Home to more than 24 million people, Shanghai is a buzzing, futuristic metropolis mixed with a peek into the past. I recently found myself in China's largest city on an extended layover and found that it's the perfect place to spend a food- and culture-packed two days. Here's what to do.
Check into the PuLi Hotel and Spa, a self-described "luxury urban resort" in the central Jing'An district, with muted tones, dark-wood accents and noise-proof windows. There's also an indoor infinity pool and a top-notch spa menu inspired by the healing powers of tea.
Opt for an early dinner around the Bund, a mile-long promenade along the bank of the Huangpu River, flanked by 52 buildings in various modes of Western architecture, including Art Deco, Baroque and Gothic. For a taste of regional cuisine, try Xindalu China Kitchen in the Hyatt on the Bund, which serves a killer Beijing duck that's roasted in a seven-ton brick oven and carved tableside. Then, head to The Nest, located around the corner from the Rockbund Art Museum, for cocktails and oysters in a high-design setting marked by a color-changing light installation.
For breakfast near People's Square, nab the best xiaolongbao in town at Jia Jia Tangbao. The made-to-order soup dumplings at this hole-in-the-wall often sell out, so get there early, pull up a plastic stool and order lots of them.
Just across the way, Shanghai First Foodhall houses four stories of fresh fruits, eggs, butcher stands and restaurants. If you're hit with another craving for xiaolongbao—I sure was—there's an outpost of Shanghai's popular Nanxiang.
Travel back in time through the Old City; lose yourself in the pathways leading to koi ponds and rock gardens at Yu Garden, a fully restored five-acre classical Chinese garden, and explore the century-old shops lining Shanghai Old Street, built during the Ming and Qing dynasties. Slip into one of the small tea shops for gifts and a sampling of customary teas, including chrysanthemum and goji berry.
Stop in nearby Shanghai Chic for lunch. Order Shanghainese specialties like Shanghai chao mian (stir-fried noodles with soy sauce) and huntun (wonton) soup.
Then head to Xintiandi, a posh pedestrian area, and wander through the shikumen houses, small, Western-style homes made popular in Shanghai in the late 1800s. Make your way over to Tianzifang, a maze of alleyways filled with little shops, cafés and galleries, and then to the Taikang Lu wet market to witness the vast array of local goods, including fresh crab and too many varieties of rice and tofu to count.
Work your way back toward Jing'An for dinner at Fu 1088. Housed in a 1920s townhouse retrofitted with a series of private rooms tended to by butlers, the restaurant serves contemporary Shanghainese dishes like steamed egg with crabmeat presented in the eggshell and rib roast. Have a nightcap at ell Ocho, a cozy craft bar, or at Kartel, whose rooftop has one of the best views in town.
Brunch at PuLi's one-Michelin-starred PHÉNIX eatery & bar is often touted as one of the best in town, so be sure to take advantage of the menu: access to the full buffet, plus two kitchen dishes and a dessert.
Before you head to the airport, make one more specialty food run for shengjian bao (panfried soup dumplings) at Yang's Fry Dumpling. These sturdy cousins to xiaolongbao are perfect on the run—plus, they'll hold up in to-go containers.
Pack your passport—and an appetite—as we hit the world's hottest culinary destinations on and off the grid all month long. Now Boarding: your next trip to paradise.
Elissa Goldman is the founder of NinthFlr, a communications consultancy. Tag along with her food and travel adventures on Instagram at @ninthflr.
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