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A Visitor's Guide to Xintiandi

Dining, Drinking, Shopping and Culture at Shanghai's Pedestrian Xintiandi

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Overview

Xintiandi, also written Xin Tian Di, is an area of reclaimed 1920s-era shikumen¬ houses that were ubiquitous in the area until very lately. As recently as 2005, the entire neighborhood around the current Xintiandi was made up of these old lane houses that were home to hundreds of families. Most of them have been torn down, having the same fate as Beijing’s hutongs. But Xintiandi stands out as an entertainment complex housed in rebuilt, remodeled lane houses of Shanghai.

History - Shikumen Houses

Shikumen, or 石库门, means stone gate. The architectural focus of these houses is a front door framed in sometimes elaborately carved stone. The houses themselves – interconnected row houses usually three stories high – are made of brick typical to Shanghai in red and gray.

The style was originally created to house refugees from the Taiping Rebellion who flooded Shanghai from the provinces. It gained in popularity and remained the preferred style for decades. The houses typically have courtyards behind the front stone gate opening into a parlor through which you journey into the kitchen and the back door. They have "tingzijian" rooms off of each floor’s landing creating small rooms off the main floor. Some of these were famously later rented out by families needing extra income and became home to some of Shanghai’s most esteemed literary figures.

What to See & Do

The developers took an area of these shikumen houses and redeveloped them creating two pedestrian-only blocks. The buildings are full of cafes, restaurants, shops and bars. On the southern end is a large modern building that is also full of famous brand shops, good restaurants (Din Tai Fung and Crystal Jade both have outlets on the second floor) and a movie theater on the third floor that shows movies in English.

Cultural Sites
At 76 Xingye Road, visit the Site of the First National Congress of the Communist Party (daily 9am-5pm). It’s a small museum with a small entrance fee. Xingye Road is the road that divides the two Xintiandi blocks.

Visit the Shikumen Open House Museum (daily ~11am-10pm) inside the northern block of Xintiandi. This quaint little museum shows the traditional shikumen house as it was set up originally. On the top floor are exhibits portraying the development of Xintiandi.

Drink
From Starbucks to wine bars, you'll find just about anything you're thirsty for.

Eat
When the weather is fine, you’ll find what seems like everyone in Shanghai sitting outdoors and eating. There are standard cafes such as Paul (French bakery and patisserie) and KABB (American-style burgers and wraps) as well as great Chinese cafes like Din Tai Fung (make a reservation). Upscale venues include Va Bene (Italian), and T8 (fusion).

Shop
Xintiandi has some great shops. You’ll find Shanghai Tang in the northern block. Also don’t miss Shanghai Trio (Taicang Road) for locally made handbags, scarves and accessories. But stroll around, there are all kinds of treasures to be found.

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