It’s no coincidence that the near-future LA depicted in Spike Jonze’s oddball romance Her was shot in Shghai’s Pudong district – the city is undergoing of the fastest economic expansions the world has ever seen, creating a tangible sense of excitement. But what makes it most desirable is its locations: it’s a handily placed respite for travellers making their way to further-flung destinations in Australia and New Zealand. So before you book your next long haul, here’s where to relax in the cool, confident centre of modern China.
Where to stay: The Shanghai hotel scene is dotted with boutique and design-led stays, including the PuLi Hotel & Spa, a smart urban retreat near the famous Jing’an Park. The concept? Being away from it all, in the heart of it all. So while the city buzzes, PuLi patrons can fight the jet lag with an array of ancient Chinese therapies in the wellness spa, swim in the infinity pool or grab a nightcap at the hotel’s impressive 32-metre-long-bar.
Each of the 229 rooms has been designed to feel like a penthouse apartment – all black décor and dark mahogany wood – while the grander suites come with a kitchen, living room, walk in closet, rainforest shower and sunken bath.
Eat like a local. Shanghai is renowned for its street food – especially in the winding lanes of the city’s French Concession (ask any local chef and they’ll recommend the ramshackle takeaway huts on Xiangyang Road). UnTour runs walking tours of the best dumpling houses, followed by a cookery workshop to help you make these fried delicacies at home.
Like all foodie destinations worth their salt these modest-seeming establishments are steeped in tradition, with local restauranteurs dishing up recipes that have been passed down for generations, from aromatic bowls of Sichuan malatang (spicy broth) to crispy guo tie “potstickers” and delicious soup dumplings.
Feeling homesick? London favourite Hakkasan has an output that overlook the Bund waterfront, where moneyed locals and visiting fans of Michelin-starred chef Tong Chee Hwee can sample inventive dishes such as cod with champagne and Chinese honey, and stir-fried black-pepper beef with merlot. Drink cocktails at the bar with the restaurant’s fashionable clientele – city slickers with razor-sharp cheekbones as far as the eye can see – or splash out on one of the private dining rooms.
What to Instagram. Set your alarm early and make your way down to Jing’an Park, where you’ll not only find an oasis of calm in one of the busiest areas of Shanghai, but also stumble upon locals practicing t’ai chi with its grounds.
Make a pit stop at the Yu Garden, a lush and extensive botanical treasure just northeast of the Old City, with picturesque pavilions, streams and courtyards as well as the beautiful City God Temple. As night falls, take a stroll along the Bund: thi waterfront promenade lined with colonial-era buildings offers panoramic views of the financial district’s skyline.
Where to get your cultural injection. It may be much smaller than its Beijing equivalent, 798, but M50 – dubbed the “Shoreditch of Shanghai” – is where you’re most likely to stumble upon the next Bambi or Banksy. The former industrial area is now home to around 100 creative types, and it’s the best place to view contemporary art in China’s most forward-looking city.