There’s so much to do in Shanghai but I’ve chosen my favourite experiences to share with you all. Without further ado, read on below for my top 4 highlights.
1. 1933 Old Millfun
Concrete. Steel. Glass. The 1933 Old Millfun was a super memorable place. Initially a slaughterhouse, the Old Millfun (or 1933 Shanghai) is a concrete building that now functions as a hub of sorts, hosting everything from Starbucks, a dog cafe to offices. It’s a popular place for photographers — models were scattered around the staircases, each vying for the best angle.
I didn’t expect to see a concrete building to be so aesthetic with its lattice windows, Gothic columns and spiral staircases. If you look closely when you visit, you’ll be able to see the art deco elements from the staircases to the patterned grates.
I wonder what the thought process was behind designing something so morbid to be so beautiful… There’s cold aestheticism in its industrial functionality. And the place is cold in winter, literally. The layout of the many interlocking ramps and staircases were confusing; I often didn’t know which path to take. It felt like a never-ending loop with its ascent and descent (some constrained monster with its unconventional form).
In a way, it was like exploring a maze. I never knew what I’d find on the next level or what would be hiding behind the next corner.
When you climb to the top, there’s a rooftop for views. A cafe offered better views if you were willing to pay to indulge. A fashion shoot was happening when I reached the rooftop — girls in mesh, lips painted red, slaying in a way different from the abattoir did 85 years ago.
2. Sheshan National Forest Park
This is perhaps a destination not on most travellers’ lists when they visit Shanghai. I recommend this as a half day or day trip! It’s on the outskirts of Shanghai and is a nice getaway from the big city. There’s a basilica, tower and an observatory/planetarium to see, plus views from top of the hill! My favourite view was the tower amidst the trees; the falling leaves created quite the sight.
I went with my friend on a weekday, so the park was relatively empty. It can definitely get busy on the weekend and public holidays, so avoid those dates if you can. Entrance is free for the park, but if you wish to visit the solar planetarium, there is a fee of 12 RMB. The weather was beautiful when we visited; the sun was out so it got quite warm despite the cold December weather. The hike up the hill was relaxing through the bamboo forest. Luckily we entered through the easy route and exited via the steeper route, so it was a very easy hike.
We visited the basilica first and it was in great shape. It was a pleasant surprise as I didn’t expect to see this style of architecture in Shanghai at all. We explored around a bit and saw views of the valley below.
The observatory next to the basilica was also pretty interesting. There’s lots of old equipment like old telescopes. The exhibition focuses on the history of Chinese astronomical study, so if you’re into history, science and astronomy, this is the place for you! I wasn’t really into that but it was good to experience something other than Shanghai’s city bustle.
There are also stray dogs around the park. We spotted a very friendly pupper during our descent! Also note that there aren’t great options for food in the park — mostly instant noodles, ice cream, sausages and skewers, so bring your own snacks if none of those strike your fancy!
3. The Bund
The Bund is a must see!! The iconic skyline is particularly beautiful at night when all the lights are out along the Huangpu River. There are also old colonial-era buildings to see. Although it rained when I went with Cherrie, it was still a pretty sight! We just spent some time strolling around and enjoying the architecture. There’s something about a rainy walk along the bank — all hazy lights, puddle reflections and fog marred sights.
If you can, take a cruise on the Huangpu River to get an even better view of the skyscrapers! Be wary of the weather though. It rained hard an was windy when I went on the cruise with my fellow exchange students. Taking photos ended up being a real struggle…
One simply can’t visit Shanghai and not try xiaolongbao. They’re such delicious little bites and are signature dishes of Shanghai. There’s quite a few places to try them, one being Nianxiang Bun Shop at Yuyuan. Be ready to queue; I’ve been there three times and it’s always packed. They have a variety of flavours (such as crab!) and bigger buns with a straw to drink up the soup!
The photos below aren’t from Yuyuan. Cherrie took me to this other joint and they were soooo good! I’ll never forget the look on her face when her grip slipped and ended up dropping a bun… 😂 Lesson of the day: hold on tight to your chopsticks! Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten the name of this place. They serve mean wontons as well. In my opinion, Yuyuan doesn’t have the best xialongbaos, but that’s stored for a next post so stay tuned!
Honourable mentions: the former French concession (I recommend the free walking tour with Free Tour Asia), Nanjing Road, Himalayas Centre (filmed in Her) and Tianzifang. Definitely check these places out if you’re in Shanghai!