Why is this Eden? All the food you can eat. The combination of food and architecture is what, I believe, makes Nanjing Road, along Line 2, the heart of Shanghai.
Before I continue, I also want to say, Line 2 has the best night scenes in China for photography. From Lujiazui in the East across West Nanjing Road, you’ll encounter a light spectacle, when combined with city traffic, give you a great playground to test your long exposure camera.
What’s here? West of the Huangpu is where you see the iconic buildings of the Bund, the pedestrian walkway of East Nanjing Road, the glorious food across West Nanjing Road, and the terminal station for the Shanghai to Beijing high speed rail. Anyone who visits Shanghai should just walk across Nanjing Road and see what’s directly above Line 2. But, if you’re short on time, here’s where you stop:
- East Nanjing Road (南京东路)
East Nanjing Road has a significant place in Shanghai’s history. Its buildings may outfit western stores and modern amenities now, but this was the heart of 1920s and 1930s Shanghai. High society came through here, Westerners enjoyed their entertainment here as well. Cable cars, dance clubs, and the rich and famous. Today, there’s an energy about this location that you won’t necessarily feel in other parts of Shanghai; it’s the only place where I accept that it should be that crowded.
Walking towards the Huangpu River will lead you to the Bund. This is where you can snap an iconic photo of Lujiazui across the river. Walking up and down the road will lead you to the buildings from British, French, German, and US occupancy of China in the early 1900s.
Walking back, you’ll land in the Pedestrian Walkway. If you want to be in the heart of this street, there’s plenty of hotels where you can get a high enough view to see Pudong on the east and still easily access the many stores and shops below on the west side of the river.
Along and adjacent to East Nanjing Road are a few stops that photogs and foodies should visit:
Shanghai First Foodhall (上海第一食品公司)
Here you’ll find snack vendors, ranging from your jerky and cured meats to nuts and fruit tarts. Feel free to just grab a mixed bag of goodies. There’s several stories to this food hall. What’s most impressive is the food vendors on the 2nd floor. You’ve got your pan fried dumplings, which, after thorough research and soul searching, you cannot find in the US. You’ve got your mini wontons, which is a staple of Shanghainese breakfast. If you’re just going to eat your way through this place, grab about $10, that’s more than enough to fill your stomach with pure deliciousness (and fat).
Shanghai Bookstore (上海书城)
Go 3 blocks south of Nanjing Road, parallel to it. You’ll be on Fuzhou Road. Here, you’ll find the flagship store for the Xinhua Bookstore chain in Shanghai. Back in the day, you’d have to come here to buy your school supplies. Now, in this 6+ story building you’ll have dvds, cds, English books translated to Chinese, Chinese historical literature, non-fiction, and so on. People just clamber in here to sit and read all day. I went to the top floor to find international releases of Backstreet Boys albums. Everyone will find something that meets their tastes in here.
Go north from Nanjing Road. You can’t get too lost, but what you can do is venture in the nooks and crannies of old city streets to see what older houses in Shanghai look like. My favorite past time is to find the mom and pop owned convenient stores and dig through their ice cream offerings. You’ll also find hole in the wall restaurants for you to try out, if you’re not a germaphobe.
Finally, if you venture far far up north enough, or take the transfer to Line 10 at the East Nanjing Road subway station, get off at Tiantong Road (天潼路) and you’ll be able to walk to the Waibaidu Bridge(外白渡桥). It’s the iconic bridge from early 1900s China, one of the first steel structures built at the time. If you’ve watched Romance in the Rain, it’s where Vicky Zhao jumped off the bridge.
- People’s Square (人民广场)
Transfer to Lines 1 and 8. It’s literally the only reason you should ever get on or off at this station. The sheer number of people crossing through here doesn’t make it worth it. Now, lazy or impatient folks (I’m both) should use this subway station to your advantage because you can walk through the subway station without swiping in through the turnstiles and make your way across Nanjing Road to People’s Park without having to meet traffic.
Exit 19. Just find Exit 19 and that’ll connect you from East Nanjing Road to the West.
- West Nanjing Road (南京西路)
Food Heaven. Fine, there’s shopping too, if you’re into the whole Gucci, Chanel, Prada, etc. But, I’m more concerned with F-O-O-D. Some important stops to make here include dumplings, a bakery, and an old school Shanghainese restaurant.
Wujiang Road (吴江路)
I lived so close to here, just one street over on Beijing Road. Wujiang Road is literally a nook south of Nanjing Road. For markers, find the Uniqlo and go behind it. It’s by that obnoxious Joe’s coffee and some annoying pizza place. There’s two restaurants by the West Nanjing Road Subway station, exits 3 and 4: Nanxiang Soup Dumplings and Yang’s Fried Dumplings.
If you like steamed and soupy goodness, Nanxiang Soup Dumplings is where you go. If you want pan fried soupy goodness, Yang’s Fried Dumplings is where you go. Granted these two are chain stores that you’ll find across the city, West Nanjing Road and Wujiang Road is where Yang’s Fried Dumplings originated. Therefore, it’s a must stop on your tour of Shanghai.
Kaisiling Bakery (凯司令)
Speaking of original. The best cake is here. Butter, cream, soft vanilla cake. Or, if that’s not your thing, how about chocolate cake? Or Napoleon? Or, just take that icing and turn it into ice cream? Or cookies? You’ll find something that satisfies your sweet tooth here. If not, I don’t know what you are…
Meilongzhen Restaurant (梅陇镇)
Don’t get this confused with Meilongzhen Plaza across the street. The restaurant is a multifamily house. It’s inside a gated community, red brick walls, and, if you’re just passing by, you’ll look at it and think, “no.”
Go inside and you’ll see that it’s all private dining rooms, serving parties of 8 or more. I’m proud to say my family of 10 racked up a bill of about 2500 RMB. Sure, that’s only $350 or so but it was fun to sign for a check with 4 figures 🙂 Dishes that I would definitely get here include:
- Mini wontons
- Braised Pork Belly
- Steamed Fish
- Drunken Chicken
- Black Pepper Beef
So anything that flew, walked, or swam…air, land, and sea 🙂
4. Jingan Temple (静安寺)
Rappers only wish they had as much bling as this place. A Buddhist Temple in the middle of the city, here you can pay 20 RMB to enter the premises and explore the temple. But, let’s be real, you can go to Xi’an (西安) and get a much better religious experience.
I go to the basement of the mall next door, Jiu Guang (久光)， to get some Japanese food, crepes, macaroons, fresh pressed juice, etc. Priorities…
- Zhongshan Park (中山公园)
It’s a park! You can also transfer to lines 3 and 4 here, if you need to make your way to Shanghai’s North railway station. For you tree huggers, there’s plenty of trees to hug there. For you shoppers, there’s a mall right outside of the park with food stops. If you want afternoon tea, a chain shop is called One Tea, One Sitting (一茶一坐), where you can sit and catch up with friends over tea and snacks.
- Hongqiao Airport – Terminal 2 (虹桥2号航站楼)
The original international airport in Shanghai. When I visited in 1997, we flew from Kansas to San Francisco to Hongqiao. So I was a bit confused when I landed on the wrong side of the river the first time I flew into Pudong Airport. And I was even more confused when we drove out of the airport and it was pure nothingness. Hongqiao is surrounded by Shanghai’s elevated highway, so you feel you’re in the city. It’s still quite popular for domestic flights, for instance, we took flights out of Hongqiao to Xi’an, in central China.
- Hongqiao Railway Station (虹桥火车站)
Bring your passport if you want to take the high speed rail out of Shanghai to neighboring and not so neighboring cities. Immediately outside of Shanghai is an ancient water town called Xitang (西塘). It’s about a 20 min ride on the high speed rail to the Jiashan (嘉善) station. It’s also where Ethan Hunt had to save his wife in Mission Impossible III 🙂
You can also spend 5.5 hours on a high speed rail and make your way to Beijing. Not sure why anyone would prefer to go there over Shanghai. We can actually see the sky on most days in Shanghai, we have better dumplings and overall better food. I mean, Beijing just has that one duck, and you can get that same high quality duck on East Nanjing Road at a restaurant called Sparrow Cloud Tower (燕云楼). Sure there’s a wall, I guess 😛
Now that we’ve gone up and down and left and right, we can go sideways and diagonally. Up next, we’ll go to Line 9, where you’ll get just a little bit of everything in terms of culture, fun, and food.