Expert guide to Shanghai
Belgian-born, Africa-raised Italian businessman Jonathan Hasson partners with Texas native, Shanghai socialite and architectural historian Spencer Dodington to provide visitors to Shanghai with a truly local yet high-end bespoke experience. Hasson has lived in Shanghai since 2000, and Dodington since 1995. Dodington speaks fluent Shanghainese, Mandarin and Japanese, studied architecture at Shanghai’s prestigious Tongji University and consults on authentic restorations of historic buildings. In 2014 he released Shanghai’s Art Deco Master, a book about the architect behind many of Shanghai’s concession-era landmarks, Paul Veysseyre. The duo, along with several other Shanghai history and culture experts, provide customized urban safaris tailored to interests such as architecture, history, contemporary or traditional art, fashion and design and shopping. Standard packages include the lanes of the Old Chinese City and the former concessions, navigating little-known gems of markets, and Shanghai’s Art Deco heritage and modern urban development.
Shanghai Art Deco Tours
History in architecture
Shanghai is home to one of the largest concentrations of Art Deco in the world, in the form of architecture, furniture, fashion, graphic design and more. Yet we might walk past oblivious to the history surrounding us. Shanghai Art Deco offers several tours that guide you through this design style that pervades the city’s neighborhoods. Go on the Lost Chinese Art Deco City tour and discover a city’s history between magnificent buildings originally conceived by the Nationalist government, but never used for their intended purpose. The Bund and Beyond tour takes you to Old Shanghai’s financial district, which is still teeming with Art Deco banks, department stores, commercial buildings, and hotels—some of the grandest, yet most unexplored architecture found within the city. The Deco and Dumplings tour will satisfy your hunger for both Shanghai street food and Art Deco history as you stroll along well-known food streets against the impressive Art Deco cityscape. Take either a private tour or one of their monthly tours and open your eyes to a cultural art form that defined modern Shanghai.
Stroll and see
One of the better-known tour services, this provider refers to its offerings as “walking workshops,” or a combination of “a guided urban field trip, an in-depth discussion and professional development.” With this approach, they take you on an exploration of such topics as architecture, business, design, art and literature. One popular option is the music and jazz tour. As Shanghai was famous in the ’20s for its jazz scene, passionate and published expert Andrew Field takes people on an enriching tour into music history, introducing fascinating figures like Chinese national anthem composer Nie Er and Li Jinhui—the godfather of modern Chinese pop music. The three-hour tour largely examines the city’s musical past, and the night ends with stops at the jazz favorite Cotton Club, to catch some of the city’s present-day music talent. Photographer Yolanda von Hagen also offers a couple of long-running photography walks helping you to snap some memorable Shanghai scenes to lock in your memory bank. Tours are announced on their website and offered in English, Mandarin and French.
See the hidden side of Shanghai by sidecar
There is a side of Shanghai that you just don’t see, and it’s not because it’s hard to find. You’re just not paying attention. But there is something about a lovingly restored vintage Chang Jiang sidecar motorcycle—complete with a goggle helmet and a knowledgeable biker guide—that shifts your focus to some of the city’s underappreciated scenery. Insiders Experience offers a unique opportunity to see the city this way. Guides are licensed motorcycle operators and longtime residents who know Shanghai like the back of their hand. They’ll take you exploring the hidden side of Shanghai, like the historic Jewish Ghetto Hongkou District, the storied villas of the Former French Concession and Old City and the rapidly disappearing lanehouse communities of Jing’an District. They also offer guided expeditions by Jeep or sidecar in more far-flung locales in China, like Xi’an or Sanya. Tours can be tailored to your interest. From there, you’re basically tooling around town with a newfound friend. Prices for Shanghai-based tours start at ¥800 for two people for one hour.
Shanghai Jewish Tours
What many first-time visitors to Shanghai don’t know is that Shanghai’s Jewish community has thrived for more than a century, and their history makes for a quite eye-opening half-day tour. Israeli journalist Dvir Bar-Gal passionately yet accessibly explains the Jews’ unique history and influence on the city throughout history. With an itinerary of synagogues, the Peace Hotel and an old ghetto area, the Jewish Walking Tour introduces people like the moneyed Sassoon family, who amassed an opium-fueled fortune while living in a mansion on the Bund at the turn of the century, and World War II refugees confined to the Hongkou ghettoes due to an agreement between the ruling Japanese government and their German allies. On the tour you’ll also check out one of the few remaining Jewish neighborhoods still standing in that area, parts of which have been put up for sale as the city attempts to “revitalize” it. The tour is available in English or Hebrew daily, rain or shine. Groups of all sizes are welcome, and tours can be also customized to your schedule.
Eat and run
UnTour was founded by two food-loving foreigners, Jamie Barys and Kyle Long—the company’s chief eating officer and chief running officer respectively. Having scoured Shanghai street food since 2010, they bring the tastiest dishes to the forefront of your attention. Unsurprisingly, their best tours are culinary walking and sightseeing tours that range from night markets to dumpling tasting and wine pairing. Their focus on local food and friendly, personal tours has helped them maintain their spot as #1 highest voted activity on TripAdvisor. One of our favorite tours is their weekly Street Eats Breakfast Tour—trust us, your taste buds will thank you, plus you get to walk off any potential calories you may gain so it’s a win-win situation. Start the morning by relaxing at Xiangyang Park watching locals do tai chi while munching on Shanghainese fried dumplings and egg crepes. The guides also take participants to hidden gems like Mr Wu’s store, owned by a hunchbacked shopkeeper whose scallion fried pancakes are so good that people wait for more than an hour for one.
Wheely Bike Tours
Cycling and sightseeing
Cycling is nothing short of a Shanghai tradition, and the thrill of uncovering new parts of this city on two wheels never dies. Run by natives of the Netherlands, this tour provider takes you on a cruise through backstreets you’ve never seen, crossing from the Jade Buddha Temple over to the former French Concession, stopping in different bazaars and alleyways before arriving at the Bund for a great view and refreshing drink. The many non-residents who ride cite their favorite part of the tour as seeing scenes of local life they would otherwise miss. Tours last approximately three to five hours and will include up to a dozen people, though larger groups can also be accommodated. Everyone can choose from city bikes, tandems and mountain bikes to ride. Because Shanghai is flat, the ride is not strenuous, though navigating traffic can be challenging. As such, the company welcomes children 8 to 13 years of age on a tandem when accompanied by an adult. Children 13 and up may also ride their own bike. It’s a great way to explore this city while minimizing your carbon footprint.