The French Concession walk has to be in the top of your list when you visit Shanghai. Other than the scenic bund, street foods and the City God Temple that Shanghai is well known for, there are also many historic walks like the French Concession that you could take during your time in this global financial hub of China.
In this former French settlement, you could expect beautifully tree lined avenues, European cafes, art and antique galleries, concept bars & breweries situated in tudor houses, and more. Long sentence short, this area is super photogenic, and you’d probably won’t feel like you’re in China at all. If you’re into cafe hopping, you’ll likely to find yourself coming back to the area more than once since most of the quirky themed ones are here.
Given that the area is reallllly huge, my recommendation is to break up this walk into 2 – 3 days, so that you’ll have enough energy to walk the distance (explore a bit more), and enough stomach space for the food you’d like to eat. And to make sure you don’t end up walking the same place every other day, I’ve listed below the 3 different routes you can take on different days to fully explore the French Concession and its vicinity.
1. Xintiandi (Huangpi South Road Station) > Fuxing Park > Sinan Road (Shanghai Museum of Sun Yat-Sen & Sinan Mansions) > Taikang Road (Tianzifang) > South Shaanxi Road (& pop by Shaoxing Road) > Fuxing Middle Road > Xiangyang South Road > Yongkang Road (bars & nightlife)
Time required: 6 hours
This is the basically the main road to cover if you’d like to have a full on French Concession feel. Xintiandi the the iconic place to start or end your walk, so feel free to reverse this route if you’d like. At Xintiandi itself, you can expect to spend an hour or so walking around the area, and photographing the Shikumen Residence and its museum, which is representative of the Shanghai house styles.
Fuxing Park is the park to visit – the once private park of the Ming dynasty was re-opened during the French Concession. This is probably the only park in Shanghai you’d actually see French descriptions on the park introduction boards! You’ll find the local elders gathered around, playing chess, debating politics, or just families taking a picnic in the main area of the park.
Sinan Road is also a must, especially the Sinan Mansions. This area is a residential district, housing the Chinese elites and prominent figures like Sun Yat-Sen and Zhou En Lai in the early 1900s. While this district has been re-developed into commercialisation, much to many locals’ distaste, it is still a part of the French Concession with a history to be told. You may also want to have a cuppa coffee or a meal while you’re at it.
Further down is the famous Tianzifang, which you could enter via Taikang Road. There are 4 entrances to Tianzifang so feel free to exit elsewhere. Over here, expect boutique shops selling art and crafts you could buy for souvenirs (please shop around before buying from any because the prices could differ largely!), more bars and concept stores, street snacks, and little art galleries. And while you walk around, you would realised that there are little alleyways leading to private homes. Yes, there are still locals living here, so make sure not to intrude!
After you’re done hustling and snacking at Tianzifang, you can start your journey again via Shaanxi South Road and Fuxing Middle Road where you can snap a few pretty shots of the neatly tree-lined roads. End your walk at Yongkang Road for a drink or two!
2. Wulumuqi Road (Zhaojiabang Station) > Hengshan Road > Gao’an/ Wuxing/ Wanping Road > Huaihai Middle Road > Wukang Road > Anfu Road
Time required: 4 – 5 hours
This route is less French-style, more cafe pop ups, and more tiny boutique shops full of character. On Wulumuqi road, be sure to drop by Avocado Lady, a convenience store made famous by an entrepreneurial woman who sells everything from European cheese to exotic herbs, and obviously, avocados! This has been around be more than 20 years, and have found fame in its offerings. Also if you fancy vintage goods, check out The Cottage Shop on the same road.
Once on Hengshan Road, you know it’s time for a meal. This road is lined with restaurants and bars, local and international cuisine alike, you’ll definitely be spoilt for choice. As this stretch is also known for its nightlife, head back here at night if possible for a drink and enjoy the night view!
The next highlight in this route would be the intersection of Huaihai Middle Road and Wukang Road, where Wukang Building (former Normandie Apartments) comes into view. This is a protected historic English-styled building part of the French Concession, which also resembles that of NYC’s flat iron building.
On Wukang Road is where you’ll find Farine Bakery, Grains, What Is Your Flavour #WIYF gelato (the hottest gelato spot in Shanghai right now), and Le Rachel. The latter 3 establishments are right next to each other, and probably owned by the same boss. Grains was part of my to-go list of cafes, but we ended up discovering #WIYF there with the massive long queue in Winter (kid you not). And since we were a little hungry, we ended up ordering some food at Le Rachel that tasted really good, and had a first taste of #WIYF (limited flavour in here). By nightfall, the queue was much shorter, the Italian servers have left, and we naturally went to join the hype. Verdict: it was really delicious. But be sure to save some tummy space because…
Anfu Road has even more food! End your walk by chilling at Baker & Spice, where they offer a good range of bread, cakes and pastries. Also, if you decide to start your walk from Anfu Road instead, you can get your brunch fix here.
3. Huaihai Middle Road, with a detour to Julu Road via Shaanxi South Road or Maoming South Road
Time required: 3 – 4 hours
This route is super straightforward: you basically walk the whole main stretch of Huaihai Middle Road, probably from the start of Changshu Road’s intersection. The main attraction of this route is lots of shopping, and you can expect to find international brands like Uniqlo, Adidas and Muji who set up their flagship stores here. Besides shopping, you’ll also meet historical assets like the Cathay Cinema, and quirky cafes like Cafe On Air. Oh, for you LINE fans out there, one of their cafes is situated here as well (pictured above). You can also take a break from the crowd to check out Julu Road further down that’s parallel to Huaihai Middle Road, where it’s lined with boutique shops and local eateries.
End this walk at Shanghai Times Square. BTW you could also check out Dashijie‘s building when it’s lit up at night, it’s pretty spectacular.
I certainly hope this long and informative guide helps for your trip to Shanghai. Enjoy the adventures! x