In the early days of the International Settlement, West Nanjing Rd was known as Bubbling Well Rd; its far western end was where city stopped and countryside began. By the swinging 1920s, the fields were being swallowed up by the rapidly expanding city, and Bubbling Well Rd was one of Shànghǎi’s busiest and most exclusive streets. Apart from its name, not much has changed since then. The main thoroughfare of today’s Jìng’ān district (静安), West Nanjing Rd is the address of some of the city’s glitziest malls, high-end shops and five-star hotels.
Pǔdōng may have taller towers and the French Concession more charm, but this part of Jìng’ān is still the city’s most exclusive neighbourhood. Even the skyscrapers here suggest harmony – a change from the disjointed skyline in other districts – while the traditional lǐlòng (alleyways) are unexpectedly well preserved. The heart of all the consumer action is the Shànghǎi Centre, a focal point both for tourists and the many expats who work in the district.
Head north of West Nanjing Rd and you’re plunged into grittier, more authentic areas. The first stop on many tours of Jìng’ān is the Jade Buddha Temple. A short hike to the north are the M50 art galleries along Sūzhōu Creek. Good streets to explore for a taste of an authentic working-class Shànghǎi neighbourhood include the bustling Jiangning and North Shaanxi Rds.