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Shanghai's secrets are made of jazz and romance

Discover there's more to Shanghai than skyscrapers with this insider's guide
The skyline of Lujiazui in Shanghai

Shanghai is often said to be more a city to live and work in rather than visit.

Beijing boasts much more must-see tourist attractions. But although Shanghai doesn’t have the Great Wall or the Forbidden City, it does have a breath-taking modern skyline, beautiful art deco architecture and plenty of delicious restaurants - plus, it’s much easier to get around than Beijing.

The city is summed up in visual shorthand by a view of the Lujiazui skyline, with its crop of futuristic skyscrapers - the orbs of Oriental Pearl Tower, the spikes of the Jin Mao Tower and the angles of the Shanghai World Financial Centre (nicknamed ‘the bottle-opener’). Across from that 80s vision of the future, on the west side of the Huangpu River, is The Bund, a procession of solid European-style 1930s buildings that were originally banks and customs offices. From Vue Bar in the Hyatt on the Bund you can see both, and get decent cocktail.

On a sunny afternoon you can fall in love with Shanghai on a wander round the plane-tree-lined streets of the former French concession, admiring the 1930s architecture and stopping for a coffee on Anfu Road. While you’re in that neck of the woods you should visit the insightful Propaganda Poster Art Centre in the basement of a block of flats on Huashan Road. It will tell you more about the 25 years after the 1949 communist revolution than any other museums in the city.

For more wandering and the chance to purchase some memorabilia check out the jumbled stalls at Dongtai Road antiques market. There are more ceramic Mao statuettes than anyone could need, old watches, clocks, vases and old leather satchels. Make sure you bargain!

Back on The Bund, an itinerary essential is at 7.30pm every night at the Jazz Bar at the Peace Hotel where you’ll catch the octogenarian players in the Jazz Band. Built in 1929, the Peace Hotel was reopened 2010 with a stunning restoration of the original art deco features, reliving its 1930s glory days when all the international playboys stopped there on their world tours. Wander round in rapt awe at the detailed stained glass and original features. The mini hotel museum is worth a look too, where you’ll discover that Noel Coward wrote Private Lives here when he was in bed with the flu in 1930.

Night-out-wise, all roads lead to Studio, Shanghai’s oldest gay club. You’ll find a subterranean maze of inter-connecting rooms, a friendly crowd of locals and ex-pats and pop faves courtesy of DJ Sacco. If you fancy an alternative, try Club Angel in the blingtastic surrounds of Dubai every Friday and Saturday. Or for mainstream clubbing, the nuclear-bunker-like The Shelter often hosts international DJs and dubstep nights.

For quieter drinks in gay-friendly bars, Eddy’s Bar just opposite Studio is very cool with it’s mix of retro Chinese and industrial decor. And Mini Pink, Rice Bar and Transit Lounge are also comfortable spots for a drink and to make some friends. Ladies are welcome in all those places too, but for a real local lesbian hangout visit Focus Club in the evenings where 20 to 40 year old women gather for relaxed chit-chat. If you want to connect with the scene while you’re there email [email protected].

Lufthansa fly to Shanghai from London via Frankfurt, see lufthansa.com. 

Find out more about the gay scene in Shanghai in this video made by Neocha. As it was made in 2007 and the Shanghai scene changes so fast, Deep Club, Pink Home, Manifesto, Er Lingling, Frangipani, Mint and Max Club have all closed, but the rest of the places mentioned are still live and kicking and the video gives an accurate picture of the local scene:

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The mini hotel museum is worth a look too, where you’ll discover that Noel Coward wrote Private Lives here when he was in bed with the flu in 1930.

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Or for mainstream clubbing, the nuclear-bunker-like The Shelter often hosts international DJs and dubstep nights.
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For more wandering and the chance to purchase some memorabilia check out the jumbled stalls at Dongtai Road antiques market. There are more ceramic Mao statuettes than anyone could need, old watches, clocks, vases and old leather satchels. Make sure you bargain!

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For more wandering and the chance to purchase some memorabilia check out the jumbled stalls at Dongtai Road antiques market. There are more ceramic Mao statuettes than anyone could need, old watches, clocks, vases and old leather satchels. Make sure you bargain!

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There are more ceramic Mao statuettes than anyone could need, old watches, clocks, vases and old leather satchels. Make sure you bargain!
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The mini hotel museum is worth a look too, where you’ll discover that Noel Coward wrote Private Lives here when he was in bed with the flu in 1930.
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There are more ceramic Mao statuettes than anyone could need, old watches, clocks, vases and old leather satchels. Make sure you bargain.
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