Shanghai Gay Travel
Trusted Shanghai gay travel recommendations for hotels, gay bars, restaurants, things to do & China gay life.
The Gay Travel Experience: Shanghai, China
Most westerners, especially Americans, are either clueless about what China is really like, or are fully aware of how advanced the country is.
After seeing Shanghai, it was easy to validate why Chinese cities are closer to what westerners call the “first world,” or “modern,” as compared to our home cities.
The Shanghai Gay Scene
If you’re wondering why online information about gay things to do in Shanghai is so sparse, there are a number of reasons for this.
Gay Shanghai: Hotels & Where to Stay
With more than 20 million people living in Shanghai’s central area alone, choosing a place to stay in such a large city can feel daunting. Before deciding where to stay, consider the below bits of advice.
Should I Book a Hotel or Airbnb in Shanghai?
Shanghai may be massive, but not every neighborhood is densely populated. Many areas feel a bit suburban and can be eerily quiet after dark.
These suburban areas usually do not have any convenience stores or restaurants nearby. You may find yourself frustrated without these conveniences you’re likely accustomed to.
Secondly, be cognizant that Shanghai taxis are not always easy to obtain. This is due to both the language barrier as well as restricted pick up/drop off locations.
Staying at a large hotel, this shouldn’t be an issue since staff can order a cab for you. If you’re staying in an Airbnb or private accommodation without such services, then I suggest you position yourself near a metro stop for more accessibility.
I stayed in both an Airbnb and a hotel in Shanghai. For part of my visit I stayed in a hotel close to attractions in the core of Shanghai. The Airbnb was within walking distance to the gay bars so I wouldn’t have any issues with late-night transportation.
Best Neighborhoods for Gay Travelers
The area around Nanjing Pedestrian Street is a more culturally authentic neighborhood to stay in Shanghai. Here you’ll find a ton of shopping and restaurants. It’s kind of like the Times Square of Shanghai, except everything is impeccably clean.
I stayed at the Sukhothai Shanghai, one of the best hotels I’ve experienced in terms of overall design. They have an amazing steam room and sauna that I happily used just about every day!
Although I did not venture to the area, my boyfriend Michael mentioned that it is not best to stay on the east side of Hunagpu River in the financial district.
This area can become a bit lifeless after business hours, and is also quite far from the majority of main Shanghai attractions.
Is There a Shanghai Gay Neighborhood?
Some gay travel sites classify the eastern part of the Changning District or the French Concession as the Shanghai gay neighborhood. This is quite a broad generalization though. Both Changning and the French Concession are huge districts by themselves.
Shanghai’s gay bars are in this above-mentioned area of Changning, an area called Xinhua Road Residential District. You may classify this as the Shanghai gay neighborhood.
Shanghai Gay Travel Experiences
There are so many things to do in Shanghai, both during the day and night. While the city is huge, transportation is so inexpensive that taking a taxi or the metro between attractions is not cost prohibitive.
Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street
Walking down Nanjing Road was one of my most memorable Shanghai experiences. Everything here is frenetic, yet happy. There are hundreds of markets, small restaurants and other stores to explore.
It’s one of the busiest areas of Shanghai, popular with both locals and tourists. You’ll get to see families and friends spending free time out and about.
You can pretty much do any activity imaginable on Nanjing Road. Browse luxury watches, get a massage, try local desserts, you name it!
Definitely get some sweets at one of the window shops. They’re oily and delicious. I grabbed some packaged black bean treats too as a present for my mom in one of the market halls.
Tianzifang is an adorable, cozy district in Shanghai. It feels a little like the SoHo neighborhood in New York. Ex-pats love Tianzifang, and it’s easy to understand why. International restaurant chains and many other western comforts are available here.
People’s Square & People’s Park
People’s Square is a large public green space in central Shanghai. There are vast stretches of gardens with colorful flowers and lush patches of grass. It’s beautiful to wander through here.
Many people spend some time in Peoples Square to see the fountain show. Peaceful music plays while the fountain shows off different effects.
People’s Park is on the opposite side of the Urban Planning Exhibition Center and is a lot denser with trees and natural life. There is a small lake, lots of park benches and more shade to escape summer heat.
Hidden beneath the pavement of People’s Square is a maze of corridors lined with arcades, restaurants and small shops. This name of this concourse is the Hong Kong Shopping Centre. If you’re visiting during the cooler months, you may find most people hanging out down here!
The Shanghai Maglev Train
Don’t miss out on taking the Shanghai Maglev, the fastest commercial train in the world! The Maglev links Shanghai Pudong International Airport (PVG) to the greater Shanghai city area.
The train has an impressive speed capacity of 431 kilometers per hour. The train usually tops out around 350 km/hour during normal operation.
Shanghai Pudong Airport is quite far from the city center. The Maglev train reduces a ride that normally takes forty minutes to just under eight! This might just be the first time you take a train ride that you wish was a little longer.
The most important thing to know about the Shanghai Maglev is that the terminus is at Longyang Road Subway Station, which is not in the center of Shanghai. You will need to either take the subway or a taxi from here.
Overall, I recommend taking the Maglev for the experience, even if you have to shift modes of transport. It does save a good chunk of time.
The Bund: Iconic Skyline Views
The Bund waterfront is iconic in Shanghai’s history. Over hundreds of years, the Bund transformed from a commercial port filled with tiny wooden boats to the beautiful promenade of today.
Shanghai Urban Planning Museum
The Shanghai Urban Planning Museum completely blew me away. This place was one of the best Museums I have ever visited.
One of the upper floors of the museum’s has an absolutely stunning, full-floor scaled model of Shanghai. The images on this page simply cannot capture the grandeur of this meticulous model.
I was actually interviewed for a short clip about the museum while walking around. The woman interviewing me mentioned that the museum could temporarily close to install a new, updated city model (hard to believe, right?) and perform building upgrades.
If the museum is open, definitely go. Just make sure it is not closed for renovation.
Sichuan Citizen Restaurant
Before having dinner at Sichuan Citizen, I had not experienced quality service in any ordinary Chinese restaurants. This place was amazing in every sense. Fun custom cocktails (try the vodka basil drop martini), cheerful staff and authentic Chinese food await. Sichuan Citizen is a Shanghai mainstay you can’t skip!
Mercato Shanghai by Jean-Georges
Enjoy a luxurious dining experience at Mercato with skyline views of the Bund. Mercato serves diving Mediterranean inspired dishes. Part of the Jean-Georges Vongerichten line of restaurants, they received a Michelin star in 2019.
While it’s not Chinese, or even Asian food, I recommend Mercato Shanghai for unmatched city views and top of the line service. For anyone who wants a night of western food in a friendly atmosphere, this the best restaurant for it!
Starbucks Reserve Shanghai
Shanghai Gay Bars & Parties
Gay bars in Shanghai are clustered in one area of town, which is on the border of the Changning District and the French Concession.
It is important to know before heading out that Google is not helpful with sorting through the Shainghai’s gay bars. So I’ll give you the needed info for a fun night out and what to expect.
Lucca 390 & Telephone 6
Firstly, 390 Café & Bar is an old name for the current Lucca 390 gay bar. The bar’s name changed in the mid-2010’s, however they kept the number 390 in the name. This just comes from the building’s street number.
Lucca 390 is probably the best gay bar in Shanghai for foreigners. They warmly welcome travelers and ex-pats. On Saturdays, expect a sizable crowd ready to dance!
Since so many gay travel websites list mention Lucca 390, this is one of the few gay bars where you’re likely to find another gay travel buddy. Solo travelers are usually out and about exploring what the Shanghai gay scene is like.
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Happiness 42 Shanghai (New Location)
Happiness 42 is another Shanghai gay bar, only a short walk from Lucca 390. The busiest nights here are on weekends as well. Happiness 42 has a good mix of foreigners and locals. They host RuPaul’s Drag Race viewings and play all the pop song favorites.
The location of Happiness 42 may be difficult to find and/or incorrect on most travel websites. Note that the bar is no longer in the same location it used to be. If the name “Shanghai Studio” appears, then the address is wrong.
Grab dinner, drinks or shop in the nearby area called Panyu Building (West Gate). Expect a dreamy modern streetscape lined with ice cream shops, boutique stores, restaurants and more.
Angel Shanghai Circuit Party
Angel is a huge gay dance party in Shanghai attended mostly by locals. It has a powerful, circuit party feel. The club venue changes and may not be near the center of Shanghai.
I did not get to attend the Angel Party for myself, so if you attended, send wolfyy an email talking about your experience there. I’d love to know!
Tips for Visiting Bars
Shanghai gay travel is certainly more challenging than travel to other cities. This can become quite clear if you don’t find what you’re expecting.
Some traveler friends of mine mentioned that gay bars in Shanghai were much less crowded than anticipated during their trip. Manage your expectations and just go with your gut!
Privacy Among Locals
Many Shanghai gay locals prefer to keep their parties closed to foreigners for privacy reasons. You may notice that if a gay bar in Shanghai publishes photos online, they blur the faces or eyes of every patron shown.
While being gay in China is not illegal, the cultural norm is to maintain a decent level of privacy.
Shanghai Travel Tips
Does Google Maps Work in China?
One of the biggest challenges with travel in China is not having the wealth of information on Google Maps. Directions via public transit as well as information for establishments in China is largely unavailable on Google. This makes finding things pretty difficult.
I use a free app called VPN 360. All the nonsense online hype about not being able to access your Gmail and such is annoyingly incorrect.
Taxis in Shanghai
Getting a taxi in Shanghai was probably the most difficult and frustrating thing about my visit. This is true for a number of reasons, many of which have been experienced by other world travelers.
Most importantly, transportation via taxis in Shanghai is difficult because ride-share applications will not work unless you have a Chinese bank account. DiDi is the main ride-share application in Shanghai. You’ll be able to download it, but don’t bet on using it! This means the only option is to hail a cab on the street.
Next, the attitude of almost every cab driver of mine was quite poor. The language barrier was one thing, but aside from that, I often sensed a rude impatience. I was once refused a ride by a Shanghai taxi without reason and I still have no idea why.
Do Shanghai Taxi Drivers Speak English?
Shanghai taxi drivers rarely speak any English at all. Many also are not interested in trying to figure out where you want to go either. To deal with this, get your destination address written in Mandarin and have it ready before you enter the vehicle.
If they see English, they will hand your directions back to you. On a couple of occasions, the driver became frustrated while I attempted to find the address translation. Lastly, attempting to point to a location on your phone map doesn’t work in my experience.
Shanghai Taxis: Don’t Get Ripped Off
Taxis in Shanghai are supposed to be inexpensive. Often, rides around thirty minutes cost the equivalent of 3 to 4 US Dollars! Make sure you understand this fact, because many drivers will assume you do not know the fair price. Insist that they use the meter by pointing to it.
Some taxi cabs will try to take advantage of tourists. While exiting a cab with my boyfriend Michael, one driver tried to charge us more than 30 times the fair price! We knew he inflated it, so we yelled at him and walked away after giving a fair sum.
Homosexuality in China: Past & Present
Interesting LGBT Rights Milestones in China
Also noteworthy is a recent Lunar New Year advertisement in China. In January of 2020, the gay community applauded the inclusion of a gay couple on a Chinese online shopping site. This barely ever happens, so LGBT Chinese citizens were happily surprised.
Is It Illegal to Be Gay in China?
Homosexuality in Ancient & Imperial China
Homosexuality in ancient China was tolerated very well. Continuing later into Imperial China, things began to change. The Shang, Zhou and Han dynasties kept the status quo with homosexuality being completely normal.
Female homosexuality was first mentioned during the later Han Dynasty (a Chinese golden age 206 BC to 220 CE).
The Song Dynasty introduced the first law against being gay in China, around the year 1115 CE. Although this law is not known to have been enforced, it was definitely a turning point in Chinese history.
Continuing forward through the Ming Dynasty, being gay was well normal. Gay male prostitution even flourished during these decades.
Once the Qing Dynasty began after 1644 (China’s final Dynasty), things became more socially conservative. The first anti-gay law in China that threatened legal consequences went into effect in 1740.
This was the start of China’s government equating being gay as a mental illness. Stigma against homosexuality then continued in china for centuries.
History of Gay Life in China’s Modern Era
Being gay in China was traditionally accepted and widely tolerated until the Imperial Era. Throughout ancient Chinese history, same-sex sexual relations were never even questioned. The Chinese characters “Luan Feng,” that denote homosexuality, were formed during this time.
Once the 18th century came around, gay rights and general sentiment toward homosexuality shifted for the worse. Gay Chinese people faced brutal persecution and arrest during the Communist Cultural Revolution. The situation only deteriorated progressing into the era of Communist China.