A city of more than 30 million, the streets of Shanghai are full of people from all walks of life – from hipsters and fashionistas to Chinese migrants, Shanghainese grandmothers in wild outfits, and dogs in even wilder ones. This is part of the metropolis’ beauty, and one cannot appreciate Shanghai’s true personality without spending time taking in its fascinating, diverse crush of humanity. Here are some of the best ways to take in the exuberant street life, one lane at a time.
Early morning: Hit the parks
Green space is a luxury in a city as big as Shanghai, and residents take full advantage of the public space, using it to socialize, exercise, and sometimes simply to watch the world go by. In the tiny Huaihai Park, you’ll find groups of older men gossiping as their mynah birds and Chinese thrush sing to each other from cages. The spacious Fuxing Park, built by the French in 1909, hosts a broader range of morning visitors. You’ll find groups of women line dancing to music blaring from the loudspeakers they tote in on their carts – tunes varying from Country Western to traditional Chinese and Lady Gaga. You’ll also find residents practicing Tai Chi, fencing with swords, and painting poems in calligraphy on sidewalks using water. If you’re lucky, an ad hoc brass band may also show up. It’s an altogether convivial atmosphere. Post up on a bench, and watch the world go by.
After spending time in a park, grab a coffee and delicious baked good at the rough-hewn communal table of Baker & Spice on Anfu Road (or sit street side, if the weather is good). Here, under the leafy boughs of the plane trees, you can watch the mix of people in business suits hurrying to work, men riding bikes loaded down with styrofoam and boxes and hipsters on their fixies zooming off to face the day.
Around lunchtime, do as the hipsters do and grab a seat at Egg, a creative all-day breakfast spot. Here, you’ll find corn fritters, clever takes on okonomiyaki and coconut water coffees, along with a revolving door of designers, fashionistas, and entrepreneurs who pop in for a bite and meet-up. The bright, cheerful spot is a great place to linger over persimmon spice pancakes and contemplate the world around you.
There are any number of great coffee shops in Shanghai, but for a truly tranquil afternoon, go to Rumors Coffee and grab a seat by the window. Inside, you’ll find an airy, light-filled, and utterly peaceful climate punctuated by happy jazz music. Owner Keiichi Nakayama serves up a series of carefully sourced coffee beans, well roasted and meticulously brewed. Outside are stately lane houses and a quiet street populated by old-school Shanghai residents, artists and many others biking dreamily by. This is also a popular street for couples to take wedding photos, so keep an eye out for a wedding dress or two as well.
When drink o’clock rolls around, head down to Yongkang Road for a well-priced tipple and more interesting people than you can shake a stick at. While not quite as wild a place as it was a few years ago (the bars got too rowdy for their own good), the short street is still an interesting place to grab a beer at Taphouse Brewery. When the munchies hit, head around the corner to Hungry Lungs Kitchen, where you’ll find a mix of Canadian and Southeast Asian comfort food like poutine and laksa. It sounds like a weird combination, but it really works.
For a glance at the glitterati of the city, head out for an evening on the Bund. First, promenade with the tourists along the banks of the Huangpu River. Then head to The Nest, one of Shanghai’s hottest spots in the area. The combination bar, restaurant, and nightclub offers striking design, high-end snacks, and clever cocktails centered around Grey Goose vodka. Post up at the bar and get a peep at the fashionable crew bobbing to the throbbing music. As the night continues, move on to Bar Rouge in Bund 18, where you’ll find folks dressed to the nines in sexy surroundings. You may see a few tables ordering bottles of champagne, replete with sparklers and singing. On the weekends, plan on showing up before 11pm, as the places fill up quickly.