With a seemingly endless array of hotels and new ones springing up all the time, it can be hard work searching for a decent room in Shanghai. Below is a guide to the city’s most fabulous accommodations, from five-star stunners housed in towering skyscrapers to beautifully renovated pre-war villas.
Hotels seeped in history
The Mansion Hotel combines historic charm and modern luxury like no other hotel in the city. The beautiful 1930s building was originally the residence of Sun Tingsun, a business partner of Huang Jinrong and Du Yueshang, two of Shanghai's most powerful gangsters. It was used as offices for the trio's business dealings and was a venue for some of Shanghai's most extravagant parties.
Stepping through the front door is like stepping back in time to the city's glorious, notorious past. The lobby, the corridors and the rooms are filled with antiques – a box camera here, a gramophone there, an old pistol in one cabinet, original company documents in another. But it is more than a museum. There is exquisite luxury too. Your feet sink into the carpet as you enter the rooms, which are all huge and come with beautifully-upholstered wood furniture, big-screen satellite TVs, wi-fi, a double-sized shower and, best of all, a private jacuzzi.
The Astor House, a distinguished elderly gentleman, was Shanghai's very first hotel, originally built as the Richards Hotel in the latter part of the Qing dynasty in 1846. More than 160 years on, there remains a distinct air of elegance, with the hotel's original wooden flooring still covering some of the halls and corridors. Rooms are by no means luxurious when compared with some of Shanghai's five-star offerings, but unlike its flashier competitors Astor House offers guests the opportunity to stay in rooms once occupied by the likes of Albert Einstein, Bertrand Russell and Charlie Chaplin.
Shanghai's newest five-star offering, The Peninsula, may not be historic, but it is based on the design of a 1920s merchant's home – the kind that typified the stretch of the historic Bund which this first-class hotel overlooks. This is arguably the city's very best hotel and is the only one of note that boasts such excellent views of both the Bund and the skyscraper-filled skyline of Pudong on the opposite side of the Huangpu River. There are all the modern gadgets you could wish for, but the rooms here are designed so tastefully and with such elegance that you hardly notice the plasma-screen TV, espresso machine or iPod dock.
Spanning the 79th to 93rd floors of the towering Shanghai World Financial Centre, the Park Hyatt is the tallest hotel in Shanghai and the second tallest in the world. More than just a record breaker, this magnificent hotel boasts impeccable service, top-notch facilities and an art gallery-like interior design. High walled corridors with brown-fabric and grey-stone textures lead to luxurious rooms with think-of-everything quirks such as a mist-free bathroom mirror containing a small TV screen, a rainforest shower in the middle of the bathroom ceiling, a plug socket in the safe for your laptop and a toilet seat that opens automatically as you approach it! The outrageously good views go without saying.
Before being superseded by its even taller, even grander next-door neighbour the Park Hyatt, the Grand Hyatt (which spans the top 34 floors of the majestic Jinmao Tower) was the place to stay in Shanghai. It is still pretty swanky with big, comfortable beds and huge windows that afford fabulous city views (especially in the deluxe rooms), and the service is stellar. Some say the interior is looking a bit dated these days, but no one can argue that the vertigo-inducing view down the spectacular inner atrium is not something special.
Purely indulgent stays
Shanghai's first city-centre resort, PuLi is an oasis of calm in the heart of the bustling Jing'an district. The spa 'menu' is apparently inspired by the detoxifying effects of China's green teas, but there are Indian- and Thai-based massage treatments too. And just in case you are not feeling relaxed enough after your luxury rub-down, you can retreat to your room to enjoy the sleep-inducing rhythms of your own personal wave-sound music system.
If five-star hotels are a bit too mainstream for you, perhaps you should check out China's first carbon neutral hotel instead. URBN uses recyclable materials and low-energy products wherever possible, but it also calculates its complete carbon footprint – including staff commutes and delivery journeys – then offsets it by donating money to environmentally-friendly projects. If that does not impress you, the rooms surely will. They are beautifully designed with low furniture and sunken living areas exuding space. Bathtubs are located in the bedroom rather than in the bathroom, and the grey slate tiling gives the place an urban vibe.
With no website, no sign and hidden away down a small alleyway, The Nine is about as exclusive as it gets. Walk-in guests will be turned away, so you must phone ahead (86-21-6471-9950). Once booked, scout around for an alleyway marked Lane 355, off West Jianguo Road in the French Concession area of the city. Walk to the end of the alley, turn left and ring the bell by the large wooden gateway marked only with the number 9. Inside you will find a small, tranquil garden housing an old European-style villa with antique tables, unusual statues and six delicious double rooms, all different and all decorated exquisitely. Do not expect hotel facilities – there is no restaurant, spa or gym – but what you will get is bags of character, bundles of charm and an experience shared with just a lucky few.
Cheap and cheerful hotels
Le Tour Traveller's Rest, housed in a former towel factory, is Shanghai's best youth hostel and leaves most of the city's budget accommodation hanging out to dry. To get there, you have to pass a row of splendid shikumen (traditional stone-gate houses) , and the old-Shanghai textures continue once inside, with red-brick interior walls and reproduced stone gateways above doorways to rooms which are simple, but smart. The communal areas are filled with fun: table tennis here, a pool table there, and there is a fine rooftop bar which doubles as the hostel's restaurant.
Youth hostels do not come much more charming than the Koala Garden House. Even the lobby – which doubles as a chic wi-fi cafe – is a joy to be in, with high ceilings and brightly painted walls. But it is the rooms, all slightly different, that really stand out. Admittedly on the cosy side, they are beautifully decorated with cute furniture, flower-patterned wallpaper and gathered-up curtains, and all come with a wall-mounted flat-screen TV and a funky little bathroom. The two best rooms have private balconies overlooking the quaint, pedestrianised tourist strip of Duolun Road.