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Making sense of Shanghai can be overwhelming. At 1,020 square miles (2,643 sq. km.) of urban area, the city may seem unapproachable at first, but it’s easy to find your niche. Whether you prefer happening, trendy bars or strolls through quiet parks, Shanghai has a neighbourhood for you. With this handy guide, you’ll soon 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. The neighbourhood is also home to China’s third largest football stadium – a multi-use space enjoyed by local 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 centre of Shanghai decadence over a century ago hasn’t changed much today. If you can afford it, the neighbourhood offers hip expats the best bars and restaurants, all within walking distance. 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 Former French Concession but still want a more Western experience in Shanghai. As part of the former International Settlement, Jing’an has plenty of colonial architecture but retains some key historic sites, such as 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 Shanghai neighbourhood drawing in all sorts of residents. A lot of students tend to live in this area due to the relatively low rent prices 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 makes it a convenient access point to almost anywhere in the city. Furthermore, People’s Square is packed with amazing and cheap local restaurants and street food stalls.
Located in Changning District, Zhongshan Park is another very central neighbourhood with a constantly busy metro stop. It gets its name from the local park, which may not be the biggest in Shanghai but is certainly one of the most beautiful. In terms of foreign residents, the area tends to draw in a lot of teachers; likely because of the more local flair than Shanghai’s fancier enclaves. One of the city’s biggest Carrefours (grocery and department store) is also located here. If you decide to live here, 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. As a neighbourhood, 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 industrialised, leaving behind 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 neighbourhoods 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 single neighbourhood. Up until 1990, this massive swath of land was comprised of nothing but backwater farms. Once targeted by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping for economic growth, Pudong has since become the centre 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 like the Former French Concession or Suzhou Creek. Xintiandi has a reputation for being a little snooty, but it’s worth noting for its preservation (and renovation) of old shikumen housing – most of which have been demolished in the city. The neighbourhood 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 neighbourhoods are constantly being torn down for new construction. This leads to an interesting juxtaposition of old and new – 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.
Located way up in the northeastern Yangpu District, Wujiaochang often goes unnoticed by many urbanites (to their great shame). Home to some of China’s greatest universities, such as the prestigious Fudan, the neighbourhood is young, vibrant and growing year on year. Because of its distance from the city centre, the area has developed almost as 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 neighbourhood 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 that attract primarily older expats. Similar to Pudong, the area is also home to many families and international schools.