50 things to do in Shanghai: Arts & Culture

Shanghai's best galleries, opera, heritage architecture, Art Deco and more

Shanghai's best galleries, opera, heritage architecture and more. The best of Shanghai's art scene, local culture and heritage to see in the city

"Yuz-art-museum"Take in some contemporary Chinese art

The city’s art scene may still suffer in many people’s comparisons to that of Beijing, but we’re really not doing too badly. The opening of the two Long Museums, the Power Station of Art, Rockbund Art Museum and the Yuz Museum in recent years has bolstered the museum side of a Shanghai art scene that already boasted a broad range of top-notch galleries showcasing works from both local and international artists. We’ve even seen some excellent art shows popping up in shopping malls and despite our intrinsic misgivings about such juxtapositions, K11’s Chi Space has proved a welcome addition.

And still Shanghai's main art hub, M50, housed in a former factory space at 50 Moganshan Lu, is home to over 25 art galleries and spaces, including some of the city's best, all surrounded by one of the only public graffiti spaces in Shanghai on Moganshan Lu.

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"Wang lang"Buy local art pieces

If you’re looking to invest in some original Chinese art, most of Shanghai’s smaller galleries will have works starting from a few thousand RMB. More affordable options are offered by local creative agency NeochaEDGE’s online shop, which has a great selection of limited-edition giclée prints by local artists (from 500RMB), while IdleBeats’ silkscreen prints (from 200RMB) range from old horror movie posters to a ‘Year of the Horse’ print. For the past few years the Affordable Art Fair China, now rebranded as Surge, pops up every September, for a chance to see, and purchase, young, upcoming Chinese artists (such as Wang Lang, pictured) at affordable prices.

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yifu theatreAttend a Chinese opera

While Shanghai’s favourite opera form, Shaoxing opera, tends to dominate here, there are regular performances of Jingju (Peking opera) and other variants at theatres across town. One of Shanghai’s most famous stages is the Yifu Theatre, which was built in 1925 and continues to hold around 350 performances every year. See our gallery of actors getting ready behind the stage, including make-up, coiff setting and costumes.

And if you’re not sure whether a full-on performance is for you, a number of theatres offer ‘highlights’ programmes most months, meaning you can just sample a few of the best bits. For an al fresco alternative, wander around People’s Park and you’ll likely find groups of residents singing revolutionary classics and occasionally a little opera too.

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"Hudec-architecture-Shanghai"Snap some Shanghai Art Deco

Whether it’s taking in some classic Western-influenced cinemas or exploring the work of architect Laszlo Hudec with our guided walk, there are plenty of fine examples of Art Deco to see in Shanghai – so many in fact that the World Congress on Art Deco will be held in the city in November 2015.

Hudec was one of the city’s leading proponents of Art Deco architecture during the 1930s and many of his structures (such as The Grand Theatre, the Normandie Apartments and the ‘Green House’) still stand today. You can also find out more about the man himself at the recently opened Hudec Memorial Hall, though be warned that while the displays are interesting, the captions are limited.

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"Xiaonanmen-old-town"Explore disappearing old Shanghai with your camera

The triangle of land between Xiaonanmen metro station, the Lujiabang fabric market and the Cool Docks is a fascinating slice of old Shanghai that goes largely overlooked and is shrinking by the day as the cranes and bulldozers move in. While development has already eaten into much of the neighbourhood – in some cases leaving a single, solitary old house marooned in a sea of rubble, or a road sign pointing redundantly at a new concrete wall – there’s still an atmospheric core in which to get enjoyably lost.

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""Take a walk around Shanghai Film Studios

Step out of an ancient Chinese temple and onto the tramlines of 1930s Nanking Lu at Shanghai Film Park (entry 50RMB), which has featured in films such as Lust, Caution and Kung Fu Hustle, though these days is largely the domain of young couples shooting their wedding photos. Amateurish stunt shows are scheduled daily at 10.30am and 1.30pm, but otherwise the sets are a ghost town, allowing you to wander around the period replicas of Waibaidu Bridge and Hengshan Moller Villa in peace.

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Lai lai dancehall

Visit Lai Lai Dancehall

One of Shanghai’s most remarkable soirees, this Hongkou dancehall hosts groups of middle aged men dancing cheek-to-cheek every weekend along with occasional drag performances.

‘It’s popular because there are very few dancehalls like this where men from all kinds of backgrounds can be together,’ one regular visitor told us.

Visitors need to be sensitive to the anonymity enjoyed by the men here and it’s best if you get involved rather than making the dancers feel as if they’re being observed for someone else’s entertainment, but a trip here is a truly unforgettable Shanghai experience.

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