And yet, it’s also easy to fall into a rut into this city. It’s comfortable. Too comfortable sometimes. So comfortable you lapse into thinking there is nothing new to see, no one new to meet, nothing fun to do that you don’t know about. That’s a mistake. It happens to all of us. Here's 20 ways to break out of a rut.
1. Learn How to Make Lanzhou La Mian
This is not something you can do in an afternoon, but if you have a few weekends free, this school will teach you la mian start-to-finish, from making the dough, pulling the noodles and cooking the soup base, for 2,980rmb. Their schedule is very flexible, so if you have a lot of empty days to fill, you could get it done much faster. The teachers only speak Chinese. Alternatively, the Chinese Cooking Workshop does a 90-minute class in English (900rmb for two people) that will let you pull the dough into noodles yourself, though you won't come out of it a master noodle maker; it's more about having a fun afternoon.
2. Get into the Pub Quiz Competition
You’re smart, right? Turn that brainpower into free drinks and the respect of Shanghai’s ferociously competitive pub quiz community. On Tuesdays, there’s the popular one at The Camel by Shanghai’s ubernerd Ned Kelly (starts 8pm); Wednesdays at Shanghai Brewery (also 8pm) and Sundays at The Rooster (starts 7pm). Go alone and then glom onto a team, or attract a team of your own with your dazzling ability to name 10 celebrity mustaches by silhouette alone.
3. Explore the Suburbs of Shanghai
There's more to this city than downtown Xuhui and Jing'an. Shocker! Shanghai is massive, home to 25 million people, and most live in the suburbs. Take a trip out there and see something new. For example...
Jinshan has a beach (the photo above).
Qingpu has the Zhujiajiao water town, an American-style outlet shopping mall, and Oriental Land.
Songjiang has a Jesuit observatory on a hill and a big Catholic church, both in Sheshan, plus the Guangfulin ancient relics park, and a new hotel sunk a dozen floors below ground in what used to be a rock quarry.
Baoshan has Gucun Park, which is the best place in the city for cherry blossoms in spring, a pet cafe with piglets (!) and a trampoline park.
Yangpu has Fuxing Island, a tiny spit of land in the Huangpu River that was Chiang Kai-Shek's last stop in mainland China before fleeing for Taiwan, and still has a Japanese-style garden that was built during WWII. It also has Gongqing Forest Park, easily one of the city's best.
Minhang has Costco, blacklight minigolf, the Haipai Art Museum, the Powerlong Museum, a giant fake Supreme store and Dino Beach.
Jiading has the home of xiaolongbao, super-fast go-karts on the F1 race track, the Porsche Experience Center, the Auto Museum, heritage breed pigs, one of China's largest Confucian Temples and an interesting Museum of Imperial Examination of Ancient China, which documents the grueling system that turned academics into officials for thousands of years.
4. Find a New Restaurant
New restaurants and bars are springing up in the city so quickly that it’s hard to keep track of them all. Go through the list of what happened in 2019. Anything in there catch your eye? From noodles to snake to Da Vittorio, there’s a whole world of new places to try out.
5. Explore Shanghai’s Old Lanes
Shanghai’s old lanes represent a way of life: traditional and quintessentially Shanghainese. There would be no Shanghai if there were no lanes. Go explore some of the shikumen neighborhoods that define the city. Or go visit some unobtainable real estate.
6. Fix Your Chinese at a Language School
Apart from being a long-term commitment, going back to school to fix your crappy Chinese will do wonders for your outlook on the city. As your language level rises, new and different layers of the city start to reveal themselves to you, and new and different people start to come out of the woodwork. You’re not really living in Shanghai until you can have a conversation in Chinese anyway, and understand what life is like outside the expat bubble. These university programs and private language schools are a good place to start.
7. Take Up Meditation
Meditation is really the ultimate boredom-killer. In a way, you're turning your boredom on itself. Turn the tables on boredom! Sit there with your breath and watching your mind, discovering worlds upon worlds that exist within you but are often drowned out by the rigors of day to day life – after you've silenced the hyperactive "monkey mind." It can be like watching a never-ending movie, generated by your mind and played across the infinite screen of your inner consciousness. Or it can just be a few minutes of peace and quiet to reset your balance for the day. You do you.
You don’t really need a group of people to meditate. It’s a solitary pursuit. But if you’re a beginner, or you just like the company of being alone (together), then there’re options in Shanghai. Just Yoga offers a volunteer-based session for free at 7pm, every Thursday. There are both guided (with bilingual instructions if required) and free-form meditation sessions available at different times. The Clinic offers weekly meditation class at 7.15pm on Tuesdays. Or check out Shanghai Mindfulness, a large community that holds weekly events. And if your Chinese is up to it, there's the weekend course where you stay at Jade Buddha Temple.
8. Do Disneyland in One Day
Seriously, you haven’t been to Disney? How many cities in the world get to claim they have a Disneyland? And yours is just a metro ride away. You can do it all in a day if you know what you’re doing. And this is how you learn.
9. Pick Your Own Fruit and Vegetables
It might not seem like it when you're standing on the Bund, looking at Lujiazui, but Shanghai is surrounded by farmland. Depending on the season, you can get your hands dirty, picking your own grapes (here, July to September), oranges (here, September to January), strawberries (here, here and here, November to May), assorted vegetables (here, September to June) and even dragonfruit (here, July to November).
10. Retreat into a Park
Shanghai’s packed with futuristic neon-lined skyscrapers but there’s still a ton of green space to relax in. When you have time to fill, take a long walk in one of the parks or at one of the new trails along the extended Bund that have been linked up. Sometimes all you need is a quiet moment away from the hustle of the mad metropolis.
11. Get Back to Paper at a Bookstore
Leaving your screens is scary, but if you can't take the cold glare of your phone any longer, you can find solace in a paper book. Shanghai is home to many wonderful independent bookstores where you can find English-language books, from the old guard on Fuzhou Lu to the super-futuristic, 52 floors off the Lujiazui streets.
12. Spend the Day at the Shanghai Tower
This is the tallest building in China, and, honestly, have you ever been inside? If the answer is no, there’s enough to do to warrant a full day of vertical venue-hopping.
Start with shengjian bao from Xiao Yang’s on basement two for breakfast. From there, take the elevators up to the 38th floor to the Baoku Jiangxin Art Center. Owned by Baoku China, which also runs the "super vault" in the basement of the building, the center highlighted 34 Chinese masters of arts and crafts for their opening exhibition. Entry is free but you have to follow their WeChat account.
Stay on that floor and head to the Da Ke Tang teahouse inside the museum. In Puxi, this high-end chain occupies an area-appropriate villa to flaunt its tea wealth. But in the Shanghai Tower, it’s airy and minimalist, emphasizing the massive windows that look out onto Lujiazui. Nice place to sip on expensive pu’er. Expect to spend about 250rmb per person.
After that, move up to the 52nd floor at the city’s highest bookstore. The Duoyun bookstore here was designed by an architect who also did Zhong Shu Ge (in Suzhou), another beautiful bookstore with a national reputation. Buy or browse but don’t eat anything because the next stop is…
Blowout lunch on the 68th floor’s bastion of French fine dining, Maison Lameloise. The Shanghai branch of a French gastronomy institution from Eric Pras, owner and chef of the three-Michelin star Chagny restaurant of the same name. That restaurant was awarded three Michelin stars in 2007. This restaurant takes that and jams it in Shanghai Tower. It's very French. It's very fine dining. It's very expensive. The "Grand Menu" is 2,588rmb.
Lunch is the deal here, where 488rmb gets you three courses and all the attendant floofery, pre-desserts, mignardises and stuff. You can see the menus here. Fancy! Wear your best sneakers.
After lunch, you go up. Hit the observatory on the 118th floor (180rmb, open until 10pm) or blast out on the 680rmb VIP tour and get up to the 125th and 126th floor to see… this… thing.
13. Learn Carpentry, Pottery and More DIY Crafts
There's a burgeoning DIY industry in Shanghai, full of small shops that will teach you how to work in glass (this one), leather (this one and this one), wood (this one and this one), pottery (this one) and more. Many are downtown; some are even in malls.
14. Volunteer to Make a Difference
There’re a lot of organizations out there that could use your time, from talking to your fellow humans via Lifeline or doing admin work for an organization that helps the special education community to teaching English as part of vocational and skills training for the homeless or fostering animals while they wait for a permanent home. Stop staring at the wall. Do something worthwhile. See more about that here.
15. Join A Community Group and Meet People
Did you know SmartShanghai has nearly 150 community groups listed in our Community Directory? Just a sampling (there are 127 more):
Mahjong Club for Foreigners, Superwomen in Data, Royal Asiatic Society China, Latinas Clan, Ladies Who Tech, Chopsuey, Asian Bananas, Girl Gone International, Historic Shanghai, Game Time Shanghai, Shanghaied Dragons, LinkedIn Local, Shaving in the Dark, A Shanghai Poetry Zine, Literary Shanghai, Unravel, The Shanghai Writing Workshop, CieCas classes, Shanghai Mamas
See them all here.
16. Go Full Hermit with a Home Cinema
Being alone gets a bad rap. But it doesn’t have to be lonely or boring. Sometimes being in your own company can be much more enjoyable than the company of others. Unless those others are Why Women Kill, The Mandalorian and Love, Death and Robots. Yep, do it. Dooo it. Go all in and make yourself a home theater with a simple Taobao purchase (#3 on the list). Emerge three days later covered in food crumbs and empty water bottles, just in time for your Monday morning work meeting.
17. Learn To Dance
Can't dance? Two left feet? Shanghai's not short on dance floors, or people who know how to use them, and they didn't all start out with pool noddle hips. Everyone starts with dry pasta hips. Try out one of the dozens of dance studios around town and then, once you've psyched yourself up with enough booze, put your new skills to the test at one of the regular dance nights. For example, here're just six regular salsa nights.
18. Explore Shanghai’s Art Scene
The private museums, the public museums, the old guard at m50, the new blue-chip galleries on the Bund, the first “night time museum”, the big 5-year tie-up with Centre Pompidou — Shanghai’s art scene has grown by leaps and bounds in the past few years. Many people say it’s now eclipsed Beijing as the capital of the country’s art world. Suck it Beijing! Take it upon yourself to find out why.
19. Join a Gym
There are really too many options for fitness in 2020 Shanghai. You can still do the straight-up gym/personal trainer experience at places like Pure Fitness, the small but hanging on gym at Ambassy Club, popular and kinda-still-trendy Z&B, the local super-chain Will’s, the extra-affordable Physical. Or if you’d rather workout at 1am with no one around, these 24-hour gyms have opened up. And that’s barely scratching the surface. See our full list of fitness centers here. Or, if your Chinese is up to scratch, check out the hundreds of other gyms listed here.
Then you’ve got classes (Z&B again) and specialists like the super-popular F45, an Aussie chain whose thing is 45-minute circuit training sessions, or American tech HIIT franchise Orangetheory, not to mention venues like Ringside Boxing, Golden Gloves, Spinback, Taiwan’s SpaceCycle, the Capoeira Mandinga school on Fuxing Lu for a sport that’s a combination of martial arts, dance and acrobatics, or the FitFam organization which does FREE group workouts, outdoors, psychotically early in the mornings.
20. Do Something to Make Your Life Easier
Get a (temporary) driver's license, figure out how to get everything and anything delivered with Ele.me, become an Alipay pro, sort out your work visa, pay for the Metro with Apple Pay, soundproof your noisy apartment, upgrade your internet, learn to courier stuff, figure out the airport e-channel, have a tech repair person come to your home, find a nanny, fix all the stuff that's wrong with your apartment, or end the headaches with your current apartment and get a new one.