Shanghai/French Concession

The French Concession is the area of Shanghai that was established for the French government to administer from 1849 until 1946. The tree-lined avenues and the many fine old houses in the area still retain an air of the "Paris of the East". In particular, the many wrought iron fences and stair railings will look familiar to anyone who knows Paris or Montreal.

Shanghai in 1935, with French Concession outlined in red. The eastern part of it wraps around the Old City

This has been a fashionable area for well over a century and is now very developed as well. There are plenty of large buildings, mainly upmarket residential and office towers, quite a few hotels and a number of enormous shopping malls. At the same time, many of the picturesque older buildings even whole neighbourhoods have been renovated. There are a huge number of boutiques, galleries, bars and cafes scattered through the area.

For many years, the area was administered by the Chinese as parts of two districts, Xuhui to the west and Luwan to the east. In 2011, Luwan was merged into Huangpu District for administration, but for the traveller it has more in common with the rest of the old French Concession so we cover it here rather than in our Huangpu article.

Get in

Metro Line 1 runs along Huaihai and Hengshan Roads. Stations in the French Concession are S. Huangpi Road, S. Shaanxi Road, which is fairly central, Hengshan Road and Xujiahui, which is one of the biggest metro stations in Shanghai. Further north, this line goes past People's Park and on to Zhabei. Going South, it leads into Minhang.

Line 10 runs west from Laoximen (the 'Old West Gate' of the old town), stopping in the French Concession at Xintiandi, S. Shaanxi Road, Shanghai Library and Jiaotong university. Further west, it goes to Changning and Hongqiao Airport. Going east, it crosses the Old Town, swings north via Nanjing Road East, and ends up in Yangpu.

Line 9 runs along the southern edge of the French Concession, stopping at Dapuqiao (near Tianzifang), Zhaojianbang Road and Xujiahui along the way. Further west, it goes to Songjiang. Further east, it leads into the center of Pudong.

Line 11 runs roughly north-south just outside the western edge of the French Concession, intersecting lines 1 and 9 at Xujiahui.

Neighborhoods

In addition to the official administrative districts Xuhui and Luwan, the French concession area has some well-known streets and neighborhoods.

Xujiahui

Cathedral. Xujiahui

Xujiahui is an area to the south-west of the French Concession. Today, its central area is an enormous road intersection with a metro station (lines 1, 9 and 11) under it and much shopping around it. There is a large underground shopping area right in the station and at least half a dozen large malls or department stores nearby. From the station, you can get to most of them without going outdoors. Among other things, Xujiahui has Shanghai's largest cluster of consumer electronics vendors; see #Buy for details. It also has a lot of high-end residential and office space, and many restaurants.

Xujuahui (old spelling Zi-ka-wei or Siccawei) was technically not part of the French Concession, but it was largely owned by the Catholic Church and effectively an extension of the French Concession. The area also has many buildings built by the Catholic Church during the French period and thereafter. The most prominent of these is St. Ignatius Cathedral (exit 6 from the metro station), the neighbouring Bibliotheca Zi-ka-wei, a library built by the Jesuits; a number of preserved convent and school buildings; the Jesuit observatory; the T'ou-se-we Museum, housed in part of a former Jesuit orphanage with interesting displays on the history of Xujiahui, the orphanage and its workshop famed for producing works of Chinese and Western art; and the tomb of Xu Guangqi, an imperial official and famous Catholic convert whose family donated much of the land in Xujiahui to the church. This collection of buildings from Xujiahui's Catholic past is promoted as a themed walking tour called "Origin of Xujiahui", and boards with maps can be found near any of them with directions to visit the others.

There is a large road which starts by the cathedral and becomes an elevated road just beyond it. It leads to the Xinzhuang interchange and beyond that to Humin Road, the main route South into Minhang District for cars and buses.

Huaihai Road

When the French controlled the area, this street was Avenue Joffre. Today it is the main street of the Luwan area, and one of Shanghai's main shopping streets. In fact, Shanghai people seeking upmarket goods are at least as likely to look here as on Nanjing Road, which attracts more visitors from other parts of China than locals.

Many of the smaller streets nearby are also worth a look, especially when you want to get away from the busy streets. Explore the area between Julu Rd to the north, Huaihai Rd running through the center, and Jianguo Rd to the south. Pleasant tree-lined streets and local Shanghainese bustle, combined with a growing number of trendy boutiques and restaurants. Changle Rd and Xinle Rd are rapidly becoming the places to find small designer clothing shops. Interesting architecture built with French and Belgian money and showing mixed Chinese-European styles.

The trendy areas Xintiandi and Sinan Mansions described below are both near Huaihai Road (5-10 minutes walk away); Tianzifang is further afield, about 30 minutes walk, or a 15 minute taxi ride in normal traffic conditions.

Metro line 1 runs under Huaihai Road through the main shopping area stations, listed east-to-west, are South Huangpi Road, South Shaanxi Road and Changshu Road. Line 7 also comes to Changshu Road.

Further west, Huaihai Road becomes mainly residential. Line 10's Shanghai Library and Jiaotong University stations are on the street and in this area.

Hengshan Road

Hengshan Road (old name Avenue Pétain) and nearby streets have what is probably Shanghai's largest cluster of dining and nightlife spots. It is an upmarket area with few real bargains, but food and drink here are generally somewhat cheaper than in trendier and more touristy areas like Xintiandi. There are also a number of hotels and quite a bit of boutique shopping. For those interested in the history, the main points of interest are the former American College (no. 10), and the (still active) Community Church (no. 53), reminders of the large English-speaking community that also lived in the French Concession.

From Changshu Road, line 1 swings south; the next two stops are Hengshan Road and Xujiahui. Hengshan Road and the smaller streets off it have mainly older two-storey buildings, many of them now bars and restaurants, though nearby areas such as Xujiahui and Zhoajiabang Road are largely highrise.

You can reach this area on foot starting from Changshu Road station (line 1 or 7). At the cross street on the west side of the station, head South past the Starbucks. The first couple of blocks of this street are called Baoqing Road, but the name soon changes to Hengshan Road. Oscar's Pub, a block along on the left (corner of Fuxing Road), and Shanghai Brewery two short blocks further on are popular expat hangouts. Between them are shopping several clothing stores, a DVD shop that is popular with expats on the right, and a place with lovely enamel-on-tile work on the left and several restaurants including an excellent upmarket Sichuan place called South Beauty, visible a bit to the right as you walk South. Turning right down the street South Beauty is on will bring you to an Irish pub.

Turning right at Shanghai Brewery puts you on a short block of Dongping Lu with a mid-range hotel, an Indian restaurant and, at the end of the block, a British place called Glo London (see #Eat. The terminus for the #816 bus to Minhang is also on that street. Dongping Lu ends in a T junction; the US Consulate is across the top of the T.

Across from the brewery are Sasha's upmarket european-style restaurant and Zapata's, an odd combination of Mexican restaurant and dance bar. Beyond Sasha's along Dongping Lu are a Western bakery, Thai and Greek restaurants, another Irish pub, and a mostly-expats sports bar. Continuing beyond those leads onto the west end of Fuxing Road, and into the area of smaller streets described under #Huaihai Road above.

Near Hengshan Road metro station

Staying on Hengshan Road and walking on past Shanghai Brewery, or turning right onto Hengshan Road from Exit 1 of Hengshan Road station (the only exit with an escalator), or coming out exit 2 or 4 from that station, will get you to a whole strip of restaurants upmarket Italian, Chinese and Arab places, a Papa John's Pizza, a Starbucks, a good Turkish kebab place, and an all-you-can-eat Brazilian barbeque that is good value at ¥139 a head provided you are feeling both hungry and carnivorous. These are all in the long white building shown in the photo. Most have patios out front which are quite pleasant except for some rather annoying beggars.

There are no bars in that strip, though most of the restaurants serve drinks. However, there are upmarket disco-style bars just beyond both ends of it and across the street. There is a cluster of half a dozen plainer and quieter bars across a side street from Exit 1, and more bars, boutiques and restaurants in either direction along Hengshan Road. Going South, there are also at least two high-class hotels within a few blocks.

Continuing several blocks South on Hengshan Road gets you to Xujiahui.

See #Eat and #Drink for details on some of these places.

Xintiandi

Xintiandi cafes

Xintiandi is an area of old shikumen houses, two-storey buildings on narrow lanes. It has been extensively redeveloped and now has new shopping malls, trendy bars and restaurants, and much tourism.

There is a Xintiandi station on metro line 10 and line 13; walk north from there to reach the center of the area. Walking south from South Huangpi Road station on line 1 is roughly the same distance.

Xintiandi is sometimes considered a sanitized, touristy and upscale "Disneyland" version of the original old neighborhoods it displaced. It is certainly rather pretty, worth at least a look for any first-time visitor to Shanghai. Prices are generally on the high side, but there are some good deals to be had at off-peak times such as lunch specials in some restaurants and happy hour in bars. Although there are many shops here, most are international or Hong Kong-based chains.

Attitudes to Xintiandi among Shanghai's large expatriate community are quite mixed. The area certainly has many expat customers, and many consider some of its live music venues and dance clubs as among the best in the city. Others dismiss most or all of them as "poseurs' pubs", suitable only for a more-money-than-sense crowd.

Xintiandi is supposed to expand and similarly transform a huge swatch of the French Concession later this decade.

Tianzifang

Tianzifang is another area of shikumen housing that has been redeveloped. It is newer than Xintiandi and emphasizes arts, crafts and boutique shopping where Xintiandi has more stress on brand-name goods and entertainment. Unlike Xintiandi, the shikumen residences in Tianzifang have been preserved, rather than knocked down and rebuilt. Slightly further from the central part of the French Concession, Tianzifang first gained fame when several prominent artists took up residence there, taking advantage of the cheap rent. There are still galleries and artists' studios here, although handicraft, souvenirs and cafes now dominate.

The number one exit of Dapuqiao Station (on metro line 9) is just across the street from Tianzifang.

Sinan Mansions

Former residence of Zhou Enlai. Sinan Mansions is based around a dozen or so similar villas, although Zhou's house is the only one that has not been modified in the redevelopment.

Sinan Mansions is another redeveloped quarter, based around a dozen European-style villas dating from the early 20th century. This area is bounded by Fuxing Road to the north, Si'nan Road to the west, and Chongqing Road to the east. The villas have been renovated, and their front and back yards knocked through and paved over to become paths. The revamped villas now mostly house restaurants and bars. Shaded by tall plane trees planted by the French authorities 100 years ago, this is a pleasant area to stroll and perhaps stop for a coffee and some cake.

A group of buildings once belonging to the Catholic Church are located near the Chongqing Road end, the largest of which is now an upmarket restaurant (Aux Jardins Massenet). Some of the villas in the same group are now an upmarket hotel (Hotel Massenet). ("Sinan Road" was formerly "Route Massenet" in the French period.) Only one villa, the former residence of Zhou Enlai, is preserved (as a museum) in a form which shows what these villas might have looked like when they were in residential use.

Wukang Road

A house on Wukang Road

Wukang Road (old name Route Ferguson) is one of the best preserved residential streets of the French Concession. Still lined by ornate villas and grand apartment buildings, it is a favourite for visitors interested in Shanghai's diverse architectural heritage. The road connects Huashan Road to the north with the western part of Huaihai Road in the south. The narrow road is lined with plane trees, and is popular in autumn when the golden leaves cover the ground. Unfortunately, very few of the historic houses can be visited. There is one small area of the road which has been developed to house cafes, bars and restaurants, and is popular with expatriate residents of the area.

Longhua

Longhua, formerly a suburban township and now part of urban Shanghai, was not part of the French Concession and is about a 30-minute walk or 10-minute cab ride further out from Xujiahui. Although close to the French and Catholic areas, until quite recently Longhua retained the look of a Chinese town. Much of the area has now been rebuilt in a fantasy-Chinese style. The most famous feature of Longhua town is Longhua Temple, one of Shanghai's largest and more authentic Buddhist temples. Nearby is Longhua Pagoda, one of the oldest standing structures in Shanghai. The temple's old gardens and orchard has been turned into the Longhua Martyrs' Cemetary, a good example of Socialist Realist landscaping, although the temple's peach blossom trees have been preserved. Viewing the peach blossoms is still a popular activity for locals in Spring.

See

In general this is a pleasant area to wander about in. Explore the sylvan streets and admire Shanghai's Art Deco residential architecture, reputedly the world's largest group of such homes, although not the most well-kept. Most historic buildings have a bronze plaque that details their original use. The area sandwiched between Fuxing and Huaihai Roads is particularly interesting with a sprinkling of tucked-away shops and discreet cafes, a refreshing alternative to the city's generally manic streetscape.

Around Fuxing Road

Longhua Temple

It seems a bit ironic that various militantly anti-imperialist Chinese lived in the French Concession and the Communist Party had its first national meeting here, but there were good reasons for this. For one thing, this area has always been one of the most pleasant in Shanghai. Also, for revolutionaries whether republicans opposing the Qing Dynasty before 1911 or Communists opposing the Kuomintang government later an area under foreign law was considerably safer than one where Chinese law applied.

Around Huaihai Road

Former Residence of Soong Ching Ling

Many of the consulates of foreign governments are also in this area; see the list in the main Shanghai article.

In Longhua

Buy

Lots of additions to this district, on a seemingly weekly basis. Check out the entire Xujiahui area and Times Square Huaihai Road for some of the larger malls. Creative boutiques can be found on Julu, Changle, Anfu and Xinle Roads throughout the French Concession, in addition to a high concentration of one-of-a-kind buys for sale in Tian Zi Fang northwest of the Luwan Stadium.

Xujiahui

If you are looking for anything electronic, Xujiahui is the place to start. The Metro station is under the intersection of five roads (see photo) and there is at least one shopping mall on each of the five corners. Pacific Digital Plaza Phase 2 (red building in lower right of photo, exit 10 of the metro station), has all sorts of consumer electronics computers, digital cameras, game consoles, MP3 players, cell phones, memory cards, and computer accessories. There are more electronics markets nearby, such as Pacific Digital Plaza Phase 1 (exit 9) which is better for computer parts. The idea of shopping at "PDP-1" may appeal to hackers; that was the model designation of DEC's first computer. If you look like a foreigner then at quiet times you will probably find you are constantly called out to by shop owners, which makes browsing quite challenging.

Grand Gateway Mall (dome between office towers, back and left in photo, exit 12) is the most upscale of these malls, and also the best-air conditioned in the summertime. The 5th and 6th floors offer a good selection of restaurants, and there are several more at ground level behind the mall. The 5th floor also has a large bookstore with a good selection of books in English. The basement has a fairly large supermarket with a good, though pricey, selection of Western groceries. This mall is a larger than it looks in the photo; that green dome starts above the sixth floor, and everything below it plus the corresponding floors of both towers is shopping.

Ruijin Second Road is a tree-lined boulevard in the heart of the French Concession, where you can experience the real Shanghai longtang (a narrow alley from house to house, which is a distinctive Shanghai architecture style). Don't forget to walk down Taikang Lu into Tian Zi Fang and burrow your way into the in process gentrification of the back alleys here. Old men air their magpies in spotless, tiny cages next to top flight restaurants and cafes. Shanghai T is a great place to buy a high quality T-shirt with a smart logo, "What recession?" Tian Zi Fang's renovation is still evolving and interesting shops and restaurants are opening and closing every day. The trendy stores exist side by side with the rhythms of "old school" Shanghai life -- and any time you can catch a glimpse of that, you should feel lucky.

Other nearby areas:

Along Maoming South Road by the Jin Jiang Hotel there are designer shops and art galleries. Don't forget your platinum credit card.

Eat

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Drink

Many bars, nightclubs and wine bars in and along Julu, Yongfu, Huaihai, and Hengshan Rds, and a handful of bars interspersed throughout Xintiandi and Tian Zi Fang.

Sleep

Budget

Mid-range

Splurge

Connect

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