City Blueprint: Shanghai, China

published by Bren

Last updated: May 12, 2020

Shanghai feels like the centre of the universe these days. There are students and professionals from literally every corner of the world, a new skyscraper seems to go up every hour and the city blows up every weekend with too many events, parties and festivals to count. The city has undergone a complete transformation in the last 20 years and now ranks as the world’s most populous city, has the world’s biggest container port, owns the world’s longest shopping street, has more skyscrapers than any other city and is one of the fastest growing financial centres in the world. Add onto that a raging nightlife the diverse population I’ve ever seen and you have a global city in every sense of the word.

Put simply, everything is happening here.


Bed: Hostel dorms start at around $5 USD. Hotels range from $30 up to the extravagant.

Food: Eat street food for $1, eat in local tea-houses for $2 or indulge in a few Western meals for $5-10+.

Drink: A bottle of water will cost around 40 cents. A beer in a bar can cost anywhere from $2-$10.

Transport: Taxi rides will be around $10 for a 20 minute trip around town. You can get anywhere in the city on the local metro for $1, and buses will cost you around 30 cents.

I stayed at…

The dorms in my university! I was actually in Shanghai on a Chinese government scholarship, which brings people from around the world to China to learn the language. These scholarships fund you to live and study in China for an entire year – if you’re interested, I have a thorough post on how to apply for these scholarships here.

However when my parents visited they stayed at Citadines Apartment Hotel on West Beijing Road. Their facilities seemed pretty good at it was in a great central location, with easy access to most parts of Shanghai. Problem is, it’s around $100 a night.

The hotel industry in Shanghai is very competitive and you should be able to find 4 star hotels for around $50 a night. At the end of the semester I had to leave my dorms but my flight out of the country wasn’t until a few days later. I found a great hotel to stay at on Agoda, equipped with gym and minibar and all, I just forgot the name. Doh! The point is, Agoda will have many great deals and finding an affordable, private room should not be a challenge. Click here to check it out.

One thing you should eat is…

There’s a lot to try in Shanghai, on a good day, it might even rival the street food in Bangkok, Penang and Singapore.

I’ve spent a long time thinking about this one but I’ll go with the pan fried pork buns, since they’re native to the Shanghai region and I’ve never seen them anywhere else!

Shengjianbao in Shanghai. Photo credit: Gary Soup @ Flickr

The Chinese name for these is “sheng jian bao”, a common breakfast item particularly popular in Shanghai. The bun is pan fried so the dough is crispy on the outside, with a soupy pork filling on the inside and a sprinkling of sesame seeds and spring onions to top it off. Splash it with soy sauce and vinegar before you indulge. You’ll love it!

A serving of 4 will cost you around $1, and you’ll be able to find them in First Food Mall or in popular street food areas.

One thing you should drink is…

I can’t think of anything to put here, so I’m going to just put my favourite go-to breakfast, won ton soup! There’s a franchise here called Gil Wonton, that has the fattest, tastiest, MSG overloaded wontons in all of China. Will cost you around $2 a bowl and will definitely leave you smiling. Breakfast of champions (and poor students).

Gil Wonton, Shanghai
Gil Wonton

One place you should go to is…

Xintiandi – This is a very chic and modern dining and entertainment area in central Shanghai, often heavily populated by the expat community. I like it because it’s never overcrowded (as it can be quite expensive), and it’s littered with boutique restaurants and bars serving all kinds of international cuisine. I find its narrow alleyways and paved walking streets give it a lot more character than some of the other expat hangouts around the city. You can spend a day here shopping in the extravagant Xintiandi mall, indulge in a cafe dinner, then lay back in a coffee shop and people watch until sundown. After that head over to Brown Sugar for a cocktail and end the night at one of the area’s disgustingly crowded nightclubs.

Xintiandi, Shanghai
Xintiandi at night

Another quick tip – Before you get into town, check out Smart Shanghai for any upcoming events. There’s always something happening in this city.

One place you should party at is…

The Bund – Shanghai’s famous Bund has a collection of popular nightclubs all within walking distance. Many of them draw a pretentious crowd, most notably Bar Rouge and the flamboyant M1NT, however you can enjoy a slightly toned down atmosphere at the neighbouring Muse on the Bund or Cuvvae. Add to that a dozen or so other clubs along this strip and you can have quite a fun (and expensive) night out here.

M1NT, supposedly Shanghai’s greatest club, has a guest list that you’ll need to be on if you want to avoid waiting in line (even when the club is empty). Luckily it’s not a real guest list, it’s just for show. To get your name on it all you need to do is call them (you can even do it while you’re standing outside the club) and let them know you and your posse are coming. Then enjoy feeling important as they tick your name off and welcome you onto their red carpet. Pretty good marketing I must say.

I generally try to stay away from this kind of snobbery, but in Shanghai it’s all part of the fun! And admittedly M1NT is actually quite impressive once you get inside.

Shanghai Nightlife the bund
The Bund at night. Photo credit: KimonBerlin @ Flickr

Bren’s Scorecard…

Ease of entry 3/10
Airport is great, but the process for getting a visa is long and stupid.

Food 8/10
You can literally find anything you want here. However, fake alcohol is a problem and some local joints serve up questionable food (hmm, is this really chicken?).

Weather 5/10
To be blunt, Shanghai’s weather sucks. Painfully hot and humid in summer, sub zero nights throughout the winter, BUT there’s a few months in between these extremes that can be pleasant.

Safety 9/10
Amazingly safe for such an enormous city. Scams can be a problem though.

Transport 10/10
Taxis are very affordable, and the metro might be the best in the world. Rush hour not as bad as you would think.

Friendliness 5/10
It’s a mixed bag. Blatantly ripping people off is a problem.

Cleanliness 6/10
Air pollution is a huge problem, and at times schools are closed to keep the kids indoors. Other than that the streets are kept pretty clean.

Daylife 8/10
Great place to shop, eat and explore.

Nightlife 10/10
Out of control every single night of the week.

Affordability 9/10
Many cities of this calibre would bleed your pockets dry. Surprisingly you can get by here on $20-$30 a day pretty comfortably. Obviously if you want to splurge there’s plenty of opportunities for that, too.

Shanghai scores: 73/100

I do my best to give an objective score based on my own experience of the city. If you disagree, I don’t care! Just kidding, I do 🙂 Did your experience differ to mine? Let me know in the comments below!

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  1. You like Shanghai cause we met there right ?! Haha just kidding.
    Well, Shanghai is a city where you can feel that ‘everything is possible’, where nobody sleeps, where you can go party every night, eat what you want and whenever you want, where you can improve your chinese and english at the same time…:p Even if I didn’t spend a long time there, I appreciated every moment there.
    Especially thanks to the people I met there, from all over the world (probably fed up with Parisians :p)

    I would say that: Shanghai is the world in a city 🙂

    (I love your blog Brendan, you’ve already done a really good job!! 😉 )

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