There's never been a better time to find a bed in Shànghǎi. From ultrachic, carbon-neutral boutique rooms to sumptuous five-star hotels housed in glimmering towers, grand heritage affairs and snappy, down-to-earth backpacker haunts, the range of accommodation in town is just what you would expect from a city of this stature.

Apartments and Longer-Term Rentals

The cheapest way to stay in Shànghǎi is to share a flat or rent local accommodation from a Chinese landlord. Classified ads in listings magazines such as City Weekend (www.cityweekend.com.cn/shanghai) are a good place to start. You will need to register with the local Public Security Bureau (PSB; 公安局; Gōng'ānjú) within 24 hours of moving in.

Some hostels and hotels also rent out long-let rooms. Chai Living Residences is a stylish and recommended option.

Need to Know

Reservations

  • You’ll need to book your room in advance to secure your top choice; avoid the national holiday periods.

Checking In & Out

  • You need your passport to check in. You'll fill in a registration form, or the hotel may simply scan your passport, a copy of which is sent to the local Public Security Bureau (PSB; 公安局; Gōng’ānjú) office.
  • A deposit is required at most hotels, paid either with cash or by providing credit-card details.
  • Check-out is usually by noon.

Hotel Terms

The Chinese term for a hotel can vary. Many smaller, midrange hotels are called bīnguǎn (宾馆; literally 'guest house'), while larger hotels are often called jiǔdiàn (酒店; literally 'wine shop'), dàjiǔdiàn (大酒店; literally 'big wine shop') or less commonly dàfàndiàn (大饭店; literally 'big restaurant').

Hotels

Top-end stays tend to drop into three categories: chic boutique hotels; historic heritage hotels, where guests can wrap themselves in nostalgia; and top-of-the-range modern tower hotels, bristling with the latest amenities and sparkling with highly polished service (and often glorious views).

The midrange hotel market also offers boutique and heritage choices. The budget end has neat, comfortable but largely soulless express hotels, sometimes offering bigger rooms than hostels, but without the Western-friendly facilities or instant language skills.

Be prepared for surprisingly rudimentary English-language ability, except at the very best hotels (and youth hostels). Almost all the hotels we recommend have air-conditioning, and usually they have wi-fi (sometimes at expensive daily rates or just in the lobby) or broadband.

Hostels

At the budget end, Shànghǎi has a good crop of youth hostels. Usually staffed by versatile English speakers, they offer well-priced dorm beds and private rooms (sometimes better than their hotel equivalent) as well as wi-fi, communal internet terminals, bike hire, kitchen and laundry rooms, and even the odd pool table, table-tennis table or rooftop garden. Most have small and cheap bar-cafe-restaurant areas. Hostels also provide handy travel advice to guests and are exclusively attuned to travellers' needs.

Rates

Expect discounts of up to 50% off standard prices at most hotels, except during national holiday periods or the Formula One grand prix weekend. Rates can be bargained down at many budget and midrange hotels, but not at express hotels or hostels. All hotel rooms are subject to a 10% or 15% service charge; many cheaper hotels don’t bother to charge it.

Dorm beds go for around ¥70 to ¥90, but double rooms under ¥200 can be hard to find. Expect to pay at least ¥600 for a midrange room. The fancier boutique hotels will charge more. A standard room in a top-end place will almost certainly top ¥1000, even after discount. Many of the better hotels, especially those aimed at business travellers, have cheaper weekend rates.

Hotel Restrictions

Astonishingly, the majority of hotels in China still do not accept foreigners. To be able to accept foreigners, hotels need to be registered with, and have approval from, the Public Security Bureau (PSB; 公安局; Gōng'ānjú) – the police. Most hotels in China do not have this authorisation, but select hotels do. This can be highly vexing for travellers, especially those who speak Chinese and who enjoy keeping away from tourist hotels. Hotels that are not allowed to house foreigners are often non-chain and much cheaper than the authorised choices, meaning foreigners are forced to spend more money on a room. To ask in Chinese if a hotel accepts foreigners, simply ask: 你收外国人吗 (nǐ shōu wàiguórén ma)? We only recommend hotels that accept foreign guests.