One of my favorite sections of Shanghai, the French Concession neighborhood, is a bit of an oasis in the sea of modern, cramped high rises that now makes up nearly all of the city. It’s low-rise buildings and twisted alleyways hide galleries, unique merchants and relaxing cafes. A few modern shopping malls have managed to pop up here and there, but they pale in comparison to the glitzy, ultra-luxe structures that that now populate other areas, such as Xintiandi, and don’t do much to intrude on the neighborhood’s charm.
The area was once controlled by the French, as the name implies, and has remained largely unchanged in the decades since it was turned over to the Chinese government. Through the years, it has served as a hub for people of many national origins, including French, British, American and Russian and also served as the center for Catholic activity in Shanghai. Seemingly unlike the rest of the city, the government has imposed numerous development restrictions on the area in order to maintain it’s uniqueness and character.
In the rain, the crowds are scant and the area is still very much enjoyable. Some of the shops occupy the entire ground floors of buildings, while others are slightly bigger than a few large closets’ worth of space. At night, you can find a number of interesting bars and restaurants ranging from local haunts to expat hangouts.
In an area that is meant for strolling, the rain can be an annoyance but, in this case, I think it just adds to the character of the neighborhood.