Shanghai is sooo big, making sense of it can be hard for (soon-to-be) newcomers. This write-up of Shanghai’s areas and neighborhoods hopefully will help.
Pudong and Puxi
First of all, Shanghai is divided by the Huangpu River. The part east of the river is Pudong, the part west of it is called Puxi. Pudong is an administrative district by itself (formally Pudong New Area), while Puxi is the informal term for all other of Shanghai’s districts. If we want to be picky though, there is one district, that has parts on both sides of the river, namely Minhang district, but more on that later.
Shanghai Downtown, Midtown, Suburbs
Beside that dichotomy, you could also divide Shanghai into downtown, midtown, and suburban areas. Suburban areas in Shanghai however are not purely residential or industrial with only some supermarkets serving the areas. City planners and real estate developers made sure, and continue to do so, that there are extensive commercial facilities in all neighborhoods, meaning shopping malls and office blocks are never too far from residential communities.
Shanghai’s districts and neighborhoods
Huangpu is the most central of Shanghai’s districts and the seat of the municipal government. It’s home to many of Shanghai’s most prominent attractions and also features several attractive residential neighborhoods.
The Bundside enjoys a fabulous views of Lujiazui CBD, constituting Shanghai’s world-famous skyline. Recently the Bund has seen new luxury developments, such as The Bound of Bund, but most apartments in this area locate in old period buildings and small lane houses. Quality and condition vary significantly, from stunning properties that can feature in any interior design magazine, to local, run-down housing with shared toilets.
People’s Square is a convenient, vibrant, and admittedly noisy area. One of its perks is the transportation hub with Metro lines 1, 2, and 8, as well as the many shopping malls, such as Raffle’s City, that make for good shopping, dining and entertainment destinations.
Laoximen, the Old West Gate, is currently undergoing heavy modernization, with only few old and authentic house blocks remaining. That said, most accommodation is located in modern high-rise compounds, reasonably priced considering the good access to other parts of town via Metro lines 8 and 10 and the highway/tunnel road system.
Dapuqiao area is quite interesting, as it consists of modern skyscrapers and SML Center, Shanghai’s largest shopping mall and food court, and, right next to it, Tianzifang, an artsy old quarter with plenty of charm, and – depending on the daytime – plenty of tourists.
Xintiandi is fully overhauled old quarter, famous for its shikumen (stone gate) houses and being the location where the Chinese Communist Party hold its first congress in 1921. The area’s streets are partly car-free, which makes for a great, relaxed shopping and dining area that attracts affluent shoppers and residents. Hence you’ll find super luxury apartment blocks along the streets of Xintiandi, particularly the Lakeville series and Rich Gate.
Huaihai Road Area refers to the eastern part of Huaihai Road in Huangpu District, just north of Xintiandi, home to glitzy shopping malls and beautiful old lane houses. Huaihai Road is Shanghai’s most prosperous shopping street, stretching all the way from Huangpu district’s Yu Garden to the western edge of Xuhui district.
Xuhui is a core district of Shanghai, comprising the charming quarters of the former French Concession, but also some rougher midtown parts in its South that don’t receive much praise or attention by the expat community.
The former French Concession is one of the most popular choices among expats. Admittedly, this area is quite pricey, but offers a great lifestyle without feeling snobby. Charming tree-lined streets, unique boutiques, bars and restaurants with new, interesting concepts, and beautiful lane houses make the FFC a very distinct area in Shanghai, and all of China. While per-sqm prices are high, there is wide variety of apartments and layouts to be found, from small studios to whole garden villas, thus offering homes for all budgets. Tiny attic studios start from 4,000 RMB but are rarely listed online as they are taken up in less than 24 hours. At the upper end, the largest and nicest lane houses are usually priced anywhere between 40,000 and 100,000 RMB per month. For those who want to enjoy the perks of the former French Concession, but are hesitant about living in old buildings (that might come with surprises), there would also be upscale apartments around Anfu Road, and mid-level apartment towers along Hengshan Road.
Xujiahui, to be found at the southern end of Hengshan Road, is actually a history-rich area, home to St. Ignatius church and Xujiahui observatory, but today it is dominated by ultra-modern office skyscrapers and shopping malls. With the Metro hub served by lines 1, 9 and 11, it’s super convenient, similar to People’s Square. It’s a good choice if you prefer modern housing (as compared to the lane houses of the adjacent FFC) and feel the rents of the former French Concession are just a bit too high. Another advantage is the proximity to Shanghai Indoor Stadium and the Swimming Pool, if you want frequent and easy access to an Olympic sized swimming pool or love to play with the city’s most talented street basketball players. East of Xujiahui CBD is a more residential area with less offices, sometimes referred to as Xietu Road area, which offers lower rents.
Xuhui Riverside is an up-and-coming residential area boasting modern high-end apartments with gorgeous river views.
Jing’an is a highly sought-after district, that some local and foreign residents consider the best overall place to live in Shanghai.
Its center is the area around Jing’an Temple, with a cluster of banks surrounding the Temple in the hopes of (even) better business. The immediate environment features some high-rise apartment blocks, but mostly older lane houses from the times of the former British Concession. Living close to Jing’an Temple is a great choice for its convenience. Especially expats working in one of the many grade A office buildings along West Nanjing Road enjoy being able to reach their work place by foot. Bars, restaurants and supermarkets, along with high-end shopping, are plenty.
Caojiadu is the residential area north of Jing’an Temple. Mid- to high-end housing can be found here, along with great dining and shopping options. Especially One Park Avenue and Eight Park Avenue are popular among expats.
New Jing’an, or former Zhabei district, is the result of a district merger from 2015. Close to downtown, just north of Suzhou Creek, new hyper luxury blocks were recently developed and finished. Shopping and transportation are very convenient, and the area has a very modern feel, in stark contrast to the older parts of Jing’an. New Jing’an is also where the Shanghai Multimedia Valley (SMV) is located to attract media and IT talent.
Changning district stretches from downtown to the suburbs.
Its downtown areas are the streets around Zhongshan Park, and Xinhua Road area. Zhongshan Park has Cloud Nine, a popular shopping mall right next to it, and enjoys great Metro access, with Line 2, running from Changning district (starting at Hongqiao Airport), through Jing’an and Huangpu districts, to Lujiazui CBD and all the way through Pudong up to Pudong International Airport. Lines 3 and 4, circling around downtown give quick access to other central neighborhoods.
Just outside of downtown, Changning is home to Gubei, an affluent midtown neighborhood that offers excellent housing and quality of life. Especially popular among East Asian expats from Korea, Japan, and other migrant Chinese from Hong Kong or Taiwan, the dining and shopping facilities are oriented towards this population. Nonetheless, many Western expats choose this area due to the proximity to downtown and Hongqiao economic area, as well as excellent international schools nearby, such as Yew Chung and SUIS.
Similar to Gubei, but without the special focus on expats, there is Tianshan, running along south of Suzhou Creek. There are some good apartment complexes with great onsite facilities for families, as they cover almost every interest. Around the Metro station of Tianshan, e.g. Weining Road station on Line 2, you’ll find modern shopping facilities and quite varied dining options.
Further out, the suburban Hongqiao area starts. Hongqiao is an economic development zone housing many large companies and factories. To keep commutes short for executives, several high-end villa compounds and a large golf club are situated here, along with international high schools. Laowai Jie (foreigner street) is a restaurant and bar street that attracts the expats living in the area, serving foreign food and beer, while showing sports on TV in a similar fashion as you might be used to from the US or Europe.
Putuo is a large district with a small part in downtown, around Changshou Road and Suzhou Creek. Apartments in high-rise high-end complexes offer nice river views and often good onsite facilities.
The area around East China Normal University (ECNU) and Changfeng Park is affordable in terms of property rents and offers good connectivity towards downtown Shanghai.
Further out north-west, the area is quite suburban, and only recommendable if living near a Metro station. That said, suburban Putuo is great for finding family sized apartments for moderate prices.
Hongkou district is located just north of Huangpu district. Its areas along the Bund, known as North Bund, have just undergone a major overhaul. Many modern office parks and shopping parks have been constructed, setting the stage for an economic boom. Further north in Hongkou, the streets around Hongkou Plaza, Hongkou Stadium (home of Shanghai Shenhua), and Luxun Park are very recommendable, as they offer reasonable-priced apartments of good quality, while offering good shopping and dining facilities at your door step.
Go a bit beyond Hongkou and you are in Yangpu. Some local residents will tell you Yangpu is in downtown Shanghai, but – truth be told, beside the streets around Wujiaochang and Daxue Road, it does not feel like downtown. Yangpu is home to two of Shanghai’s best universities, Fudan University and Tongji University, which is why you can find plenty of international students and some foreign teachers & professors in this area. A smaller amount of international researchers and professionals working in the Knowledge and Innovation Center (KIC) can also be found.
Recently the French and German schools opened a new campus in the green neighborhood of XinJiangWanCheng, which is set to attract many expat families. XinJiangWanCheng offers luxury villas, townhouses and quite affordable apartments.
Baoshan is a suburban district of Shanghai, north of Downtown. Apartments here are quite affordable, and the experience is rather local than international, compared to the glitzy downtown areas. Nonetheless, you’ll find a foreign population in Baoshan, as Shanghai University is located. There are 3 Metro lines from Baoshan to central Shanghai – Line 1, Line 3, and Line 7 – which operate as subways, elevated rail, and light rail in different parts of the district. Ferries to Chongming Island operate from Wusong, Baoyang Rd, and Shidongkou. Ferries to Putuoshan are also available.
Minhang is a large district in Shanghai’s western suburbs. Housing options are large villas and affordable apartments.
It is home to a part of Hongqiao Development area, together with Changning district. Hongqiao is a large area in the western suburbs of Shanghai, offering a much lower population density than the central parts of the city. Spacious villas and apartments can be found throughout the area, that is also home to many international companies. Hongqiao is especially attractive to expats who find Huacao Town simply too isolated from the metro system, yet still want access to its great schools.
Huacao Town is a residential area in northern Minhang, and very popular among expat families, as several international high schools are located here, such as: the Shanghai American School, or the British International School. While a great suburban area for families, it is not well connected to the Metro system: The closest Metro stop is East Xujing station, about a 10-minute taxi ride from Huacao town center.
Qibao is a water town in Minhang District, dating back to the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. Qibao is a tourist attraction. Located in the western suburbs of Shanghai, it is connected to other parts of Shanghai through Metro Line 9. If you don’t care much about downtown and biug city life, Qibao lets you save a significant amount on rent and let’s you live in a more traditionally Chinese environment.
Pujiang is a town in Minhang District, in the south of Shanghai, and the only part east of Huangpu that doesn’t belong to Pudong. It contains Pujiang New Town, which is a new town with an Italian architectural theme, sometimes referred to as Città di Pujiang. The area is connected to other parts via Metro Line 8 and Pujiang Line.
Qingpu is a large district in the western suburbs of Shanghai. It spans from East Xujing (adjacent to Hongqiao Airport) to Zhujiajiao Water Town and Dianshan Lake. While East Xujing is great for expat families seeking a villa near the international schools, the parts to the west and along Metro Line 17 are great for finding modern, yet affordable housing.
Xujing next to Hongqiao Airport is great for expat families, who are seeking out a villa and proximity (as in walking distance) to the international schools. Meanwhile,Metro line 2 renders it well connected to Downtown and even Lujiazui.
Zhujiajiao is an old water-town and tourist attraction really far out in the west of Shanghai. However, recently the area close to Zhujiajiao has seen new and ongoing real estate development, including ambitious plans to make it a new development zone by 2035. If you don’t mind living far out, but value modern 3br apartments with good amenities such under-floor heating for 4000 to 6000 RMB per month, have a look here!
Pudong New Area is large, and covers everything from rural to downtown life.
Lujiazui is the well known financial district of Shanghai and is world-famous for its skyline. Expats working in Lujiazui often live in its southern parts, also known as Weifang. Large compounds with top onsite facilities offer spacious high quality apartments.
Tangqiao is a recently modernized area just south of Lujiazui and Weifang, offering another generation of luxury apartments with river view.
Pudong Avenue runs from Lujiazui towards the east, along Huangpu River. This is a good residential area, and it comes with a lower price level than Weifang/South Lujiazui.
Century Park is the largest park in Shanghai. It is in the Lianyang neighborhood, nearby to the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum. You can find modern, spacious apartments around here. The area is served by Metro Line 2.
Adjacent to Lianyang, there is Jinqiao. The area contains a relatively high proportion of foreign nationals and is notable for its large number of International Schools and comfortable environment in Green City, also known as Biyun.
Kangqiao is a residential and commercial district in Pudong. As the area is home to reputable international schools and high-quality villas, it’s a popular choice for expat families. The Shanghai Disney Resort is located on the outskirts of Kangqiao.
Zhangjiang is a town in Pudong, known for its industrial park housing high technology companies, that some call Shanghai’s Silicon Valley. The surrounding compounds come with apartments and villas.
Further, there is Waigaoqiao, which was the first Free Trade Zone to be established in China. It is situated in the North East of Pudong District, near the end of Metro Line 6.
Jiading District is located in the northwestern part of Shanghai, about 20 kilometres (12 mi) from downtown Shanghai. This area is great if you want to save money on rent and don’t care much about the hustle and bustle of downtown. The Shanghai International Circuit is located in Jiading. Each year in April the Shanghai International Circuit holds the Chinese Grand Prix,part of the Formula One.
Anting neighborhood is a modern residential and industrial area with a focus on the automotive industry.
Nanxiang is a town in Jiading District. It is home to Guyi Garden, a large Ming dynasty Suzhou-style park. One of the biggest temples in Shanghai, Yun Xiang Si, is also situated here. Nanxiang is one of the more popular areas in Jiading as it is not too remote, and already well developed. Mature shopping malls with plenty of restaurants and shops are all around.
Songjiang is a large district in the south-west of Shanghai. Songjiang New City including Thames Town are new developments and part of the “One City, Nine Towns” plan. Songjiang University Town is a major higher education sector located in the district and the largest higher education sector in mainland China.
Fengxian is a suburban district in the south of Shanghai. It is known for its beaches and ocean resorts along the Hangzhou Bay. While nice for a holiday trip, it’s not yet a neighborhood you would see many expats living in.
Jinshan has only recently been transformed from rural to suburban. The area does have companies and never property developments, but does not have many foreign residents. Among expats and downtown residents, Jinshan is likely most well known for its beach. Since 2012, it is well connected to downtown, the Jinshan Railway connects Jinshanwei railway station to Shanghai South railway station, taking about 30 minutes.
Chongming is an island at the mouth of the Yangtze River. Together with the islands Changxing and Hengsha, it forms Chongming County. This is a great place for a weekend trip or if you really can’t identify with big city life AND don’t need to commute frequently to a workplace that is not in Chongming. There is a ferry every 30 minutes, and it takes around 30-60 minutes to get to Shanghai, depending on the weather conditions. Housing here however is super affordable. Apartments go for 3,000 to 5,000 RMB, and outside of the core area you can find new, Chinese-style country houses with 6 bedrooms and 200 or more square meters for 4,500 RMB / month. Nature is beautiful, and air quality great.