Former French Concession
Leafy birch trees and bamboo renovation scaffoldings line the sentimental lanes of the Former French Concession, arguably the most romantic slice of the city of Shanghai. Its northern border runs west from the Old City to Jing'an Park and makes up the area south of Yan'an Road. There remains much to see around this colonial quarter, from the French dog track to the former revolutionary residencies of Sun Yatsen and Zhou Enlai to the glitz of modern Xintiandi, its heady history and glamorous present promises to woo.
How to get to the Former French Concession:
The easiest way to reach the classical arteries of the former French Concession is from People's Square. From People's Square, take metro line 1 to Huangpi South Road Station. Take Exit 3 up to the bustling Madang Road. Turn right (south) and you'll find yourself at the intersection of Huaihai Road (the former Avenue Joffre). Towers of glass from the Hong Kong Plaza shopping mall will lure, but avoid the pull of shopping for now and head one block south on Madang Road to the trendiest place in town: Xintiandi. Until the mid-1990's, this ultra-chic funhouse for Shanghai's partying elite was inhabited by old warehouses. Redecorated and gentrified, this area now sports immaculately reconstructed buildings with a modern twist. Swanky bars and discos burst with revelers and posh restaurants dish up cuisine as beautiful as the venue itself. Standing in front of the Starbucks on the corner of Taicang Road and Madang Road, it's hard to fathom that this is just a stone's throw from where the Chinese Communist Party was founded. Follow the broad cobblestone lanes and wander behind Xintiandi to the back alleys to spot refurbished tenement homes with doors framed with large stones. Follow the signs on Xingye Road to the 1st National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, a Marxist exhibit of heroic red and gold proportions.
From the corner of Madang Road and Huaihai Road head west on Huaihai Road, go under the elevated highways, until you reach Yandang Road. This pedestrian street hosts charming teahouses, bars and restaurants and takes you to the mouth of the lush Fuxing Park, formerly known as French Park. The shady paths of Fuxing Park are a godsend during Shanghai's hot and humid summers. Abutting this quiet park is the uber-hip Park 97 nightclub that sets the park into party mode during the weekends. From the park head into the bottleneck alley of Gaolan Road and look for the Ashanti Dome, a French restaurant in the former Russian Orthodox St. Nicholas Church. This 1930's era church features classical frescoes in homage to Tsar Nicholas II.
Following the Russian Revolution, thousands of White Russian refugees flooded the French Concession and made part of it into a little Moscow: black bread and vodka not hard to come by. Just a few blocks away on Sinan Road is the Old Residence of Zhou Enlai, a key leader of the Chinese Communist Party. Giant brown signs on Sinan Road point the way to the homes of Zhou and Sun Yat-sen, the hero of China's 1911 revolution. Sun's old flat is furnished as it was when he lived here and is full of memorabilia. Both residences are good examples of residential buildings of the period; short and squat hidden in twisty alleyways. A few blocks west from Sinan Road is Maoming Road. While Xintiandi is for the posh, the strip of clubs on Maoming Nan Road is where the all-night-spill-onto-the street parties take place. North along this street leads to the area's most fashionable shops and boutiques offering chic clothing, fine art and classy furniture. On Maoming Road, just north Huaihai Road, is the historic Jinjiang Hotel.
From the "Roaring Twenties." Ballroom dances, exclusive clubs and champagne fantasies were all lived out here by the rich and those aspiring to make their fortune. One block west on Huaihai Road, at the corner of Shaanxi South Road, are two massive shopping malls, Parksons and Printemps' upscale fashion and everyday goods can be bought here. Small cafés also dot this area, making it a good place to grab an iced-coffee in the summer and a hot tea in winters.
Running from east to west, Huaihai Road is a major commercial artery and a consumer's paradise, everything from designer couture to beef jerky can be found and outdoor fashion shows featuring mobile phones to wedding gowns are held on the weekends to throbbing techno and hip-hop music. Crowds on the weekends will make you feel claustrophobic, just be sure you don't lose your friends in the throng of shoppers; you may never seen them again. Several line 1 metro stations follow the road and give easy access to the shops.
Just west of Shaanxi South Road is the sprawling Xiangyang Market. Expect to be accosted by all manner of watch, purse and clothing vendors who will lead you into twisting back alleys for copies of international brands. In Xiangyang Market itself, there are hundreds of open-air clothing, jewelry and trinket stalls. If you're after bazaar style-street bargaining then this is the place to come. The vendors will shove a calculator in front of you with a price entered. Punch in 20% of the opening price and bargain accordingly; haggling is essential so don't be timid as great deals can be had for the skillful bargainer. One final tip, buying in quantity will get the vendors into the mood to slash prices, so it's a good place to stock up on gifts for the folks back home. An eclectic blend of restaurants and open-air cafés also line the streets in this area. Everything from noodles to donuts is available for the tired shopper.
Along Ruijin Er Road is the cozy Ruijin Guest house. This lovely compound of trees and brick buildings is also home to the trendy Face bar and the fashionable restaurant Colors. The Ruijin Guesthouses were build by media mogul Mohawk Morris of the North China News and later used as the seat of the Shanghai government following liberation in 1949.
At the end of Maoming Road, where it meets Yongjia Road, is a large alleyway that leads into the Maoming Flower Market where all manner of orchids and ferns are sold wholesale. The flower market is planted in the Cultural Square, which used to be the site of the old French dog track. Its heyday of franc-fisted fights and celebratory champagne toasts over bets on the hounds are long over. Now the area boasts quaint tree-lined streets where early risers do their exercises and vendors sell the morning's breakfast of and steamed buns.