Moving to Shanghai can be overwhelming. At 1020 square miles (2643 sq. km.) of urban area, the city seems unapproachable at first, but it’s easy to find your niche. Start by understanding the different neighborhoods you’re likely to encounter, and figure out which place is right for you. Whether you prefer trendy bars or quiet parks, Shanghai has a neighborhood for you. Soon, you’ll feel right at home.
Xujiahui is about as central Shanghai as you can get. The area is known for its many shopping malls as well as its eponymous park. Furthermore, the neighborhood is home to China’s third largest football stadium, a multi-use space that can be enjoyed by residents when Shanghai SIPG football club isn’t playing. Xujiahui draws a diverse crowd, from young expats to families, and is even the birthplace of world famous basketball player Yao Ming.
Short for the Former French Concession, the FFC is easily one of the coolest places to live in Shanghai. What was once the center of Shanghai decadence hasn’t changed much. If you can afford it, the neighborhood is perfect for hip expats who like walking to the best bars and restaurants the city has to offer. Don’t be surprised if you see more bikes and scooters than cars, as the streets here are typically narrower and lined with mature parasol trees. Expect most of the real estate market in the area to be dominated by renovated lane houses instead of brand new high rises.
Jing’an is a great in-between point for people who don’t want to commit to the prices of the FFC but still want a more Western experience in Shanghai. As part of the former International Settlement, Jing’an still has plenty of colonial architecture but retains some key historic sites like Jing’an Temple. Many of the city’s most popular bars and restaurants are located here.
Known for its major tourist destinations like the pedestrian Nanjing Road, People’s Square is a popular neighborhood drawing all sorts of residents. A lot of students tend to live in this area due to the relatively low rents and its proximity to the Bund (and thus, Bund clubs). Though it may sometimes be frustrating to live right at the intersection of three major metro lines, its positioning does make it convenient to almost anywhere in the city. Furthermore, the area is packed with amazing and cheap local restaurants and street food stalls.
Located in Changning District, Zhongshan Park is another very central neighborhood with a constantly busy metro stop. The neighborhood is named for the park, which may not be the biggest in Shanghai, but is certainly one of the most beautiful. In terms of foreign residents, the area draws a lot of teachers, perhaps because of the more local flare than, say, the FFC. One of the city’s biggest Carrefours (grocery and department store) is also located here. If you decide to live here, though, be prepared for long transfers between lines 2, 3, and 4.
Suzhou Creek flows from Tai Lake all the way to the Bund in Shanghai’s Huangpu District. But as a neighborhood, Suzhou Creek refers to the area around the river in northeastern Shanghai. During the colonial period, this stretch of river separated the British and American settlements. Afterwards, it quickly became heavily industrialized, meaning that now the area is kind of an odd mix of colonial architecture and cold industrial buildings. It is home to the city’s number one art district, M50, on and around Moganshan Rd, and is gearing up to become one of the coolest alternative neighborhoods in the city. Most apartments also have a view of the Lujiazui skyline, a definite plus.
Pudong, the district east of the Huangpu river, is so large that it’s almost unfair to classify it as one neighborhood. Up until 1990, this massive swath of land was nothing but backwater farms, but thanks to being targeted by Deng Xiaoping for economic growth, Pudong has become the center of Shanghai’s financial world. The Shanghai skyline you’re so familiar with? That’s Pudong. Go a little farther inland, though, and Pudong is still working to develop. This means lots of wide open spaces, Shanghai’s main airport, the largest park in the city, and international schools upon international schools. Accordingly, real estate is much cheaper this side of the river, and most parts of it feel very suburban and family-oriented.
Xintiandi refers directly to an affluent, car-free shopping and dining area in central Huangpu District. It is very fashionable, but not in the way that the FFC or Suzhou Creek are. Xintiandi can sometimes get a little full of itself, but it’s worth noting for its preservation (and renovation) of old shikumen housing, most of which has been demolished in the city. The neighborhood is also the site of the first congress of the Communist Party of China, so within the flashiness of Xintiandi there is also historical significance.
If you say you’re going to live in Hongkou, some foreigners might give you weird stares. The district is certainly not the most lively or central, but it has a much more typically Chinese feel than much of the rest of the city. Shanghai as a whole is constantly changing, but such dynamism is even more pronounced in Hongkou, where old neighborhoods are constantly being torn down for new construction. This leads to an interesting juxtaposition of old and new and can be seen as either a good or bad thing depending on your view of urban renewal. The area is also home to 1933 Slaughterhouse, an Art Deco building turned performance and café space.
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Located way up in the northeastern Yangpu District, Wujiaochang often goes unnoticed by many urbanites, but that’s a shame. Home to some of China’s greatest universities, like Fudan, the neighborhood is young and vibrant and only growing. Because of its distance from center city, the area has developed as almost a mini-city, with its own bar and restaurant street called Daxue (College) Road.
Located towards the Hongqiao Airport in western Shanghai, Gubei is known for its large Korean and Japanese expat populations. As such, this is the best place in the city to get barbecue or sushi. The neighborhood tried at one point to be a bustling bar area, but all that’s left of those plans is Laowai (Foreigner) St, a small pedestrian strip with branches of popular chain restaurants and bars, which attract primarily older expats. Similar to Pudong, the area is also home to many families and international schools.