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  • Last Updated: 25th July 2013

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Shanghai - Lifestyle & Culture

Culture

Shanghai’s disparate and dramatic history is celebrated in a series of neighbourhoods, cultural centres and museums around the city’s downtown areas. Often, the best way to get a feel for this kaleidoscopic history is to merely wander through the streets of the old town, the boulevards and promenades, and the colonial, tree-lined avenues. A good place to start is Duolun Lu, Shanghai's culture street, so named in 1998, in the historic Hongkou District, somewhat outside the city centre. Once part of the city’s American Concession, it merged with the British Concession to form the International Settlement in colonial Shanghai - and became home to many of the city’s cultural progressives - writers, artists and agitators. The street’s elegant villas and shops are home to museums (such as the excellent Duolun Museum of Modern Art) and antiques and curio shops. At Lane 201, no. 2 is the League of Leftist Writers Museum.

Shanghai Municipal History Museum

In the shadow of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, this excellent museum recalls the city’s story from 1860 to 1949. Carefully recreated dioramas, models and tableaux recreate the city’s famous thoroughfares and districts, in times past. Make sure you buy an English audio tour, as the signage is all in Chinese. Well worth a couple of hours of your time.

Shanghai Art Museum

Housed in the landmark clock tower People's Square, with a fabulous 1930s interior, the city’s vibrant art museum contains a collection spanning modern, traditional, and temporary exhibits over 12 galleries - and is also home to a buzzing restaurant on the fifth floor.

Museum of Contemporary Art/MOCA

A striking new steel and glass building is the suitably eye-catching home to the city’s latest museum - the surprisingly fun Museum of Contemporary Art. The collection encompasses Chinese and international conceptual art, sculpture, painting and installations. There’s a nice Italian restaurant on the third floor.

Shanghai Museum of Arts and Crafts

This stunning French Renaissance mansion has been lovingly restored, its room’s home to artists’ studios, workshops and elegant galleries. Look for intricate jade, wood, and bamboo carvings - many of which are for sale.

Nightlife

Shanghai Grand Theatre

Something of an institution - though much more fun! This elegant old dame of the Chinese theatre scene is now housed in an eight-story space-age complex of shimmering glass. The Shanghai Grand Theatre is actually three theatres in one, and the city’s premier venue for ballet, drama, concerts and traditional Chinese theatre.

Shanghai Circus World

China loves its acrobatic and circus performances, so it’s only fitting that it would build a suitably jaw-dropping home for their shows. This 1,638-seat circus theatre is as state-of-the-art as it gets, with a revolving stage, and all manner of technical wizardry. The centre also features a gigantic animal house with rooms for elephants, tigers, lions, chimps, horses, and pandas. Do try to catch a show by the legendary Shanghai Acrobatics Troupe. You’ll be blown away by their on stage antics.

When it comes to bars and clubs, Shanghai’s nightlife is surprisingly laid-back, lively and colourful.

Xin Tiandi, or New Heaven and Earth, is rapidly becoming the place to head to experience the city’s resurgent nighttime economy in action. Here, within beautifully restored traditional Shanghainese shikumen (stone-frame) houses, you’ll find achingly trendy bars, karaoke joints, cafes and cocktail lounges.

For a touch more tradition, and atmosphere, the ancient city (Nanshi), once surrounded by walls, is a lively, crowded matrix of tight, burrowing streets, lined with neighbourhood bars, good eating options, and gossiping locals.

Nightclubs and bars are every bit as thrilling as you’d find anywhere in the world - moreso, in fact, as there’s still a feeling here that people have just started to party after a long period of repression. And the party mood is infectious. Bars and clubs along The Bund are currently the favoured hotspots, and stay pumping until 2am or later. And, refreshingly, the city doesn’t suffer so much from the over-hyped, pretentious bar scene that afflicts many other Asian destinations.

Try The Shelter, a stripped-down techno club in a disused bomb shelter, the gaudy and glam Club 88 in the French concession, or the sleek Babyface, along Huaihai Zhong. Stunning views of The Bund, from the skylounge of Bar Rouge are the main attraction at this swanky joint, while Muse, in Jing An, is the place to head to mix with the indie/hipster crowd.

For lounging in style, head to the city’s big hotels - most of which have elegant martini bars, serving delicious cocktails, on their top floors - to take advantage of the city’s stunning nighttime panoramas.

The honour of the biggest nightclub in a city of superlatives, though, goes to the mighty Obama, on wan'an Xi Lu - a mega-sized fun palace of dancing girls, 3D lightshows, pumping house music and laid-back VIP lounges.

For a good natured bar crawl, you can’t go far wrong in Tongren Lu - the city’s liveliest bar street, and for a gay-friendly nightspot, try the venerable Eddy's Bar, Huaihai Zhong Lu.