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Shanghai, China: A neighbourhood guide to the former French Concession

By Rachel Sadler 3 September 2020

A teensy escape from the modernity of Shanghai’s ever-emerging skyscrapers, the former French Concession’s low-rise buildings linger along breezy, tree-lined streets. This quaint and picturesque district is home to some of Shanghai’s coolest eateries, bars, and quirky vintage shops.

The Shanghai French Concession is the area that the French government administered until the Chinese government claimed it back and named it the former French Concession. It was once the richest area in Shanghai, famous for its historic architecture and elegance. It makes sense that the former French Concession became Shanghai’s most sought-after district, with an abundance of class and sophistication—the very foundations on which this city is built. Join us for a neighbourhood guide to this historic district.

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Things to do

1984 Book Store

Easy to miss, but also easy to find if you know what you’re looking for. Hidden behind an unmarked metal door is a bookstore-cum-café, and it’s exactly what you’d expect to discover off the beaten path. Inside, you’ll notice a sizeable collection of books (of course), dusty records that you probably haven’t heard of, and an overgrown garden, a popular hangout spot for humans and cats alike. The drinks are a little tiresome—but you came for the ambience. Lose yourself in a book (that are not actually for sale) and nestle into an armchair with a steamy coffee. 

1984 Book Store, 11, Hu Nan Lu, Xuhui District, Shanghai, China | (+86) 3428 0911

Fuxing Park

Once the Ming Dynasty’s private garden (until it was taken over by the French in 1909), French colonial era’s Fuxing Park offers fresh green views and surprisingly lots of local Chinese culture. The park is a fortress for the elderly community who set up makeshift games tables, a music room for practising musicians, and a dance room for the “dancing ladies,” (you will spot them in most places you visit in China).

Fuxing Park, 516, Fuxing Middle Road, Huangpu, Shanghai, China | (+86) 5486 1069

Yongfoo Elite

To glimpse at ritzy Shanghai, head to Yongfoo Elite. Once the consulate for the UK, Russia, and Vietnam over the years, this grand manor has a few tales to tell. Yongfoo Elite is now an exclusive members’ club, offering sumptuous dishes and boastful live music (for Yongfoo Elite members only). You don’t need to be a part of the club to visit the exquisite grounds, so long as you don’t mind convincing the guards to let you in.

Yongfoo Elite, 200, Yongfu Lu, Xuhui District, Shanghai, China | (+86) 5466 2727

Rent a bike

The easiest way to get around Shanghai is on a bike. There’s no better place to rent one than French Concession, away from the hustle and bustle. For a tourist, you should choose to rent an orange bike via the company, MoBike (you won’t be able to rent any others without holding a work visa). All you need to do is download the app, add a payment card, and you’re good to go.

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Where to eat and drink

Boom Boom Bagel

This tempting bagel store promises to satisfy your oh-so-doughy cravings. Choose from seven different fillings, including pulled pork, salmon, and cream cheese— bagel lovers firm favourites. Boom Boom is also a bar with a generous happy hour, every Monday to Friday from 5 pm to 8 pm, and drinks start at ¥35 (a discount for Shanghai). Nibble on mouth-watering bagels and wash them down with your favourite tipple.

Boom Boom Bagel, 39, Anfu Lu, Xuhui District, Shanghai, China | (+86) 150 2140 8818

Cotton’s

For chilled-out vibes and no-fuss drinks, Cotton’s offers a stylish outdoor terrace for an alfresco dining experience amidst a charmingly converted old house with exposed wooden flooring. Cotton’s is a safe haven if you’re a stranger to Chinese cuisine. Explore their Western-catered food menu and don’t forget to try one of its gin or brandy cocktails.

Cotton’s, 132, Anting Lu, Xuhui District, Shanghai, China | (+86) 64337995

Liquid Laundry

This industrial-style retro bar and eatery offers wood-fire oven pizzas and dozens of brews on tap. Whether you stop by for brunch, lunch or dinner, you can expect gooey pizzas, off-the-grill wagyu, and succulent rotisserie chicken. Liquid Laundry’s ambience is not one to be missed, and truly represents Shanghai’s bustling energy. Stop by in the evening for a rendition of hip-hop and house courtesy of Liquid Laundry’s DJs, if you enjoy your pizza with a little more atmosphere.

Liquid Laundry, 2/F, KWah Centre, 1028 Huaihui Lu, Xuhui District, Shanghai, China | (+86) 6445 9589

ODOR

For the love of coffee, ODOR is a small independent coffee shop—friendly, laid-back and with seriously amazing coffee. This unpretentious coffee shop is a mesmerising spot to sit and people watch, with a book or magazine from ODOR’s selection. These coffee enthusiasts are always on hand to find your perfect brew, just let them know what your preferred taste is and they will do the rest.

ODOR, 172, Nanchang Lu, Xuhui District, Shanghai, China

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RAC Coffee & Bar

Not just a takeaway coffee shop, although the coffee here is pretty damn good. Arguably the coolest hangout spot in Shanghai, so expect to queue on weekends or public holidays. At first glance, you’ll notice a hole-in-the-wall that brews coffee; just head on through the arch into a European-style courtyard. French by design, RAC is a flagship for East meets West. Tip: For the ultimate picture op, order RAC’s signature crepés and complete with a fruity soda.

RAC Coffee & Bar, Building 1, 332, Anfu Lu, Xuhui District, Shanghai, China | (+86) 21 3363 2076

Shanghai Boxing Cat Brewery

A social hub, serving up tasty American classics with one of the best craft beer selections in Xuhui district. From bold and hoppy to smooth and light, served with a side of Korean-style fried chicken or chilli cheese fries, it’s oozing with choices. This red-bricked refuge is the perfect place for socialising on the terrace, or head inside for a more secluded intimate affair.

Shanghai Boxing Cat Brewery, 82, Fuxing Lu West, Xuhui District, Shanghai, China | (+86) 21 6426 0360

Where to shop

Avocado Lady

Search no further than Avocado’s jam-packed shelves for anything and everything Western cuisine. The infamous Avocado Lady (once dubbed an urban legend) seemingly accumulated a tremendous following not only for its avocados but for its reasonable prices. It can be painstakingly tedious locating cheese at the best of times in Shanghai, and when you do, the prices can be astronomical. Even if you’re not on the hunt for your favourite wine or meats, this shop is a Shanghai rite-of passage.

Avocado Lady, 274, Wulumuqi Lu, Xuhui District, Shanghai, China | (+86) 6432 7381

Uptown Records n’ Beer

This compact vinyl store, which also serves as a bottle shop, is perfect for small groups or solo experiences. Flick through a carefully curated selection of records and sip on imported beers from 3 pm to 11 pm. Uptown Records also take vinyl requests, so you can bop along to your favourites, too.

Uptown Records n’ Beer, 131, Yongfu Lu, Xuhui District, Shanghai, China | (+86) 135 2362 8450

Lolo Love Vintage

No visit to French Concession would be complete without a trip to a hidden vintage shop like LoLo Love Vintage. Now in its third Shanghai home, quietly hidden behind a tiny blue gate, its newest location matches its integrity. LoLo Love Vintage houses a quintessential collection of vintage pieces ranging from the roaring 1920s to the 1980s.

Lolo Love Vintage, 2, YongFu Lu, Xuhui District, Shanghai, China | (+86) 6433 9987

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Rachel Sadler

Contributor

Originally from the UK— but currently hailing from Hong Kong— Rachel Sadler is a freelance writer with experience in travel and lifestyle content. After a stint in Shanghai, now well-acquainted with her new Asian lifestyle, she loves searching for the best street-eats or losing hours at the beach. She can be found sipping on a G&T in town or scouring the city for the next best picture op— follow her on Instagram for all things travel and lifestyle related.

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