.

Visitor accommodation for your stay in Shanghai in Hongqiao town is primarily luxury four and 5-star hotels, with more economical options around the suburbs and airport area.


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