Former French Concession
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.
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.