Literally translated as "new heaven and earth," Xintiandi is a trendy Shanghai spot for boutique shopping, art galleries, open-air cafes and upscale bars. The car-free roads tenuously hold onto some sense of their history, as a number of shikumen (stone gate) houses remain from the 1850s.
Shikumen is an architectural style that originated in Shanghai, combining elements from the east and west. Xintiandi is one of the rare spots where the houses have found a degree of protection, though today, many of them have been converted into small boutiques or hip restaurants offering decent (if somewhat pricey) international fare. The Shikumen Open House Museum is worth popping into, for those hoping to see exactly what's been "preserved" in the area. One Canadian visitor called the museum "a good antidote to all the [neighborhood's] 'bling.' "
Bars and nightclubs have also infiltrated the road, and expats still debate whether Xintiandi is better for a stroll in the daytime or a beer after dusk. From early morning breakfast to late night martinis, the street carries such a high level of buzz that other Chinese cities quickly got busy trying to replicate the project. In the New York Times, architect Qingyun Ma noted that the Xintiandi influence ""is such that every city wants to have one."
The hub gets a lot of attention, but the area's not huge; one hour is enough to get a feel for the place. And as with any popular spot, the critics are determined to make their opinions known: Xintiandi isn't the "real Shanghai;" everything's overpriced; so long history -- hello capitalism.
But even the haters can't help but cruise through once in a while. They'll nab a table in the sun and discuss the neighborhood's deterioration over a vanilla soy latte.
Address: Xintiandi District is just west of the French Concession.
Getting there: Take Subway Line 1 subway to South Huangpi Road Station, or take subway Line 10 to Xintiandi Station.