If you want old-Shanghai romance with the convenience of downtown living, look no further than this enticing network of tree-lined streets, stretching from Yanan Lu (road) in the north, Zhaojiabang Lu in the south, Huashan Lu in the west and Xizang Nan Lu to the east.
Characterised by an intriguing mix of low-rise, architectural styles dating from the colonial-era, this area boasts quaint boutiques and galleries, an endless supply of stylish bars and restaurants, plus easy access to metro stations and Huaihai Lu, ' the hub of Shanghai' s shopping scene. To the south-west of the area are Xujiahui's mega-shopping and leisure malls. All these factors combine to make Xuhui and Luwan, the two areas proper that make up the French Concession, an extremely desirable, world-class lifestyle package.
All types of expats are attracted to the former French Concession: you are just as likely to bump into young expat parents out for a stroll with their new baby as you are to see an American businessman or Italian student of Chinese language.
As land in this area is limited, residential property consists mainly of apartments of all shapes, sizes and rents. Rentals are some of the highest in Shanghai and it is harder to find lower end housing than in other areas. You can find anything you want but it might take a bit of searching. Highly desirable, older-style properties - both lane houses and apartments - can be found here. There is a small supply of luxury newly-built villas and also of the classical colonial-era style villas, most commonly referred to as 'Lao Yang Fang'. There are also some pre-fab villa clusters in the grounds of the old Xing Guo and Ruijin Guest House and a couple of smaller villa compounds with very expensive villas in them. The military own most of the old villas in the area and these are often renovated to a more local standard so you need to be really careful about plumbing and wiring etc. You need to do lots of background checks before moving into old properties or your dream home in will become a nightmare.
View as many properties as are available within your budget because they vary enormously in terms of style and quality of renovation. If you are attracted to older-style apartments - be prepared! Communal areas can be grossly unloved, but the rewards of having Chinese neighbours will more than compensate for this and enhance your new experience ten-fold.
On the fringes, yet still close to all downtown amenities, there are several popular high-rise expat compounds offering apartments of varying sizes with superb recreational facilities.
The quiet, leafy streets offer respite enough from the relentless urbanism of Shanghai, but French Concession residents have the added benefit of never being far from a park.
The history of the French Concession is the history of foreign involvement in modern China. After the Chinese loss of the Opium Wars in 1842, Shanghai, among other cities, were forced to open themselves as international “ports of call.” In 1849, the government of Shanghai conceded a large segment of land to the French consulate. This plot of land was expanded a few times and at its height in the 1936, consisted of the whole of present-day Xuhui and Luwan Districts. Present-day Yan’an Road actually used to be a creek that divided the French Concession from the Shanghai International Settlement.
Like the International Settlement, The French Settlement had its own code of laws and enforcement and was a de facto sovereign nation. Entrance by local Chinese was strictly limited to the affluent and influential and, in fact, many Chinese leftist artists and intellectuals made the French Concession their home. Though controlled by the French, American and British settlers flooded the newer western section in the 1920s. A number of Russians also moved into the French concession in the wake of the Russian Revolution. In the 1930s, the French Concession was also well known as center for brothels, gambling, and opium.
Avenue Joffe (currently Huaihai Road) was the main shopping center of the concession. Most of the shops were owned by Russians. This street was the first one in Shanghai lined with Platane trees which are now quite prevalent throughout the city. Rue de Petain (currently Hengshan Road) was the center of luxury dwellings. A foreigner living in Shanghai was referred to as a Shanghailander. Though Shanghailanders only made up 36,000 out of the 3 million people living in Shanghai, they controlled half of the city.
In 1937, the Japanese army invaded Shanghai and many Shanghailanders left the city. In 1943 at the height of WWII, many remaining Shanghailanders were put into concentration camps by the Japanese. By 1946, the Japanese had left but so had most Westerners and all foreign concessions were officially closed. By 1949 after the Communist Revolution, almost all foreign firms moved to Hong Kong. Foreign influence on Shanghai we would remain mostly dormant for 30 years.
Metro Line 1 runs along Huaihai and Hengshan Rds, while the district is also covered by lines 10 and 7. The most useful stops are probably the Shanxi Nan Lu station, which is fairly central, and Changshu Lu Station. In 2009, Line 9 expanded into the southern part of the district.
Xujiahui Station is one of the biggest Metro stations in Shanghai and connects most, if not all, of the big shopping malls in the Xujiahui commercial circle. It also contains an underground market all the way along the station from Hongqiao Rd to Nandan Rd.
There is a large selection of kindergartens catering for all requirements, particularly if you wish to send your children to local schools to learn the Chinese language. There is fast access to international schools in the Jing’an and Changning districts.
Within the French Concession you will find the Ni Kinderclub in the Luwan area. The address is Haihua Garden No.5, Lane 38, Dapu Lu. This early education center is Singapore based and provides a full day program for babies to 6 year old children.
In Xuhui, you will find Wunan Kindergarten at 14 Wulumuqi Nan Lu and Sunrise Kindergarten in front of it at No.2, Lane 9, Hengshan Lu. Also in this area you will find Julia Gabriel, an international speech and drama school, located at 75 Wuxing Lu and the Shanghai Garden Tiny Tots campus at 43 Fuxing Xi Lu. Close by there is a branch of the US based Kindergarten Little Eton, bilingual school offering programs for children 2-6 years old on 592 Wan Ping Nan Lu. The Nest Creative Children’s house offers early childhood education for little ones from 18 months old up to 5 years. They are located at 270 Wuyuan Lu, near Wulumuqi Lu. For half days and full day programs you could also bring your 2-6 year old to Fonshin International Kindergarten at 100 Wuyuan Lu.
Other international schools within a 20 minute drive from French Concession:
SCIS (Changning/Hongqiao), www.scischina.org.
SAS (Puxi), www.saschina.org.
BISS (Puxi), www.bisspuxi.com.
Yew Chung (YCIS, Puxi), www.ycis-sh.com.
To find out more about international schools in Shanghai, visit How to choose the right international school or Which international school is best for your child?.
Parkway Health, Shanghai Centre Medical and Dental Centers, No. 203-4 West Retail Plaza, 1376 Nanjing Xi Lu. (86-21) 6279 7688 or (86 21) 6279 8129.
Less than a 20 minute drive away in the Hongqiao district, you can find other international hospitals such as the United Family Healthcare, at 1139 Xian Xia Lu and Parkway Health at Hongqiao Lu. (86-21) 22163900 and for emergencies 2216 3999.
The New Pioneer Medical Centre on 2nd floor Geru Building, 910 Hengshan Lu has a foreign-friendly medical and maternity clinic. (86-21) 64070434.
Ruijin Hospital, on 197 Ruijin Er Lu also has a foreign-friendly medical and maternity clinic. (86-21) 64370045.
Huashan Hospital (in Chinese), on 2 Wulumuqi Zhong Lu has a 24-hour foreign clinic on the 19th floor. (86-21) 52889999.
The Sino-American OB-GYN clinic, is on the 14th floor of Huashan Hospital, (8621) 6249 3246 and (8621) 5288 7240, and the out-patient facility is a few blocks away on 800 Huashan Lu, (8621) 6210 2299.
The French Concession is the place to be when dinner time rolls around. Whether you like Indian, Italian, Chinese, French, Thai, Vietnamese, American or Spanish food, there is a restaurant here for you. This list is not exhaustive and it is entirely subjective, but here are some recommendations about where to eat in Xuhui and Luwan:
Enoteca, www.enoteca.com.cn, is a Spanish wine bar with a selection of very nice tapas dishes; Lost Heaven, www.lostheaven.com.cn, is well known amongst expats for its great ambiance and ‘traditional’ Chinese dishes with western fusion presentation; Haiku is a wonderful Japanese sushi restaurant with a clean and fancy environment; Vedas, www.vedascuisine.com, offers fantastic (and, on request, non spicy) Indian food in an elegant dining room with open kitchen; the mix of American and Asian flavors have turned out to be a big hit for Goga! They also have a nice terrace upstairs (go to the back of the restaurant); or try Taikang Lu, www.taikanglu.com, for Bacaro a small, friendly and cozy Italian restaurant serving tasty Italian food and offering a nice choice of wines. Sinan Mansions is a new development with plenty of bars and restaurants worth trying: Boxing Cat Brewery, www.boxingcatbrewery.com, (also in Fuxing Xi Lu), The Alchemist, California Pizza Kitchen, www.cpk.com, and The Fat Olive, www.thefatolive.com, to name a few.
The clubs and bars are not very centralized but they are easy to reach: For nice cocktails try El Coctel or The Apartment, www.theapartment-shanghai.com; for dancing and drinks give Sasha’s a try (also famous for its old-world charm), http://sashas-shanghai.com, Zapata’s, http://zapatas-shanghai.com, Mural for Salsa, www.muralbar.com, Mesa Manifesto, www.mesa-manifesto.com, and the Camel Sports Bar, www.camelsportsbar.com - Most of these bars and clubs you’ll find around the triangle formed by Dongping Lu, Julu Lu, and Yongfu Lu.
For nightlife, Xintiandi, www.xintiandi.com, is the place par excellence: there are a big variety of restaurants and bars. Simply Thai, serving delicious Thai food, and Kabb Bar and Grill, www.kabbsh.com, serving nice American Steaks and offering up great brunches, are two great restaurants while Club G Plus, www.clubgplus.com, is a nice place with good dance music. Brown Sugar, www.brownsugarlive.com, hosts a live band every night, changing some of the musicians and singer(s) every 3 months.
Finally, if you are looking for a good restaurant to take your kids to, try Blue Frog, www.bluefrog.com.cn, Element Fresh, www.elementfresh.com, or Paulaner, www.bln.com.cn.
There are a few art galleries, such as Art Labor, www.artlaborgallery.com, and small studios from which you can purchase artworks (and sometimes watch while the painters are at work), along Yongjia Lu, between Shanxi Nan Lu and Maoming Nan Lu. The quiet and leafy Shaoxing Lu, between Shanxi Nan Lu and Ruijin Er Lu is also known for its book shops, art galleries, antiques and tea shops..
Places to visit with Children
Fuxing Park and Jing An Park offer lots of fun for children and adults. Or try something different. In Luwan at Taikang Lu near Sinan Lu, there are pottery workshops and the Animal Factory. Here your little one can make his/her own stuffed toy. On Jianguo Xi Lu, near Ruijin Er Lu you will find the Children’s Palace, where your kids can learn more about arts and drama. If your gang is not tired and very brave, perhaps they would like to go hunting for ghosts in the French Concession: Newman Tours, www.newmantours.com, offers several walking and discovery tours throughout the area. Or check out latest movies in Cathay Theatre.
In Xuhui you can visit the Shanghai Botanical Garden, www.shbg.org, at 111 Longwu Lu. You will find 5000 kinds of plants on 240 acres of rolling landscape. Red Town, www.redtown570.com, is a very creative environment, where you can enjoy a picnic among the freestanding sculptures in the grassy central areas. Or enjoy a family day at Okiki Raffles Club, http://rafflesclub.okiki.com/index_eng.html, at Xujiahui for parents and kids. Okiki is also located in the Red Town area and besides kids programs they offer adult salons and organize parties.
Fighting sports are increasingly popular amongst local Chinese and expats: In Luwan you will find the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (www.shanghaibjj.com) on 427 Jumen Lu and Longwu International Kungfu (www.longwukungfu.com) on Huaihai Zhong Lu. Though not state of the art, the Shanghai Modern Military Sports Club (www.firingclub.com) at 701, 7F Huaihai Zhong Lu has different kinds of guns and you can practice shooting real bullets.
When it comes to gyms, you could try California fitness at Huaihai Zhong Lu number 138 (www.californiafitness.com/cn/en/), Topform Health Club on the 1st floor of the Regal Shanghai Hotel, 800 Lingling Lu, or Megafit Fitness Center on the 1st floor at 208 Baise Lu (www.megafitchina.com) in the far south of the district.
There are a number of swimming pools in various hotels/apartment buildings throughout the area (Ambassy apartments, JC Mandarin, The Summit etc.)
In Xujiahui, you can find the Shanghai Stadium, Gymnasium, and the nearby Shanghai Swimming Club. Not far away, at 135 Jianguo Xi Lu in Luwan, are Luwan Stadium and the accompanying sports center with a Star Gym.
Huaihai Lu has been the best shopping area in Shanghai since the days it was called Joffre Road. Today, it offers the best shops for clothes, jewelry, and sunglasses and many famous brand names are found here. H&M, Zara, Mango, Vero Moda, Miss Sixty, the Barbie shop, etc. are all to be found on this street. Around Huaihai Lu you will find smaller streets with outstanding boutiques offering nice clothes, beautiful shops with homeware or antiques, and florists, as well as a plethora of small Chinese fruit and vegetable or grocery shops. These are certainly worth exploring as you’ll find many hidden gems in these quiet streets.
For more go to Xujiahui, where you will find all the shops you are looking for in the Grand Gateway office building and shopping mall, www.grandgateway.com. In the same area is Smart Buy, where you can buy all the electronic equipment you need.
For a wide selection of local and imported groceries and other household products, try City Shop, www.cityshop.com.cn. In Luwan they have 2 locations, at 939 Huaihai Zhong Lu in the Hong Kong New World Department Store and at 99 Huaihai Zhong Lu in the Shanghai Times Square. In Xujiahui you will find them at Novel Plaza, 131 Tianyaoqiao Lu. For large amounts of shopping you can find some imported and lots of fresh local food at the Carrefour in Xujiahui, 1995 Xietu Lu, near Dongan Lu.
Other suppliers of imported goods include Pines (www.chiro.com.cn) and Fei Dan (www.feidan.cn): Anfu Lu has both and the Loft at Jianguo Xi Lu also has an outpost of the latter. In this area, Wulumuqi Lu between Fuxing Xi Lu and Wu Yuan Lu has lots of fruit and vegetable shops.