When people ask me to explain the difference between Shanghai and
Beijing, I often use Italy as a comparison: Beijing is a little like
Rome, a chaotic city where, wherever you turn, you’ll find a historical
monument or relic.
Shanghai, rather, is more like Milan; the financial heart of the
country where, more than its monuments, it’s the glass buildings and
shopping malls that characterize it.
Today, rather than talk about the most famous tourist attractions
in Shanghai – the Bund and its colonial buildings, Nanjing Road and its
shopping centers, Lujiazui and its skyscrapers or Yu Yuan Garden, – I’d
like to introduce you to a few, less touristy places in Shanghai that
are worth swinging by.
Attend the Singles Market of People’s Square
The Single's Market – also know as the “Marriage Market” – is a
weekly meeting location for those who have a son or daughter that still
The only purpose of this gathering is to find a bride for one’s own
son. Yes, you heard right: the diligent parents of Shanghai have grown
tired of waiting for a wedding that may never come and have decided to
take matters into their own hands.
So how does the Singles Market work? It’s easy! Just prepare your son’s (or daughter’s) resume and exhibit it in the market.
The hope is to find a pair of parents looking for a husband for their daughter who are interested in your son’s pedigree.
The market opens every Saturday and Sunday and the easiest way to get
there is to take the metro to the People’s Square (rén míng guáng
chǎng, 人民广场) stop, exit 9. Click here to view a photo gallery dedicated to this unusual market.
I visited the Singles Market many times, but the funniest one was the
time that I went there with my (ex) Chinese girlfriend. Why? Because
she tried to "sell" me to the parents of a 22 years old girl.
To my astonishment, they were quite interested and started to ask a
lot of questions about my education, my job and, most important, my
Lose yourself among the Longtang of the French Concession
The Longtang (lòng táng, 弄堂), a local term referring to the Lilong
(lǐ lòng, 里弄), are residential lanes that allow access to a myriad of
small houses, usually with two floors.
The character “弄” means lane in English. The Longtang are protected
by iron gates that by nightfall are for the most part closed.
Such residential neighborhoods, which hold a special place in my
heart since I'd once lived in one myself, can contain hundreds of houses
and are Shanghai’s answer to the much more famous Hutongs of Beijing.
The difference is that, while the majority of the surviving Hutongs
have become tourist attractions from what I’ve seen, life in the
Longtang is rarely disturbed by cameras. That is, if you exclude
Xintiandi and Tianzi Fang, which by now are to all effects commercial
zones and can no longer be considered residential areas.
I lived in Shanghai for awhile and some of my preferred Longtang are found near Xinzha Road, Maoming Road, Julu Road and Nanchang Road.
I'm especially "attached" to one of the Longtangs situated between
Yan'An Road and Julu Road, because that was my first home when I arrived
I spent a lot of time walking through these residential lanes.
Sometimes, when one was closed, I'd have to come back to try another
alley, but it's extra time well spent, because I just love the
atmosphere found in the Longtang.
Go for a walk on Changle Road
Changle Road is one of my favorite streets in Shanghai. It’s a rather
narrow street – barely two cars could fit – and is about two kilometers
long extending from west to east right in the middle of the old French
Walking along Changle Road, you’ll find everything: Japanese and
Italian restaurants, skateboarder shoe stores, clubs full of techno
music, alternative cafes, knock-off DVD pushers, elegant boutiques
(often run by young local designers), jiǎo zi sellers (Chinese
dumplings), mobile vendors of pots and junk, bookstores, Longlang, and
Personally I spent a ton of time in Changle Road as I often used to meet my friends here. I'm always on time; but the same can't be told about my friends! So I often ended up losing myself through the small shops on this street.
Once, my girl was so late that I decided to have dinner alone. Of course I chose the small jiaozi restaurant that you find at the beginning of Yanqing Road, at the intersection between Yanqing Road, Changle Road, Donghu Road and Xinle Road.
Discover Shanghai’s underground music scene at Yuyintang
Shanghai teems with clubs: from the elegant M1NT and Bar Rouge to
dives where they serve salted rice and Tsingdao beer until sunrise,
passing for classier bars like Richbaby or Mook, which are frequented
almost exclusively by the Chinese youth.
If, however, you’re interested in knowing the city’s underground
music scene, I’d recommend heading to Yuyintang (yù yīn táng, 育音堂)
during the weekend.
This is a relatively small club, without plaster or tile (both the
walls and floor are cement) and equipped with a stage that’s almost the
same height as the floor on which the artists perform, whether they're
well-known bands or emerging artists.
At Yuyintang, located on Kaixuan Road 851, near the intersection
with Yan An Road (kǎi xuán lù 851 hào, jìn yán ān lù | 凯旋路851号,近延安路),
you’ll find both Chinese and foreign ex-pats (few tourists). I’d
recommend taking a taxi to get there.
Discover contemporary Chinese art on Moganshan Road
Moganshan Road is a road located in the north of Shanghai, in the
area of Suzhou Creek, and is known for the density of its art galleries
It is here that you’ll find the best modern artists of Shanghai.
Some of them, Zhou Tiehai & Ding Yi for example, still have their
studios here. The two most famous art galleries of Moganshan are
probably 50 Moganshan and ShanghART.
Enjoy Chinese food on South Yunnan Road
South Yunnan Road is right near the intersection of Yan’An Road and Xizang Road, two of Shanghai’s many arteries.
It’s a small street that I discovered by chance, only because when I
lived Hangzhou I often went to Shanghai and, just as often, ended up
staying at the Phoenix Hostel which is located right on South Yunnan
It's here in this little street that you’ll find delicious, authentic
Chinese dishes: xiǎo lóng bāo (small, steamed dumplings typical
of Shanghai), Nanjing salted duck, fried tofu, traditional Sichuan hot
pot, and much more. It's worth a visit just to take in the smells and
This is by no means a comprehensive list of the places worth visiting
in Shanghai, but I hope the locations I've introduced here inspires you
to travel off the beaten path to explore some of Shanghai's smaller,
tucked away streets.
You'll find hidden gems tourists often miss out on, and may even come
away with a more holistic view of what Shanghai's all about.
If you have personal experiences with any of these places, or if you
think there are other places worthy of mention, I'd love to hear about
them. Just leave a comment below!