Why Go Now
Because everyone else is, of course. Shanghai is, as Time magazine recently said, the world’s hottest city, one that practically ushers you into the 21st century the minute you arrive.
Its international airport glistens like the set of a science fiction movie. A magnetic levitation train whisks you from the open countryside to Pudong, covering 18 miles in eight minutes. Here, in Shanghai’s spanking new eastern district, one easily measures the scale of this brash city’s ambitions. Skyscrapers soar from what only a few years ago was swampland, with the Oriental Pearl Tower, (1) lighted by night in playful colors like a pumped-up version of the space rocket rides of bygone amusement parks, serving both as exclamation point and symbol of the city’s confidence.
Where to Stay
Shanghai’s hotel offerings are numerous and varied and, like the city, growing all the time. The Grand Hyatt, (2) (86-21) 5049 1234, fax (86-21) 5046 1111, www.shanghai.grand.hyatt.com, with 555 rooms housed high in the Jin Mao Tower in Pudong (the lobby is on the 54th floor), has been popular since its opening in 1999, both for its rooms with huge bay-window views, and as a meeting place for early evening cocktails and Sunday brunch. Standard rates start at $259, at 8.45 yuan to the United States dollar.
Other recent arrivals include two hotels in the heart of Shanghai’s business and cultural center. The JW Marriott Shanghai, (3) 399 Nanjing Xilu, (86-21) 5359 4969, fax (86-21) 6375 5988, barely a year old, is a bright, pointy 60-story tower, with a panoramic lobby on the 38th floor. The Marriott sits on Shanghai’s premier shopping street, a stone’s throw from the city’s sparkling palace, the Shanghai Grand Theater. All the rooms have high-speed Internet connections. Standard rates start at $211.
More traditional choices include older hotels that hug the Bund – that magnificent architectural legacy of European control of the city in the early 20th century – and give a feeling for the city’s earlier glory days. The Peace Hotel, (4) Nanjing Donglu, (86-21) 6321 6888, fax (86-21) 6329 0300, is the choice of filmmakers, from Spielberg to Merchant and Ivory, when they wish to recreate scenes of period elegance from the 20’s and 30’s. The cavernous marble lobby is an Art Deco masterpiece, and the top two floors consist of large suites that are each decorated in the period styles of nations around the world. But while it has great atmosphere, visitors often complain that service fails to live up to its five-star billing. A standard room with two single beds in the hotel’s north building costs about $99.
The Shanghai Seagull Hotel, (5) 60 Huangpu Lu, (86-21) 6322 3855, fax (86-21) 6324 1263, is less well known but rivals the Peace Hotel for its location, at the confluence of the Huangpu River and Suzhou Creek. It dispenses with the five-star pretensions, with smallish, slightly cramped rooms and unfussy furnishing, but it offers rooms with two single beds with some great views of the river for $95 a night.
Where to Eat
Shanghai’s most famous restaurant is M on the Bund (6) at 20 Guangdong Lu, (86-21) 6350 9988. With its sweeping view of the Bund and of Pudong’s skyscrapers from its seventh-floor terrace, M fills up most nights with smartly dressed couples and well-heeled tourists for a candlelit dinner in a quietly elegant 1930’s Art Deco décor. Try the slowly baked salt-encased leg of lamb, served with herbed couscous, roasted eggplants, crispy vine leaves and hummus.
Two new high-end restaurants are housed nearby in stately old Bund buildings that have recently been turned into luxury shopping centers. Three on the Bund, (7) 17 Guangdong Lu, which houses Armani’s flagship store for China, is also home to Jean Georges, (86-21) 6321 7733, named after its creator, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, where dinner (including a foie gras brûlé with dried sour cherries) will run about $70 a person. A short distance away on the waterfront, the newly opened 18 on the Bund, home to Cartier and Ermenegildo Zegna boutiques, also boasts a restaurant, Sens & Bund, (8) (86-21) 6323 7066, run by Jacques and Laurent Pourcel, twin chefs from Montpellier, France.
For excellent contemporary Chinese cuisine, try the Xintiandi area, a dining and shopping district redeveloped in old brick that is great for an evening stroll. At Ye Shanghai, (9) (86-21) 6311 2323, the emphasis is on stews and other mild Shanghai dishes (i.e., fish bead soup and marinated crab) with a nouvelle-cuisine flair. Zen, (10) (86-21) 6385 6385, serves tasty and well presented Cantonese food, like crab braised with Chinese wine. (Dinner for two, about $60.)
The more adventurous should try Guyi Hunan Restaurant (11) on Fuming Lu, where people line up on the weekends for fiery chili-stoked hot pots, steamed fishhead with green and red peppers, and lots of beer. Average dinner for two: $24 to $36.
What to Do During the Day
Visit the Shanghai Gallery of Art, at Three on the Bund, www.threeonthebund.com, a fantastic contemporary gallery (a “post-renaissance” building that is the former headquarters of the Union Assurance Company), with an interior sumptuously designed with a gold-columned atrium by the architect Michael Graves, or the glass Shanghai Grand Theater. (12)
For all of its manic energy and wild traffic, Shanghai remains a great walking city. Best of all is the former French Concession, (13) a district that traces its roots to the city’s era of foreign-governed enclaves in the early 20th century. The French Concession exudes the feeling of a great European metropolis: grids of tree-lined streets bisected by broad avenues, with carefully restored houses and apartments built in stone, masonry and wood. Wanderers here will see sublime old villas with handsome palm tree gardens and wrought iron gates that housed the foreign and Chinese elite of 70 years ago. The tree-lined streets are also home to all manner of shops, from narrow, cluttered used book sellers to antique furniture dealers and tiny art galleries.
Where to Shop
Nanjing Lu and Huaihai Lu are Shanghai’s grand commercial boulevards, both lined with department stores and smaller shops. As one approaches the Bund, Nanjing Lu is closed to cars, creating a vast pedestrian mall. In other areas, notably the former French Concession and Xintiandi, a 560,000-square-foot retail and dining complex that is a melting pot of affluent young Shanghainese and shopping-mad tourists, there is a proliferation of small stores selling everything from relics from the Maoist past to Qing Dynasty furniture. Madame Mao’s Dowry, (14) (86-21) 6437 1255, a modest but richly stocked shop on 70 Fuxing Lu, sells a mix of Mao-era memorabilia (ceramic busts and bookends of Mao Zedong, colorful propaganda posters done in the socialist-realist style of the 1970’s), along with vintage silk tunics and beautiful hand-blown Christmas tree bulbs. Just down the street, at 26 Fuxing Road West, one can find another small boutique, Skylight, which mostly offers items from Tibet, from silk scarves and Buddhist reliquary items to traditional jewelry of turquoise amber and beads.
What to Do at Night
A taxi ride along the city’s main elevated highway, through the center of the city and around a broad curve, suddenly reveals the blazingly well-lighted Bund – an unforgettable experience.
A Huangpu River cruise (15) is another good way to take in the sights, with versions of one, two and three and a half hours, all leaving from the Bund. The ticket office is at 229 Zhongshan Dong Er Lu; (86-21) 6374-4461.
The nightclub scene is exciting, with clubs fast going in and out of favor. Park 97, (16) (86-21) 5383 2328, a renovated old Shanghai villa, with red velour interior and chrome chandeliers, is the place to see Shanghai’s chic set drinking martinis and mixing fast social life with deal-making. The club is in Fuxing Park, one of the city’s best public gardens.
Zapata, (17) 5 Hengshan Lu near Dongping Lu, (86-21) 6474 6628, is one club that has defied the rapid turnover, remaining popular with a cosmopolitan crowd for the last few years.
In Xintiandi, TMSK, (18) (86-21) 6326 2227, is a sleekly decorated club that attracts a lively, well-dressed, mostly Chinese clientele.
The newly reopened Paramount Theater, (19) 218 YuYuan Lu, (86-21) 6249 8866, an Art Deco marvel with wild neon lights, offers ballroom dancing and an atmosphere that is a throwback to the 1930’s.
United flies direct from New York, with stops in either Chicago or San Francisco. A 21-day advance purchase round-trip coach fare, with a departure just before New Year’s, will cost roughly $1,850. Total flight time is 19 hours and 15 minutes (going) and 17 hours and 38 minutes (returning). American, Air China and ANA also have flights out of New York, but all require at least one stopover, and they all have longer total flight times.
If It’s Your First Time or 10th
Much has been said here about the Bund, and with good reason. This sweeping waterfront, with its riverbank promenade, grand European architecture and blazing neon – with the skyscrapers of Pudong looking down upon it all from the far side of the river – symbolizes the great human promise embodied in cities. There is real electricity here, too much to ever grow blasé.
HOWARD W. FRENCH is chief of the Shanghai bureau of The Times.
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company