I just finished up an amazing month in China and loved my latest visit to Shanghai and this incredible city of 24 million people. I really can’t get enough. The skyline! The food! The metro! (The metro is so clean and neat and the signage is very easy to understand.) And the dumplings. I really can’t get enough of the dumplings.
To have enough energy for all that dumpling-eating in Shanghai, you’re going to need a good night’s rest every night. In an effort to help you get the rest you deserve, during my stay, I raced all around the city trying to determine the best place to stay in Shanghai…the best neighborhoods and the best hotels, closest to pubic transportation and lots of amenities.
How to Pick the Best Place to Stay in Shanghai: Location, Location, Location
Shanghai is MASSIVE. When deciding where to stay in Shanghai, you need to pick a hotel by a metro station. Like on top of one if possible (there are a lot of skyscrapers in Shanghai so this is not uncommon) or within a 5 minute walk of one. (Preferably less, honestly because crossing the street can be difficult at times — there aren’t always crosswalks or pedestrian signals — and motorbikes don’t seem to obey traffic laws.) This sort of location gives you access to all sorts of amenities…usually a drug store, a 7-11 or FamilyMart, and lots of great eateries. Focusing on metro-friendly hotels automatically rules out any hotel on The Bund by the way! (Keep reading til the end for all of my thoughts on The Bund and why you shouldn’t stay there.) Booking.com is great for selecting hotels that fit my subway location criteria because hotel descriptions will tell you exactly how far it is to the nearest metro station. Pay careful attention to this information. Here is the description for The Langham — coincidentally my top pick for where to stay in Shanghai — from Booking.com. Note the sentence I highlighted, which explains how close The Langham is to Shanghai’s South Huangpi Road Subway Station.
Always Check Internet Speeds!
Besides for location, in my opinion, the other thing to consider when deciding where to stay in Shanghai is internet speed. In general, internet speeds in China will be slower than what you are used to if you are from a major 1st world city. You will also be behind the Great Firewall — China blocks Facebook, Instagram, all Google products, and many newspapers like the New York Times — and if you use a VPN to access these websites — I recommend Express VPN — it will slow your speed even further. So…use the Booking.com wifi rating to evaluate hotel wifi speed as you are considering where to stay in Shanghai. To get to this information, click Guest Reviews on a hotel’s main page on Booking.com to see the rating breakdowns as per the below screenshot of again my personal pick for the best place to stay in Shanghai, The Langham.
Make Sure Your Shanghai Hotel Has A Concierge
My last recommendation in looking for the best place to stay in Shanghai is to consider the presence and/or quality of concierge. While there are many young people in Shanghai who speak English well today, they don’t all work in hotels. If you don’t speak Chinese, it can be helpful to have a concierge who can arrange tours for you, book restaurants, and translate when needed. Even if you don’t use the concierge directly, make sure you collect a card from your hotel with the hotel address in Chinese. This can be invaluable for taxis and when you are lost. Remember, Google is blocked in China so Google Maps will not work! And even if you use a VPN for Google Maps, I found out the hard way that Google Maps is woefully out of date. You will need to rely on Apple Maps. (More on my app tips for Shanghai here.)
The Ultimate Best Place to Stay in Shanghai: XinTianDi
After exploring nearly every area of the city, it’s clear to me that the XinTianDi neighborhood is the best place to stay in Shanghai as a tourist. Yes, it’s popular with Western tourists but it’s just so lively and vibrant and fun. There are great restaurants and bars and it’s super-convenient to public transportation; the XinTianDi and South Huanpi Road metro stations are right there. It’s also quite beautiful with large trees shading many of the roads and a restored pedestrian-friendly old town area. Yes, pedestrian friendly!! (Most of Shanghai is not pedestrian friendly.) If you’re into Din Tai Fung, the excellent Taiwanese dumpling chain, you’ll also find one in the Shanghai New World mall. You’ll also feel quite safe in XinTianDi, which is important. (Although exercise all the usual cautions and if you are a woman, check out my favorite anti-theft purses.) You really can’t go wrong with XinTianDi if you want to be in the center of it all and within an easy metro ride of anything. Here are my three picks for the best place to stay in Shanghai in XinTianDi according to budget:
XinTianDi Luxury Hotel: The Langham XinTianDi
This is a 5-star hotel with a price tag to match but if you have the cash, I recommend you spend it here. (And before you rule it out because you think it’s too expensive, check the price! It’s actually pretty decent!) The Langham towers over XinTianDi and offers an indoor pool, luxury spa, and 24-hour fitness center. There are also several restaurants on the property. Consider a Club room for an extra treat so you have access to the complimentary breakfast and happy hour. Rooms have iPhone chargers and a Bluetooth speaker. Service is excellent. Personally, this is my #1 pick for the best place to stay in Shanghai given the hotel’s quality and location.
XinTianDi Mid-Range Hotel: Ascott Huai Hai Road
This is a really nice apartment hotel on the north end of Xintiandi. Each room has a small kitchen and a washer/dryer combo and the rooms are sound-proofed against Shanghai noise. There’s an indoor, heated swimming pool, tennis court and gym as well as an on-site restaurant and bar. This is a great family option as the rooms are quite spacious. It’s also great if you are staying for a longer period of time and don’t want to be eating out all the time. However, there are also tons of restaurants around the hotel which is convenient if you are traveling to Shanghai on business and not planning on cooking dinner.
XinTianDi Mid-Range Hotel: Fraser Residence Shanghai
If you like the idea of an apartment-style hotel, the Fraser Residence is another one of the best places to stay in Shanghai. What I like about this hotel is that it offers water filters and air filters in each room. (You can’t drink the tap water in Shanghai and the air pollution is a nightmare at times so both of these things are bonuses!) Most rooms have balconies which is an added bonus. Like the Ascot, this is a great hotel if you are looking for more of a self-catering option.
XinTianDi Budget Hotel: U Hotels XinTianDi
This is a great little apartment-hotel. Some larger units come with washer/dryer combos which you might find handy during your trip. There’s also a nice rooftop deck and a very small gym. The rooms are a bit more basic than Ascott but still nice. There are some complaints about noise between rooms but for the price, this is a great option. And really, you already know that I think XinTianDi is the best place to stay in Shanghai so the location of this hotel really can’t be beat.
See a full list of hotels in the XinTianDi area here. (Booking.com hasn’t done the best job here with giving you a clear list of hotels in xinTianDi so try to pick something between Huangpi South Road metro on the north end and XinTianDi Metro on the south end.) There aren’t a ton of hotels in this area but honestly, it’s worth researching them all because in my opinion, XinTianDi is the best place to stay in Shanghai.
My 2nd Pick for the Best Place to Stay in Shanghai: Jing’an Temple Area
If you like shopping and convenience and SHOPPING, the area immediately surrounding Jing’an Temple is great. I love that there’s this beautiful temple smack dab in the middle of the city. Nearby, I particularly love the Reel Mall and its AMAZING food court downstairs. (Exit 10 from the metro.) You definitely will not go hungry staying around here. There’s also a lovely park surrounding the temple itself if you need some fresh air and exercise. The area is very convenient to the former French Concession as well which is one of my favorite neighborhoods to explore in Shanghai — tons of great restaurants, a nice mix of old and new, and lovely tree-lined streets. So if you want something with a bit more of that mix between commercial and neighborhood-y, Jing’An Temple is my #2 pick for the best place to stay in Shanghai.
Best Place to Stay in Shanghai: Jing’an Luxury Hotel, The Puli Hotel & Spa
Topping many of the lists of where to stay in Shanghai if you want pure luxury, The Puli Hotel & Spa in the middle of one of the world’s most populous cities is just so mind-blowingly serene and chill. There’s 24-hour butler service, a one-star Michelin restaurant, a fab gym with sauna and steam room and then there’s a hot spring pool and heated infinity pool as well as a spa center. Sign me up! If you’ve got the cash, this is certainly a very top contender for the best place to stay in Shanghai. (And if you’ve got even more cash, opt for a Club room.) If it weren’t for my love of XinTianDi and The Langham, this would really be in first place on my “Where to Stay in Shanghai” list.
Jing’an Mid-range Hotel: Swissotel Grand Shanghai
The Swissotel is located close to the Jing’an metro station and has a great gym, pool and spa with hammam and sauna. The hotel has a pillow menu in case you are picky about where you lay your head. Upgrade to the Club floor for access to additional amenities including complimentary breakfast and evening happy hour. If you are trying to decide where to stay in Shanghai, I think this hotel has a great price-to-quality ratio. It is a very solid business class hotel. And of course, it’s also a great location if you like shopping!! (And eating.)
Jing’an Budget Hotel: World Union Serviced Apartment Cosmo
This is an studio apartment offering a 5-minute walk from Jing-an Temple station. Rooms are basic but modern and include a washing machine, which is very handy. Note that this is not a full-service building. That is, you won’t have use of building amenities. But it’s a great choice if you like cooking your own meals and are looking to save some money on a full-service hotel.
The Jing’An neighborhood is a total contender for the best place to stay in Shanghai. See a full list of Jing’an hotels here. Pick one close to Jing’an metro station please!
My Last Pick for the Best Place to Stay in Shanghai: East Nanjing Road (The Bund)
Everyone is going to tell you that the best place to stay in Shanghai is around The Bund and East Nanjing Road. Those people are uninformed tourists who don’t know Shanghai very well and they are wrong. Having stayed at the Westin Bund Center before and having spent a lot of time on The Bund, this is NOT my favorite part of town. (And I certainly don’t think the Westin is the best place to stay in Shanghai either.) This location is great if you want to go for a run every morning along The Bund and want easy access to an Apple store (there’s a huge one on East Nanjing Road) but I just don’t think East Nanjing Road is as exciting or interesting as XinTianDi or Jing’an Temple. (It’s all a bit…old.) I want to be very very clear about this! I don’t think The Bund and East Nanjing Road is the best place to stay in Shanghai. It’s like the 3rd best place to stay in Shanghai. Still, many tourists like it so maybe you should consider it. (But try to pick a hotel close to the East Nanjing Metro as many of the hotels along The Bund are not close to a metro stop and Shanghai is just so huge that you really need a metro close at hand. As such, I have only listed hotels below that are close to East Nanjing Road Station.)
Bund Luxury Hotel: Shanghai EDITION
This hotel is brand new and very sexy and you’ll probably see it in all the latest travel magazines on their “Best Place to Stay in Shanghai” lists. The public areas are great if you love eating and drinking and being with the beautiful people — there are multiple restaurants and bars and they are very popular with the hipsters. The hotel itself has a nice gym, spa and swimming pool and the rooms are very modern with clean lines. You are also located close to some good shopping and a big Apple store. If you have to stay close to The Bund, stay here.
Bund Mid-Priced Hotel: Jinjiang Metropolo Hotel
This popular hotel’s design is a good mix of old and new…it’s a bit art deco, which I like. It’s also very conveniently located to the pedestrian part of East Nanjing Road and the Apple store in case you need anything! This hotel is probably a little short on amenities but is still a great value for the location. It’s very popular with tourists given its price/value ratio. Also, if you are concerned about safety, the police department is right next to the hotel!
Bund Budget Hotel: Shanghai Fish Inn East Nanjing Road
This is a budget hotel with nice rooms in a good location in Shanghai. Very popular with tourists given the price tag here. Unlimited free bottled water provided on request. There are not a lot of amenities and the rooms are on the small side but if you are on a budget, this is a great option and the hotel gets good reviews. The entrance is a little off-putting — down a small alley — but still great fr the price and very convenient to the metro.
See all The Bund hotels here. Pick one close to East Nanjing Road metro station please!!
Where NOT to Stay in Shanghai
Pudong: Unless you are in Shanghai for business on this side of the river, do not stay in Pudong. It’s a snooze fest and you will find yourself taking taxis or the metro everywhere. When I stayed at the Mandarin Oriental Pudong during one of my stays, I had issues on weekend nights getting taxi drivers to take me home because no one wants to go to Pudong at night because there’s no one trying to get back into town. The views of the river were great from the Mandarin Oriental but Pudong was a hassle.
ON the Bund: Per the above, don’t stay in a hotel ON the Bund. (I hope I’ve made this point clear by now!) You’re too far away from a metro station. I read somewhere that the Westin Bund was one of the most popular hotels in Shanghai and I don’t gt it because it is a long ass walk to East Nanjing Road metro from the hotel. (And taxis are hard to get because everyone uses apps now and if you’re not from China, you probably won’t be able to use an app because of payment card issues.)
By the Airport: The airport is far away from downtown. Do not stay by the airport. Even if it’s cheap. Don’t do it. (Note that there are two airports in Shanghai and this advice applies to both.)
Best Place to Stay in Shanghai: Best Overall Luxury Hotels
If you are looking to stay in one of the best hotels in Shanghai — anywhere in Shanghai — here are my overall suggestions. Note I have only listed hotels that are convenient to a metro station and have a Booking.com rating of 8.5 or greater as of November 7, 2018.
- Fairmont Peace Hotel on The Bund
- The Peninsula Shanghai
- The Shanghai Edition
- The Yangtze Boutique Shanghai
- Andaz XinTianDi Shanghai
- The Langham XinTianDi
- Swissôtel Grand Shanghai
- The Puli Hotel And Spa
- Radisson Blu Hotel Shanghai New World
Best Place to Stay in Shanghai: Best Overall Budget Hotels
If you are looking for a great budget hotel in Shanghai and you’re open to multiple locations and neighborhoods, here are a few top picks. To keep this list manageable, I again focused on hotels that were close to metro stations and had a Booking.com rating of 8.5 or higher. Note that I did not include hostels in this at all. I only focused on hotels.
- Campanile Shanghai Bund Hotel
- SSAW Boutique Hotel Shanghai Bund
- Atour Light Shanghai On the Bund
- Anting Villa Hotel
Some Final Tips for Booking Your China Travel
Now that you’ve figured out where to stay in Shanghai, here are some other helpful tips…
- Get travel insurance. World Nomads is a reliable provider. (The sidewalks in Shanghai alone are worth purchasing travel insurance. They are so uneven!! And building codes do not always seem to be in place. Stairways without railings etc.)
- Book tours in advance using Viator, City Discovery, or GetYourGuide. Many tours will even pick you up at your hotel.
- If you are traveling outside of Shanghai, book your train tickets online and have them delivered to your hotel. Queuing up for train tickets in China can be quite stressful. The signs aren’t always in English and the lines can be quite long. Also, the Chinese concept of personal space is very different from the American and British version of personal space so waiting for your tickets can be pretty stressful. Ask your hotel for help if possible.
- Make sure you have a no foreign transaction fee credit card. Those fees totally add up!
- Consider opening a bank account with no fees for international withdrawals. OR withdraw large amounts to reduce the overall cost of withdrawals.
- Get a VPN. You won’t be able to access anything Google, Facebook, or Instagram without it. I recommend Express VPN for China. It’s the only one that worked reliably for me. Also, make sure you are always using the latest version of your VPN because it is a cat and mouse game. While I was in China, the desktop version of my VPN stopped working. I didn’t realize that I needed a new version until I contacted Express VPN support and they explained that the Chinese government had blocked the desktop version of the VPN and I needed a new version. I highly highly highly recommend Express VPN for your travels in China. You can subscribe for just a month or two or for an annual subscription. I’ve written more about my experience with VPNs and China over here.
- Consider getting a local SIM card when you arrive. Easier than relying on wifi. Note that it will take some time to get a local SIM — if there’s no queue, assume it will take you at least 30 minutes as they painstakingly enter all your details. Bring your passport.
- Bring tissues and wet wipes with you everywhere and be prepared for squat toilets even in Shanghai. (You may want to do some squats before you head to Shanghai to prepare.)
- Read what I have to say about the best apps for Shanghai!
- Eat all the dumplings. 😉 I left you some.
Summary of The Best Place to Stay in Shanghai
It’s XinTianDi! Or Jing’An Temple! That’s it!! I hope you found my post on the best place to stay in Shanghai helpful. Remember…stay close to a metro and don’t stay on The Bund!! You might find my post on the best apps for Shanghai helpful, along with my blog post on picking the best VPN for Shanghai. Enjoy your travels and consider booking one of these tours for the full Shanghai experience…