50 Moganshan Road
Also known as M50, this arts district is often compared to New York's Soho (i.e. it's one of the city's most prestigious gatherings of galleries). It's located in a former industrial area along the Suzhou Creek, and the factories and buildings have been converted and now house a mix of galleries, artist and design studios, as well as some cafes and shops. ShanghArt is one of the most established galleries here; others to look for are M97, H-Space, Eastlink, 1918 ArtSpace and Art Scene Warehouse.
With one of the best reputations in Asia, Banyan Tree is a Thai resort company that has expanded its spa business into a few city hotels like this one at Westin Shanghai. The treatments incorporate Asian healing practices.
China Art Museum (China Art Palace)
The former Shanghai Art Museum moved to this new Pudong location in 2012. Originally, the museums was housed inside a former race club and also hosted the well-regarded Shanghai Biennale (which is now held in the Power Station of Art). The spectacular setting, housed in the former China Pavilion of the 2010 Expo, is matched by the incredible collection focused on Chinese modern art and special exhibitions. The largest museum in Asia, it was conceived to be the country’s answer to New York’s MET and Paris’ Musée d’Orsay. It’s not to be missed as a demonstration of China’s every-growing, strong art scene. Admission is free but you have to reserve your ticket in advance online.
Day Trip: Zhujiajiao Ancient Water Village
Often likened to Shanghai’s Venice, Zhujiajiao water village is located one hour from the city and has a history spanning over 1,700 years. The tiny town (it’s only about 20 square miles), is a charming place to explore (via gondola and on foot) both modern and ancient China. The village boasts a number of historical monuments, like the Kezhi Garden, which was built in 1912 and is one of few monuments in the country that blends Chinese and Western architecture style, but has become a hotbed for artistic creativity since the Shangduli project launched in 2014.
The waterfront development is focused on bringing contemporary art to the town, and a number of modern exhibits (murals, vibrant installations) line the streets. The project also operates a four-room hotel, Shang Du Li Clubhouse (No.3, Lane 24, Xinfeng Rd.), which provides a chic hideout for visitors that want to spend a night before returning to Shanghai (contact Indagare to book). Styled like a traditional teahouse, the property is a study in minimalist elegance. A number of stylish boutiques line the streets surrounding the hotel, including You Mu You Tao for pottery, Choc Choco Chocolate Bar and SJPC Bookstore.
If you want to discover why the Shanghainese never seem to falter, try a foot massage, a daily ritual for many. For an authentic Shanghai experience and a terrific treatment, head to one of the many branches of this contemporary Chinese spa. Reflexology massages are given in a candlelit room, which you share with fellow customers, everyone stretching out on comfortable chaises. The Nanchang Rd. outpost feels like a private home, put your feet up and discover heavenly renewal.
HSBC Building on the Bund
The HSBC is one of the most famous of the gorgeous neo-classical buildings on the Bund. It's luxurious inside and out, but particularly known for gorgoues mosaics dating from 1923. Hidden under plaster and paint during the Cultural Revolution and rediscovered in 1997, they show the banking capitals of the world with landmarks of that time. It’s fun to note the cityscapes that have stayed the same and those that are virtually unrecognizable.
Indagare Tours: Bike Tour in the Former French Concession
Indagare Tours: Food Tour
Indagare Tours: Insider Shanghai
Unlike many other Asian destinations, where you can fudge your way with English and sign language, Shanghai remains one of the hold-outs of communication issues. Most people in the service industries do not speak English, and this includes wait staff and taxi drivers. Tenacious traveler who do a lot of research in advance and have print-outs of where they want to go and what they want to order etc can certainly get by. But it's much more relaxed to tour with a local guide who can translate and help with getting around, allowing you to make the most of your day. Shanghai is a sprawling, throbbing, busy place, so it helps to understand how to craft an itinerary, whether it's based around history, art, shopping, architecture, food or a combination thereof. Indagare members can contact our Bookings Team for help with trip planning, including customized recommendations and itineraries.
Indagare Tours: Vintage Motorcycle Tour
Jazz at the Fairmont Peace Hotel
Formerly the Cathay and Palace Hotel, this is one of those old-school Shanghai properties with a lot of history (it's where Noël Coward wrote Private Lives). The Communist government used to have the rooms bugged, and one former guest told me how he’d commented to his companion on his room’s foul-smelling carpet, only to return later to find it freshly deodorized.
Following a $60 million, plus three-year restoration, this is now the Fairmont Peace Hotel, and the bar has been restored to its 1930s glory, making a visit feel like time travel. Visitors can also sip cocktails and listen to the octogenarian Jazz band who have played together since the 1980s (two members were in Jimmy King’s legendary 1940s jazz ensemble). A charming way to kick off or end an evening.
Long Museum West Bund
Coming onto Shanghai’s art scene in 2014, the Long Museum West Bund is the second museum from Chinese billionaire Liu Yiqian and his wife Wang Wei (their first art gallery is in Pudong). Located on the banks of the Huangpu River, the private art museum occupies a previously nondescript wharf that was used for coal transportation in the 1950s, but thanks to Shanghai-based architect Liu Yichun, is now a stunning piece of art itself. The stark, grey concrete museum is centered on a coal hopper unloading bridge, a reminder of Shanghai’s industrial culture as well as a nod to the dynamic artworks housed within the gallery. The permanent collection boasts an array contemporary and ancient Chinese art, as well as rotating exhibitions and an impressive selection of works by Yayoi Kusama, a clear favorite of the owners.
This legendary kung fu school teaches long-running classes as well as one-off courses for those interested.
Located in the art-centric Moganshan Road neighborhood, M97 is one of many pioneering galleries in the area, but the only one that is entirely dedicated to photography. Established in 2006, the 3,000-square-foot M97 features works from roughly 30 Chinese and international artists and has helped popularize photography as an art form in Shanghai and the rest of the country.
MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) Shanghai
The first independent nonprofit art institution in Shanghai when it opened in 2005, the MOCA cannot bank on big-name international exhibitions (read: nothing too cutting-edge or controversial). It’s location in People's Park is winning, as is the architecture with floor-to-ceiling glass walls that make for great views.
Neighborhood Walk: People’s Square
Start with the Urban Planning Exhibition Hall to get a sense of where the city is headed. Then walk over to the Shanghai Museum for a great overview of Chinese classical art. You can walk through the park to the MOCA Shanghai, which showcases contemporary Chinese art, and have a casual lunch in its café.
Neighborhood Walk: The Bund
Start at the Bund Historical Museum in Huangpu Park to see its collection of vintage photos, showing the city when it was known variously as the Whore of Asia and Paris of the East. Make a reservation at M on the Bund (No. 5) for lunch, and before or after take a look at Three on the Bund for its shops and gallery, then stroll down the riverfront for local color. Stop at the HSBC Building (No. 12) for its mosaics from the 1920s and the Fairmont Peace Hotel (No. 20) to get a sense of Shanghai history. Turn down Fuzhou Lu and visit the shops Suzhou Cobbler and Blue Shanghai White at No. 17 for gifts, or seek out Annabel Lee for embroidered fashion and accessories. End with cocktails at the Peninsula's Salon de Ning for a romantic, hushed setting.
Neighborhood Walk: The French Concession
A tour of this neighborhood allows you to combine some historic Communist landmarks with some of the city’s best shopping. The Chinese allowed the French this area until 1949, when foreign governments were expelled; it’s also the site of grand villas from colonial days. Start with a visit to Mao Zedong’s former residence (374 Huangpi South Rd./76–78 Xingye Rd.; 86-21-5383-2171) and the house where the Communist Party was founded, and then explore contemporary Chinese capitalism by touring Xintiandi’s shops and restaurants.
Neighborhood Walk: Tian Zi Fang
This vibrant neighborhood is chock-full of kitschy boutiques and restaurants that cater to foreigners (NY-style pizza, anyone?), but it is still fun to explore and has some great people watching. The arts enclave in the French Concession has a number of well-preserved residences from the 1930s, which pose an interesting contrast to the many storefronts hawking curios and souvenirs. There are a few worthwhile boutiques in the maze, like Taste, a stylish boutique with a café upstairs. For a quick bite in the area, pop into Kommune.
Old Town Yuyuan Garden
You can see traditional Chinese architecture in this peaceful Ming-dynasty garden, including a 223-year-old pavilion teahouse. It’s one of the few green spots in crazy Shanghai, so take advantage of the serenity (relatively speaking: the garden is always full of people).
Indagare Tip: If seeing the gardens in the morning, plan to have breakfast at Nanxiang Steamed Bun Restaurant beforehand. The popular restaurant is at the entrance to the garden and is packed by 10:30am.
Oriental Pearl TV Tower
Otherwise known as the TV Tower, this is the landmark that has come to symbolize the city and that you will see on souvenirs. It has pink orbs on stalks, which you can ride to different levels for a view of the Shanghai sprawl. (Those afraid of enclosed spaces or heights should give it a pass.) Those who want to savor the view should go early, before the crowds arrive. Notice the wall of VIP remarks for proof that even politicians seem starved for witticisms when faced with a guest book.
Indagare Tip: For those who want to avoid tourist crowds and long lines, have evening cocktails at the rooftop bar at the Ritz-Carlton nearby. The views are about as spectacular but the experience a lot more leisurely.
Pearl Lam Galleries
Pearl Lam started her career showing contemporary Chinese art in Hong Kong in the early 1990s. The Shanghai branch offers some of the most thought-provoking art around, from modern Chinese calligraphers and ink brush painters to solo shows by artists hailing from such places as Iran. Although catered towards high-end buyers, the raison d’etre for the gallery is to help educate visitors and to illustrate the similarities and differences between Western and Eastern fine art. The historic building located a short walk from The Bund only adds to the gallery’s charm.
Power Station of Art
The Power Station of Art, opened in 2012, is being touted as Shanghai’s answer to the Tate Modern. It occupies a renovated —vast and impressive—power station that overlooks the more gritty, industrial end of the Huangpu River. Exhibitions are generally free (or very cheap), and the new museum has already hosted some major collections. In 2013, Andy Warhol: 15 Minutes Eternal, the largest retrospective of the pop artist’s work to ever travel to Asia, showed here. There is little else to see around the museum, but it is worth an afternoon trip for art lovers. The Power Station of Art also hosts the renowned Shanghai Biennale.
This arts district successfully gave the more established M50 a run for its money when it opened, though insiders say both art neighborhoods pale in comparison with Beijing’s vibrant Dashanzi. Occupying an enormous space that used to house a former steel factory in Hongqiao, Red Town is a cool place for an afternoon, especially when traveling with kids, who will love the large sculpture park, complete with oversized works that can be climbed.
There are several cafes and shops (including an amazing design bookstore), and the Minsheng Art Museum, opened in 2010, focused on Chinese contemporary art. The galleries are hit-and-miss, but the whole experience of Red Town is so much fun that its’ easy to forgive the occasional uninspired exhibition.
Those more enthralled by shopping than art should not miss the Joyce Warehouse, a two-level outpost of the famous Hong Kong–based fashion and lifestyle brand (some of the items they carry is marked-down leftover stock).
The Rockbund Museum is located in a gorgeous brick extravaganza that used to house the Royal Asiatic Society. It has been masterfully restored by David Chipperfield Architects (the London-based company was commissioned with the restoration and conversion of eleven historic buildings on this northern end of the Bund). A privately owned museum, the Rockbund relies on exciting temporary exhibitions to make a visit worthwhile. It has hosted some exhibition by big-name Chinese artists. If you are staying at the Peninsula Shanghai, literally adjacent to the Rockbund plot, it’s worth dropping by the see the beautiful architecture. Closed Monday.
Shanghai Gallery of Art
If you're shopping or dining in one of the venues at Three on the Bund, stop by this massive contemporary gallery first. It's vaulted exhibition space has views of the river and always hosts interesting shows.
Shanghai Grand Theatre
You can recognize this building as the one that looks like a boat hull or a lemon wedge resting on top of a square. Built in 1998, the theater hosts the city’s largest musical and theatrical productions (The Lion King, Mamma Mia! And Hairspray), and it’s worth seeing what’s on when you’re in town. I went to an acrobatic performance and saw plate spinners, contortionists and cyclists who put on a show as astonishing as those of Cirque du Soleil but with no special effects or expensive equipment, only pure daring and physical prowess.