Self-guided walking tour: Shanghai’s Former French Concession Area

Self-guided walking tour: Shanghai’s Former French Concession Area

Author’s note: If you have made use of this tour, please pop me a note to let me know of any changes that might have occurred so future travelers can be aware of any closures or business location changes. And if you have anything to add, please leave a comment here too. Other travelers would love to hear from you!   – LK

The Shanghai French Concession (上海法租界Shànghǎi Fǎ Zūjiè), was a foreign concession in Shanghai from 1849 until 1946, and was the premier residential and retail district of Shanghai for much of the 20th century. With its European style cafes, quiet, leafy, tree lined avenues and tudor houses nestled in beautiful gardens interspersed with hole-in-the-wall eateries and local colours and flavours, it is a popular tourist destination. You could pretty much get off at any stop in the area and just stroll around the shops, boutiques, restaurants and deli’s. Or follow this self guided walk to hit some of the best spots between Xintiandi in the East, Tainzifang in the South and Fuxing Middle Road in the West.

French Concession lane

Time: A full day

Distance: +/- 7km

Start: South Huangpi Road metro station

End: South Shaanxi Road metro station

Xintiandi in the Former French Concession.

Xintiandi 2Start your tour at (A) South Huangpi Road metro station. Leave through Exit 1 and head south on Danshui Road. Turn left on Taicang Road till you hit the Starbucks. You can’t miss it. The two block area behind Starbucks is the heart of (B) Xintiandi, an upmarket, pedestrian only, shopping, eating and entertainment district composed of refurbished shikumen houses, narrow alleys and stone paved courtyards. With its stone gate buildings, it is a beautiful area, and you could spend a whole morning here browsing through book shops, cafes and delis selling French cheese, wines and Moët & Chandon, upscale boutiques and restaurants. In the south eastern corner of this block is the (C) Site of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China which has now been preserved as a museum. The museum houses exhibits about the history of China and Shanghai and the foundation of the CPC.  Entry is free. Head north on Huangpi South Road until you hit (D) Huaihai Road and turn left. Cross the road using the pedestrian bridge at Chongqing, because, well, it’s kinda cool. And also, you do not want to miss the little hole-in-the-wall establishment (Chinese Dough Shop) that sells (E) radish cakes a little way down from the corner on the north side of Huaihai Road. I can’t sell radish cakes by using the term “radish cakes”, so you’ll just have to trust me on this. These pastries have a warm, fresh filling and a flaky, crisp coating and make a perfect mid-morning snack. The shop is no more than a bamboo steamers filled window with a little sign hanging above it. Look for the green painted window frames with red writing. Skip the shāomài (sticky rice dumplings) here though. Maybe I caught them on a bad day, but I thought they were awful.

Site of first National Congress

Take the next road left and head down Yandang Road towards (F) Fuxing Park. This cobblestoned road is semi pedestrianized and lined with shops and restaurants. The park is a feast for the senses. Vendors sell fresh seasonal juices at the entrance, the gardens are a riot of colour and fragrance, little old people do tai chi around every corner, and young and old sing karaoke on portable speakers. There are spontaneous ballroom dancers, mahjong playing enthusiasts, laughing children, pensive pensioners, kite flyers, fan dances, card games, makeshift tables where doctors take blood pressure and dispense advice and lots of music and random singing. The 10 hectare park is designed in the French style, with a koi filled central lake, fountains, covered pavilions, and colourful, seasonal flowerbeds. Exit the park through the north western exit.

Fuxing Park (2)Fuxing Park (3)

Fuxing ParkKaraoke in Fuxing Park.

Turn left on (G) Sinan Road and head south. On the left when you reach Xiangshan Road is the Shanghai Museum of Sun Yat-Sen’s Former Residence. Sun Yat-Sen was the forerunner of the Chinese democratic revolution and the founder of the Republic of China. The museum contains the original furnishings used by the family as well as displays of Mr. Sun Yat-Sen’s activities from his stay in Shanghai. A little further down, behind a red lacquered door lies the former residence of General Zhou Enlai, a former Premier of the PRC. The residence now houses a free museum that depicts the history of the Chinese Communist Revolution.

Sun Yat-Sen's former residence

Turn right into Taikang Road. The area to your right is (H) Tianzifang, a maze of tiny alleys crammed full of more than 200 crafts shops, art and photographic studios, boutiques, bars, coffee shops and restaurants where some older residents still live. It is part of Shanghai’s urban renewal project. It is well worth a visit, even if you’re not big on shopping, if only to check out the Propaganda Art shop to pick up a money bag with the words “If man have money have romantic life everywhere” emblazoned upon it.

NutcrackersTianzifang puzzle shop

Tianzifang is a really cool little area. A warren of pubs, restaTibetan shop

While there are many restaurants in Tianzifang, I highly recommend Ever since Gordon Ramsey had that pulled noodle contest, I've waheading to the corner of Jianguo West and Shaanxi South Road for (I) a steaming bowl of Langzhou lamian noodles. For half the price of a Big Mac, you get dinner and a show as the noodle maker stretches, kneads, pulls and twists a ball of dough into perfectly pulled noodles (I giggle every time I say that), before chucking the whole lot out the window where his helper boils them in a broth of beef, herbs and spring onions. The dish is reminiscent of Vietnamese pho and has to be tasted before one can understand how something so simple can be so perfect. If, like me, you’ve forgotten what to ask for by the time you get there and simply point at the nearest bowl of warm looking soup, you might land up getting hand cut noodles – made by peeling strips of noodles from the same dough using a peeler. Either way, you can’t go wrong! Just take your plastic seat amongst the locals and slurp up. Walk off the carbs by heading north on Shaanxi South Road and then taking a right at Shaoxing Shanghai Culture SquareRoad. Along this road you will find Dean’s Bottle Shop for cider if you don’t mind  the hefty price tag (and if you want cider in Shanghai, you better not mind the price tag), and the Manne et Sante bakery as well as the Cafe Vienna where you can get German meals and cakes. The Old China Hand Reading Room at no. 27 is a book store and coffee house with antique wooden tables where you can sit and peruse one of the hundreds of old and new books on sale. Half way down this road is the tiny Shaoxing park. No more than a few hundred square meters, it is a quiet spot to relax under the shade of a tree while watching the locals play mahjong, before you carry on on your merry way. Walk back down Shaoxing Road and then continue north on Shaanxi South. Turn right on Yongjia Road. On the corner at no 47 you will find the Double Rainbow Massage House, where blind massage therapists will give you an authentic Chinese foot massage. The Shanghai Culture Square on your left shows foreign and local musicals, bringing Broadway shows like Shrek and Phantom of the Opera to Shanghai. It is worth going inside just to see the intricate glass art wall and water feature in the foyer. Further down the road on the right, Mi Tierra Mexican restaurant offers modern Mexican cuisine and hosts salsa evenings on occasion.

Turn left on Rujin 2d Road and then left on Fuxing Middle Road (there’s another Starbucks here, should nature be calling). Turn right on Maoming South Road and head north. On this road you will find tailors and high end cheongsam boutiques. The cheongsam are material works of art, with exquisite bead work and embroidery and you really could spend a good few hours here drooling over these dresses if that’s your type of thing. The tailors will stitch up just about anything you want in 24 hours, and for considerably lower prices than you would find in retail stores.

Cheongsam shops (2)Cheongsam shops

At the intersection of Huaihai Road and Maoming South you will find the (M) Cathay Theatre, an art deco movie house designed by Hungarian architect C.H. Gonda that was completed in 1930 and that features both English and Chinese films. Further north on Maoming South Road, at the intersection with Changle Road, lies the Lyceum Theatre. Also built in the 1930’s, this theatre features dramas and small scale musical and symphony concerts.

Cathay TheatreLyceum Theatre

Turn left on Jinxian Road. There’s nothing special on this street, but it’s just one of those typical French Concession alleys that I love, with boutiques, scrap shops and hanging laundry all over all the place. You will also find the (O) Tokyo Fashion Hair Accessories shop here, where young girls spend the day trying on wigs and doing each other’s hair. Sounds like some people’s worst nightmare, but it’s actually vastly entertaining!

French Concession side alley

Turn left on Shaanxi South Road. At the South Shaanxi Road and Huaihai Road intersection you will find the Parkinson department store,  home to fashion boutiques, homeware, gadgets and restaurants. You can stock up on your MAC and Chanel here if you need to. Turn right on Fuxing Middle Road. A little way down you will find a Rolise store. Here you can pretty much stock up on underwear for life. 20121002-P1170845Gorgeous bras for a fraction of the price you would pay anywhere else in every conceivable style and colour you can think of. Made for the Chinese market, this is one place where you’ll be glad if you’re on the smaller cup end of the spectrum! Turn left on Jiashan Road. There is a little mom and pop shop here that sells cong you bing, freshly rolled and fried while you wait. Or depending on where in the world you hail from, you might be just about ready for a plate of fish and chips round about now. The Sailor’s fish & chips shop on Yongkang Road is worth a pop in, but the whole road is packed with European style eateries and sidewalk vendors selling a multitude of dishes  to choose from if you’re in the mood for something else. It’s a vibey little neighbourhood and a great place to sit on the sidewalk with a pint and a camera. Turn right on Taiyuan Road and then right on FenYang Road. The Shanghai Arts & Crafts Museum  is on the right at number 79. You can watch live craft demonstrations, such as traditional jade carving, lantern making, paper cutting and embroidery and see exhibits of the history of these and other crafts. The museum is open from 9 to 5 and entrance is 8RMB.

To get to the (S) South Shaanxi Road metro, turn right on Fuxing Middle Road, left on Xiangyang Road and right on Nanchang Road.

Click here for the Google map.

Got another day to kill in Shanghai? Check out my self guided walking tour of the Bund and Old Shanghai, covering the area between Nanjing Road East and Fang Bang Road.

French Concession Walking Tour Map

64 Responses »

  1. Hi there,
    I’ve been living in Shanghai for 5 years now and I keep coming back to your site to take your self-guided tour. It is hands down one of the best.
    Whenever someone visits us, we take them around following your footsteps. If the weather’s good enough, I’ll be walking these streets again tomorrow.
    I with you had written others (today, I followed Suzhou Creek through Soho to M50, it was beautiful!)
    Thanks a million!

    • I have such mixed feelings about this comment. On the one hand I am wildly jealous that you can walk anywhere, because we are in lockdown! But then I am also so very touched by your words. Thank you SO much for taking the time to leave a comment! Makes me want to get back to writing.

  2. i don’t usually write posts or comments on articles but your blog was so convincing and is written with such diligence i had to praise. great work !

  3. Did a portion of the tour, thanks for taking the time to publish this. Seriously, that noodle place though! It was simple and couldn’t beat the price.

  4. I followed this tour today! It was so helpful as I could not find anywhere online where to start or how to see it all. I stopped at all the places you mentioned and it made for a fun full day excursion approx 6 hours. I’m going to check out your other tours too!

  5. This is excellent! Thanks for posting the google maps link. I’m going back this weekend and will finish the tour 🙂

  6. Did a part of this walk and found it interesting. Took a while to find the raddish cake place and when I finally did,they had no more.. If you’d like up update the post, it’s called “Chinese dough shop”. Could you please post a link to the Google maps in the post? I struggled quite a bit between going to the picture and maps. I only stumbled upon it now, after reading the comments. Lol
    Thank you for all the time and effort you put into this!!

  7. Thanks for putting this together. I live in Suzhou for about a year, but never really got a chance to tour SH all that much. This itinerary is perfect! It happened to be a Xintiandi festival and we were lucky to experience some outdoor performances, including an incredible Chinese Opera show. We started our tour in a Saturday afternoon at 4:30 and went as far as G to make our dinner reservations in the Bund. We really enjoyed our time exploring the area and will save the rest for another day. Thanks again!

  8. Thanks so much for this! We’d done our own version of this and was quite unsuccessful! Knowing there was so much more to the area I did a search and came accross your blog. We went back and it was amazing! The noodle place was the highlight for us!! And your picture helped as the store sign wasn’t in English. (We ordered 3 (huge!) bowls of beef noodles and paid about $5usd!
    Much much appreciated.
    note to others – don’t get there too early as a lot of these little gems don’t open until after 10 or 11.

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  10. Just wanted to say a BIG thank you!!! Lovely day in SH thanks to your route and suggestions(invluding the raddish cake 🙂 )!

      • This is so incredibly helpful. How generous of you to take the time to write this all down. My family will be in Shanghai and will be following this to the letter! Can you recommend a place to stay along this route, preferably in the French concession area? we are staying in a hutong in Beijing so would love something in Shanghai that has some character and isn’t just a chain hotel. I’ve been doing a lot of my own research but would love a local;s recommendation. I will now start reading through the rest of your blog! I stumbled on this post first.

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  13. Hey, just wanted to say a BIG thank you for the suggested walking tour. The instructions are great and it covers a great route. I know you have spent a lot of time preparing this for us


  14. This is a great guide! I followed it up to the foot massage, by which point it was getting late and very cold unfortunately. If anyone does this in winter, start earlier than I did at 12.30.
    I was apprehensive about touring Shanghai by myself but this was such a nice day, I loved the area of Tianzifang! I’ll definitely recommend this tour to friends. Thank you!


    • It’s pretty cool heading out in a place where you can’t even read the signs, and realising you can totally do it on your own!

  15. Your walking tour provided the map for an absolutely lovely day in Shanghai a few weeks ago! I am so grateful for your suggestions. Thank you!! Ate two hot radish cakes – they were scrumptious! Had lunch at the noodle shop squeezed in among 30 or so other hungry people! Loved every bite! Enjoyed the agony of a foot massage. I failed to indicate whether I’d like a strong, medium or gentle approach and didn’t feel like he was particularly interested in my quiet moans of sheer pain! Loved every minute of the map. Thank you!!

  16. wow! very helpful post! thank you for sharing this. i am going to Shanghai soon and will do this tour with my friend! by the way, i wonder how long it will take to complete this tour. Is 3 hours enough? thanks!

    • Hi Gemma! That all depends on how much you wander. It’s easy to get a bit sidetracked with so many things to see. And Shanghai has so many lovely outdoor places that are perfect for people watching, which can swallow up hours of your time! You could probably get it done in 3 hours, but it took me about 6 hours, and that was on my third time round when I set up this tour, so I’d already gotten lots of it out of my system. If you’re pushed for time you could do an about face at Cathay Theatre and get back on the tube at Rujin Mansion. Enjoy!

  17. Many thanks for the great guide. I had a day spare last week before I flew back home to Sweden. Despite the total downpour I had a very pleasant few hours strolling from point A to S sometimes following the route, sometimes just following my nose.

    Sole Beer Cafe serves the best coffee I’ve ever drunk! Well worth a visit on its own. The museum of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China is currently being updated so is closed.

  18. Hi, I’m in Shanghai right now on a short business trip, and I just want to know if it’s possible to try this self walking tour after 5pm?


    • Hi Vivian. You could definitely do it after 5pm, although the museums etc. will be closed. If you only have one night I would rather recommend you do the Old Shanghai tour along the Bundt though. It’s beautiful at night!

  19. Thanks for the excellent walking tour! I looked all over the net and couldn’t find one that was easier to follow than yours!

    The Radish cakes were amazing…a definite must and I really enjoyed taking in all the different little areas of the French concession! I am going to do the Old Shanghai town walk later in the week!

    Thanks again

    • Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a comment Meagan! And I’m so glad you tried the radish cakes. Who would ever think to try radish cakes?? But I still remember exactly how they tasted.

  20. Hi. I enjoyed this tour. I’m looking for Rue Frelupt 382/5. I’m writing a short story and this is where my heroine lived. I know it is now Jianguo Xi Lu. I found Jianguo on your map, but cannot figure out where the building she lived in would be. Could you help and, if possible, send me a photo of the building?? Thanks so much.

  21. I’ve been living in Shanghai for almost two months and I don’t work on Fridays (and my kids are at school so I’m freeeeeee!) Your self-guided walking tours are just great. I have a terribly poor sense of orientation and both the map and the descriptions are of great help for me, so thank you very much.
    Hope the weather’s good tomorrow so that I can head to Old Shanghai.

  22. I and my husband followed your walk in French Concession today and we absolute loved it! The “radish cake” was delicious and the noodles for lunch were funny. Fuxing Park was amazing and we loved to walk the streets and explore the area. Thanks for a wonderful day!

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  25. If only google is available in china. I didn’t know the other side of Huaihai road has some more interesting sites. I walked around xinhua road and its actually quite good.

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  27. Did this walking tour last weekend and it was one of my favorite days I have had here in Shanghai. I am now about to do the Old Shanghai Tour, perfect way to spend a Saturday! Thank you so much for the throughout detail and wonderful descriptions, I truly enjoyed it.

    • Hello, I came across your post yesterday and followed part of the route. For anyone who is looking for the shop that sells the radish pastry, it’s at 464 Huaihai Middle Rd and it’s called 北万新 (Bei wan xin) in Chinese. It seems that they have another branch at Julu road. Unfortunately when I was there the pastry was not hot. ☹️

      Anyway I used the term pastry rather than cake because “radish cake” usually refers to a different kind of snack.

  28. i just chance upon your notes.. and realised it is exactly one year ago. 🙂 will be going to shanghai next week and most probably walking through the same streets.

    • Wonderful Esther! If you’re there on a Friday and you like lamb, do not miss the Muslim Market. I can still remember what every single thing tasted like. Absolutely delicious! Enjoy your trip!

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  31. Hi there, just wanted to thank you so much for all the care and attention you put into this walk. My husband and I did this yesterday as part of our first trip to Shanghai and thoroughly enjoyed it! The directions were flawless and the sights and sounds a welcome reprieve from the skyscrapers and shopping malls. Will be passing this on to anyone who visits as a must do..

  32. I came across this blog and read this very interesting walking tour. I will be doing this also this coming November with my sister. Know that I will keep coming back to your blog. I enjoy your writing style.

  33. That is a great walking tour, thanks for posting and I will be doing it this November when I’m visiting Shanghai for the first time. Would you share the link to the google map showing the route, please? I’ll have my iphone with me and it would be an invaluable resource.

    Love your site -cheers!


  34. What an enormous amount of detail and effort you have put into this extremely interesting walk! I think anybody visiting
    Shanghai would be well advised to consult your blog to make their stay easier and interesting.

    • Aw thanks! So many people read my guide posts. I just wish they’d comment after and let me know what they thought if they actually used them! At the rate Shanghai is changing, half these places probably no longer exist!

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