The city's spaghetti roads, 22 million people and diverse architecture make for an enthralling bike ride. Do what the locals do and take to the streets by pedal, electric or motorbike and soak up the fascinating culture as you go…
Route one: The bright lights tour (12km)
Lujiazui > Nanjing Road > People's Square > Fuxing Road > Xujiahui
Best done during the early evening or at night, this route is filled with neon spectacles that will make you woop like you're at a fireworks show on New Years Eve. Start off at Lujiazui (1 - see map on next page), the new side of Shanghai, and enjoy a close up of the ultramodern scene you find on postcards. Here you can snake in between the bulbous, pink sparkling Oriental Pearl Tower, the cloud-high Shanghai World Financial Center, the jagged Jin Mao Tower and watch the giant TV projection on Aurora Plaza. Make your way to Yan'an Dong Road and take the ferry across the Huangpu River to Puxi (for just Dh1).
On the west side of the river, cycle past the grand illuminated colonial buildings on The Bund (2) and pedal down Nanjing Road towards People's Square (3). Along this strip you'll get to a pedestrian area filled with a chaotic scattering of lit-up billboards, flashing shop fronts and signposts that give Tokyo a run for its money. Continue past the rainbow lights and on to People's Square - the East's version of Time Square. At night you'll see thousands of people walking, cycling, standing in awe of the Samsung Building, the flying saucer atop the Radisson Hotel and the Tomorrow Square building complete with a hovering ball clasped by pointy metal fingers. From People's Square cycle south until you reach Fuxing Road, turn right and take a gentle cycle for 30 minutes through this fairy-lighted section of the French Concession, passing French bakeries, jazz clubs and alfresco restaurants as you go.
When you reach Huashan Road take a left and cycle until you reach the bright shopping district of Xujiahui (4). Open until 10pm, the malls here offer everything from karaoke booths and cinemas to food courts encased in stunning architecture. Metro City shopping mall is shaped like a crystal ball - watch as different images are projected onto the curved sphere or take a ride on the elevator inside and look out through hundreds of triangular pieces of glass. Ride your bike over the bridge in the centre of the district for a captivating photo of the hypnotic scene and frenzy of traffic beneath you.
Route two: The cultural tour (10km)
The Bund > The Old Town > French Concession > Tai Kang Lu > Longhua Pagoda
Start off next to the Huangpu River (5), a historical trading route lined with distinctive buildings including the Peace Hotel with its green triangular roof, also a hot spot for famous people in the early 1900s (former guests include Charlie Chaplin and Noel Coward). Along the mile-long Bund strip you'll pass grand British colonial buildings in various architectural styles from renaissance to art deco and gothic. Peer across the river and you'll spy the contrasting futuristic skyline.
Next, cycle south along the waterfront and take a right onto Guangdong Road towards Yu Garden (6). Along this route you'll pass smaller lanes where you can inhale the hunger-inducing wafts coming from noodle and dumpling shops in the area. As you make your way towards Jiu Xiao Chang Road the architecture will start to change. On the left you'll find Yu Gardens, a newly built complex constructed to look like a traditional hutong (narrow alley), but this is not the best attraction. Continue on and you'll find some of the last remaining Shikumen houses in the city. These rare buildings have become something of a tourist attraction, and owners have set up gift shops out of their front rooms selling red lanterns, copies of Chairman Mao's little red book and other Chinese-themed memorabilia. Take a right along Fangbang Zhong Road and keep cycling straight until you reach Zizhong Road, take a right at Madang Road and you'll notice the roads get quieter.
You're in the heart of the French Concession and trees line either side of the road. Continue and take a left at Jianguo Xi Road, cycle to Ruijin Road and take a right. After a few minutes you'll be at the hip bohemian area of Taikang Road (7). Venture out on foot and you'll find a labyrinth of art galleries, pottery and gift shops selling kitsch communist memorabilia. Back on to Ruijin Road take a left and follow the street south until it turns into Longcao Road. You'll eventually get to Longhua Park (8) and Longhua Temple. For Dh2 you can walk around the grounds, snap shots of the 40-metre pagoda and behold 500 gold-painted Buddha statues.
Route three: The foodie tour (5km)
People’s Square > Jin Xian Road > Donghu Road > Changshu Road
One thing’s for sure, the Chinese know how to eat. On this relaxing, yet indulgent, route you can combine sightseeing with stuffing your belly full of delicious treats: starting with a Shanghai delicacy. Juicy Xiaolongbao dumplings, filled with crab and soup, are made by hand and served with vinegar and chilli. They’re available all over town in the morning and early afternoon. One of the best places to try them is at Jia Jia Tang Bao (9) on Huanghe Road north of People’s Square, where you’ll find people queuing around the block to taste the dainty creations. From here, cycle south through the park surrounded by skyscrapers and take a gentle cycle to the French Concession, cross Yan’an Road and make your way to Changle Road.
From here turn right and follow the road for 10 minutes until you get to Maoming Nan Road and take a right. Pass the Lanxin Theatre and on your left you’ll find Jin Xian Road, a cute traditional Shanghai street that has become trendy in recent years. If you are in the mood for cultural cuisine opt for Southern Barbarian (10), which serves Yunnan dishes such as crispy potato, spicy mint salad and cold garlicky aubergine, or more unusual dishes such as goats cheese with tropical flowers or deep-fried honey bees with beef (if you can get past their furry bodies, they’re surprisingly tasty). Along Jin Xian Road you’ll also find colourful wet markets selling a variety of local vegetables and livestock, here you can pick your own chicken and have the butcher chop and pluck it for you while you wait. In the area you’ll find cute boutiques selling kitsch vintage broaches, pretty dresses and accessories. There’s also a five-floor Lomography Gallery Store where you can pick up a disposable fish-eye camera to capture your adventure. Relax at the charming French-style Citizen Café at the end of the street – a great spot for a spicy beef burrito, some coconut prawns or a few smoked salmon and cream cheese crackers.
When you’re ready for the next course, head to the glam Sichuan Citizen (11) restaurant on Donghu Road, serving tangy Sichuan steamed fish slathered in spicy sauce, potatoes and vegetables or mouth-numbing peppery spare ribs and tofu. To get there follow Changle Road West again until you reach Club 88, then take a left. Those with a sweet tooth should save space for dessert: get back on your bike and head to Whisk (12), it’s a mere five minutes away on Huaihai Road, near Huating Road and Changshu metro station, and their homemade chocolate creations are to die for. We recommend the upside down cake drizzled with chocolate goo, the soft glee chocolate pudding and the ice cream mixed with doughy warm chocolate chip cookies… utterly delicious.
This well-known bike company organises personalised tours and bike hire for as little as Dh90 a day, including a helmet and a lock. Bring your passport and a Dh585 deposit when you book. 271 Qianyang Road, www.bohdi.com.cn
SISU Cycling Club
If you’re starting on the Pudong side of the river then SISU is your best bet. They’re based near Century Park and offer rental for Dh50 a day. Their selection includes Trek and Giant mountain bikes, as well as traditional Shanghai bikes. 395 Dujuan Lu, www.sisucycling.com
Do your tour on a German Changjiang 750cc motorbike and sidecar, built to look like the communist bikes from the 1930s. This local company offers tours, which take passengers to see the city’s most famous sites, plus interesting hidden spots. Tours start from Dh470 per hour. 570 Yongjia Road, www.shanghaisideways.com
Where to stay
URBN eco hotel
Set in an ex-factory warehouse, this trendy boutique hotel was crafted from locally sourced, sustainable materials and offers a zen living environment with trickling water features, airy rooms and a green garden to gaze over from your free-standing bath tub. Garden view rooms Dh1,025, 183 Jiaozhou Road, www.urbnhotels.com
This is where the architects, designers and media-types come and stay when they visit the city. Here you’ll find a reaction to the bling décor in the five-star chain hotels. Instead they’ve take a minimal rustic approach to design and feature canteen-style chairs in the restaurant, chipped walls in the lobby and peep holes in the rooms. Don’t leave without trying the food at Table No.1, created by Jason Atherton (who was trained by Gordon Ramsay), for a communal dining experience with fresh fish dishes and gastro creations such as sweetcorn foam and parsnip crisps. Rooms from Dh645, www.waterhouseshanghai.com
How to get there
Flights leave every day from the UAE with Emirates, China Southern, Etihad and Qatar Airways and various others, and start from Dh2,883 return. For details see www.flychinasouthern.com, www.emirates.com, www.qatarairways.com and flights.etihad.com/en-ae/