Xintiandi (literally ‘new heaven on earth’) tends to polarise expats. Some enjoy its cafés and restaurants set among the area’s traditional shikumen-style area of pedestrian lanes and squares. Others deride it as “too touristy” (which it no doubt is) and not a genuine exemplar of cultural preservation.
The area was formerly one of the worst slums in the city, but was revived by Hong Kong-based property developers Shui On Group and American architect Ben Wood, who retained its traditional buildings at a time when cultural preservation in Shanghai was not in vogue. It now draws masses of tourists to shop, drink coffee in one of its lane-side cafés and eat in its restaurants, some of which are excellent, such as T8, considered one of the city’s best.
High-end residences have also sprung up in the area, and the locale has become one of downtown Shanghai’s most expensive places to live. Strictly speaking, it is a two-square-block area, but spills over into the streets on its periphery. The area most people consider to be Xintiandi is bounded by Huaihai Lu to the north, Fuxing Lu to the south, Huangpi Lu to the west and Xizang Lu to the east. Taicang Lu and Zizhong Lu in particular are lovely streets offering French Concession-style living.
Xintiandi is an extremely popular lifestyle hub that has made its developers a fortune, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, you should bear in mind that its cultural appeal is not authentic. The original lanes and dwellings of the area were disassembled and rebuilt, in many cases not in their original location. With some buildings, only the facades have been retained. The area does, however, have one legitimate claim to historical importance. Opposite Xintiandi stands the building, now a museum, where the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China took place. It is hard to imagine a more significant landmark in modern China.
Seen for what it is, though, there’s a lot to be said for living around Xintiandi. You’re out of the traffic once you’re in Xintiandi proper, and in good weather it is a great place to sit outdoors. You won’t lack for places to shop, eat or drink, and a lovely lake with a park to the east adds a great deal to the appeal of the area.
People’s Square is both an important transport hub and a cultural centre. The square is home to Shanghai Museum, Shanghai Grand Theater and Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall. Across the road lies People’s Park (a racetrack prior to 1949), which is a lovely spot with a Western café-restaurant-club set in the middle of a beautiful man-made lake. On weekends, the park sees one of the city’s most interesting local occurrences when hundreds of parents gather to match-make their sons and daughters. Local parents, with printed descriptions of their offspring, mingle to swap details in a bid to set up their unmarried children with those of other parents.
If you choose to live around here, you will experience full-on urban living. There are plenty of high-end apartment buildings (such as serviced apartments in the Marriott Hotel) offering great views and facilities, as well as smaller, more local medium-priced places. It is an expensive area to live, since you’re paying for the location, but it is also full of locals in more basic accommodations, so there are good deals to be had with some searching. You might find somewhere quieter in the smaller streets to the north, but space will be limited and amenities like electricity may not be as reliable as the buildings are older. Many are in need of renovation.
As a location, you could not find one more centrally situated. Transport is convenient, and in one direction you’re a 30-minute walk from the Bund, in the other you’re heading deeper into Nanjing Lu and Puxi and can cut south for the French Concession. There are some interesting lanes to the north; as you go south you’ll hit Huaihai Lu and then Xintiandi about a kilometre away.
You’re in such a central location, whether at People’s Square or Xintiandi, that you’re never more than a short taxi ride from Western-style health care. Your main port of call will be ParkwayHealth on Danshui Lu, a high-end provider which covers everything you will need, including obstetric and gynaecology services. Service standards are excellent, with English-speaking staff and doctors, many of them overseas-trained. In terms of dental services, there’s a branch of the private chain Arrail Dental on Taicang Lu and an iMD Dental Clinic on Madang Lu. Health services in Jing’an are also close at hand.
There are no international schools in either Xintiandi or People’s Square, so if you have children they’ll have to make the commute either across the river to Pudong or in the other direction towards Hongqiao and Gubei. School bus services will probably be provided by schools, since there are plenty of foreigners living here and it is not a huge distance from the French Concession. It is actually quite quick to get across to Pudong via the Fuxing Lu tunnel in off-peak times, although during morning rush hour the bridges and tunnels become major choke points. Realistically, it will take at least 45 minutes on the school bus, and probably more, depending on which school you choose. By Shanghai standards, this isn’t too bad, and the afternoon return should be quicker.
There are good local kindergartens in the Xintiandi area, some of which have become accustomed to foreign children, so for younger kids you should be able to either avail yourself of these or take your child to one of the French Concession options without too much hassle.
People’s Square Metro station is the largest and busiest hub in the city, with a whole underground network of tunnels that are used by pedestrians to cut across Xizang Lu and to head south from Nanjing Lu. Line 8 has now joined Lines 1 and 2, meaning you can head in any direction from People’s Square Metro station. But this also means that in rush hour the place is packed with commuters. You can’t get to the Bund by subway, but you can go one stop that way and then walk (about 15 minutes), grab a cab or take a bus.
For Xintiandi connections head north to Huaihai Lu for the Huangpi Nan Lu stop on Line 1, which can take you to the French Concession or to the north; or south to Fuxing Lu and the Xintiandi stop on the recently-built Line 10, which is very convenient, heading through the French Concession out to Hongqiao and onward as far as the Hongqiao Transportation Hub.
Shops and Services
Shopping is what Xintiandi is all about, with international and local boutiques in the development proper and high-end malls on its fringes. Shanghai’s best shopping street, Huaihai Lu, is just to the north. For a different experience, check out Dongtai Lu Antique Market, tucked away off Xizang Lu, just south of Huaihai Lu. Vendors expect you to bargain, and be mindful that it is highly unlikely that any of their wares are real antiques.
People’s Square has Nanjing Lu directly to the north. Head west for high-end shopping in glittering malls that are often surprisingly devoid of shoppers (Huaihai Lu and boutique shopping have stolen the street’s thunder in recent years); head east via the tunnel under Xizang Lu for Nanjing Dong Lu pedestrian shopping street, a more raucous and local shopping experience and a lot of fun once you’re used to dodging the little tourist train and ignoring hawkers. Continue to the Bund and its luxurious high-end gallerias and boutiques.