Located in the heart of Shanghai, historic Xintiandi (which translates to “New Heaven and Earth”) is a car-free, inner-city paradise for those seeking open-air dining, chic bars and boutique shopping. Most importantly, however, this redevelopment preserves a style of architecture unique to Shanghai, and gives a window into the community which once inhabited the area’s narrow lanes.
Xintiandi is famous for its Shikumen-style houses, which were constructed from the mid 1800s. Shikumen means “stone gate.” These houses blended Eastern and Western elements and were popular with Shanghai’s middle class and the local literary community whose works celebrated life in this area. Wander the narrow alleys and examine the stonework and tiled facades of the homes. Notice the carvings above the entrance ways and the heavy wooden doors.
To experience Xintiandi life as it would have been in the 1920s, pay a visit to the Shikumen Open House Museum. Explore the excellent five-room, two-story museum filled with memorabilia true to the period, including magazines, cooking utensils, toys and furnishings. There’s also a tiny room that recreates the living quarters of a Tingzijian writer.
Not far away is the site of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China. This historic meeting place, considered to be the birthplace of Chinese Communism, is now a fascinating museum complete with thousands of photographs, documents and artifacts from the era. Visit the gift shop to browse the communist-themed souvenirs and mementos featuring Chairman Mao.
Except for the Open House Museum, most of the area’s surviving Shikumen houses have been extensively remodeled and modernized, and are now home to stylish eateries, spas, bars and boutiques. In the warmer months, grab an outside table at one of the many cafés and restaurants that specialize in dishes such as dumplings. After hours, follow the music to Xintiandi’s clubs, which often feature live bands and international DJs.
Xintiandi is a 20-minute walk from downtown Shanghai and is well serviced by public bus and subway.