SHOPPING IS SUCH a tourist draw that many specialized tours have emerged. They offer door-to-door transport service, the promise of “insider” finds, and help with haggling.
At first glance, managing Shanghai on your own does seem difficult. Faced with streets full of motorbikes, people, and construction cranes, the convenience of a tour bus is attractive. But with excursions averaging $100 per person, I say no thanks.
Navigating solo through Shanghai is not as stressful as it looks. What’s more, you can discover uncommon shops and score better deals moving at your own pace.
Here are my suggestions for great shopping experiences — all are accessible by walking or using the subway from the city’s star attraction, the Bund. Lace up a pair of comfortable shoes and let’s get going.
If only for the spectacle of observing the world’s busiest street with 1 million daily visitors, go to Nanjing Road.
Here you will find luxury boutiques, athletic goods, trendy clothing, shoes, jewelry, silk, and electronics. There are also public areas for regular artistic and cultural events. The evening I visited, a saxophonist serenaded a crowd of hundreds from the second-story window box of a grand colonial hotel.
Prices on Nanjing Road will be high, but there’s no better place to feel Shanghai’s energy. It’s about half a mile from the Bund.
Visitors who want a glimpse of 16th-century Shanghai should visit the Old Quarter next to Yu Yuan Garden. The maze of dusty emporiums features antiques, silk embroidery, indigenous handicrafts, teapots, and even Cultural Revolution memorabilia.
Get lost in the motley side streets and observe enduring street art traditions. There are old-fashioned Chinese picture shows and sugar artists creating edible art in dragon and fish shapes.
Haggling is expected here.
Directions: From the Bund it’s about half a mile. Walk south on the Bund and turn right on Jingling Dong Lu.
Established in 1849 as a French settlement, this district has European Art Deco architecture and tree-lined boulevards. Fashionable clothing, Tibetan art galleries, home accents, jade, jewelry, carpets, and porcelain can all be found here. Visit one of the custom tailors on Maoming Street for a new suit or Qi Pao Street for a traditional silk dress.
Many of the stores on Huaihai Zhong Lu are government-run, so prices are fixed and lower than expected.
Directions: Distance from the Bund is about three miles. For subway access, walk to Nanjing Road and take Nanjing Road East Stop Subway Line 1. Get off at South Shanxi Nan Lu.
1920s and modern day Shanghai intersect in this upscale entertainment and dining complex. The buildings were formerly a posh residential area. Today Xintiandi retains the original antique stone tiles and walls, while housing fine art galleries, bookstores, boutiques with artisan jewelry and fashionable clothing, and international cafes.
In addition to elegant stores, there is a small museum displaying the lifestyle of Shanghainese residents from a century ago. To rest my feet, I head over to the TMSK Café, where all the furniture and fixtures are made from colored glass.
Prices will be high in this glitzy area, but it offers an unrivaled glimpse at emerging Chinese affluence.
Directions: Distance from the Bund is about 2.5 miles. For subway access, walk to Nanjing Road, and take Nanjing Road East Stop Subway Line 1. Get off at Huangpi Road South.
The last memorable shopping experience is not a district, but a roving landmark. That is, the ubiquitous Shanghai street hawker. They peddle everything from watches to designer handbags to electronics.
Although you have to be careful not to get cheated, the interaction can be a lively offbeat experience. The hawkers are often quick witted, telling unusual stories or rattling off funny insights about your home country. Sometimes there’s a clandestine nature to the event like sneaking down an alley to privately survey the goods.
Other times, you’ll be awed by the deftness with which the hawkers manage their massive loads on bicycles. In any case, negotiate hard, count your change, and — to clarify — no, that’s not a real Rolex.
More Tips for Shopping in Shanghai
- Use a walking map available from your hotel or a guidebook. Street signs are conveniently written in both Chinese and English.
- Expect to walk through construction and congested intersections at times.
- Hail a taxi if you get lost. They are readily available and prices are fair.
- Always attempt to haggle over price and pay no more than a quarter to half of the asking price.
- Realize that sometimes no matter how hard you try, you just won’t be able to strike a deal.
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