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Shanghai Gay Travel

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The Gay Travel Experience: Shanghai, China

Shanghai is one goliath of a city. It’s spotless, modern and emanates that classic global city ambiance into which China’s government puts so much effort. The luxurious feel to Shanghai’s streetscape was by far the most impressive aspect of the city.
Shanghai
Shanghai
Shanghai gay travel experience
Most westerners, especially Americans, are either clueless about what China is really like, or are they’re 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.
Shanghai gay travel experience
While China certainly doesn’t rank highly with respect to LGBT rights, the nation is not as conservative as you may think. The period between 2000 and 2010 saw a boom in formation of LGBT rights groups. Since 2000, an attitude of tolerance toward gay people in China has become the norm.
Shanghai gay travel experience
Shanghai gay travel experience
Shanghai gay travel does not come without its own set of challenges. I’ll begin this guide with what Shanghai’s gay scene is like, followed by neighborhood, restaurant, & gay nightlife recommendations.
Lastly, I’ll cover what it’s like being gay in China, the LGBT rights situation and a bit about the history of homosexuality in China.
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Shanghai Gay Travel: Local Gay Scene

There’s no doubt Shanghai has a gay scene. Is it the most vibrant in the world? No…but there are fun gay bars to meet new people, the occasional massive gay party and an increasing number of resources available within the LGBT community.
The Bund

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.

The Bund
gay area Shanghai
Firstly, Chinese nationals use different social networks and search engines than the rest of the world. As we know, Chinese nationals use neither Facebook nor Google.
Combined with the language barrier, this information disconnect makes it difficult for travelers to find information about Shanghai gay events, attractions and other travel advice.
gay area Shanghai
Also, LGBT people in China tend to keep a low profile regarding their sexuality. Given that Chinese law doesn’t protect the LGBT community, gay events in Shanghai don’t create too much of an online presence. I’ll cover this more in the Shanghai gay nightlife section.

Gay Shanghai: Hotels & Where to Stay

With more than 20 million people living in Shanghai’s central area alone, you’ll discover that neighborhood and hotel choices are numerous. Before deciding where to stay in Shanghai, 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 areas usually do not have any convenience stores or restaurants nearby. You may find yourself frustrated without these conveniences you’re likely accustomed to.
Shanghai gay travel stay
Shanghai gay travel stay
Luxury Shanghai hotel

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.

If you stay at a large hotel, this shouldn’t be an issue since they will surely 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.

Luxury Shanghai hotel
I stayed in both an Airbnb and a hotel in Shanghai. Part of my visit was with my boyfriend Michael and we stayed in a hotel close to sites I wanted to visit 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 Shanghai Gay Travelers

Shanghai neighborhoods surrounding People’s Square are generally quite vibrant. Xintiandi is amazingly modern and filled with ex-pats. Xintiandi is your safest bet if you’re prone to feeling comfortable as a foreigner.

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.

Shanghai gay travel neighborhoods
Shanghai gay travel experience
Shanghai gay travel neighborhoods

The part of the Jing’an neighborhood closest to People’s Square is also a great area to stay. Hotels like the JW Marriott Tomorrow Square and the Ritz Carlton Shanghai are here. 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!

Shanghai gay travel experience
While there is a lot of activity during the day, this part of Shanghai doesn’t have as much life out on the street as those mentioned before. However, if you’re staying in one of the grand hotels here, you should have all you need within your accommodations.
Shanghai gay travel experience
Shanghai gay travel experience
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.

Here’s a Shanghai neighborhood map so you can see what I mean.

French Concession Area
French Concession Area
Best neighborhood in Shanghai
I would not say that there is truly a gay area of Shanghai. Even while walking through east Changning, nothing felt ostentatiously gay, as one might expect for a Chinese city.
Best neighborhood in Shanghai

The gay bars are within 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. Here are some of my Shanghai gay travel recommendations.

Nanjing pedestrian street

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.

food Nanjing street Shanghai
food Nanjing street Shanghai
markets Nanjing pedestrian street

You can pretty much do any activity imaginable on Nanjing Road. Browse luxury watches, get a massage, try local desserts, you name it! 

markets Nanjing pedestrian street

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.

Visit Tianzifang

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.
tianzifang shanghai
tianzifang shanghai
tianzifang
Walking through Tianzifang can feel like you’ve been transported back to the western world. Tianzifang’s architecture gives the neighborhood a warm, pleasant feeling. Low-rise buildings, well designed streetscapes and plethora of restaurants make it a place people love to hang out.
tianzifang
While it’s not a place to find authentic Chinese food, Tianzifang is definitely an area to see! Some locals hang out here drinking at the outdoor bars and such. The majority of people in Tianzifang will be foreigners, though.
Shanghai gay travel experience

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 Square
People's Square
People's Park
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.
People's Park
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 Center. If you’re visiting during the cooler months, you may find most people hanging out down here!
Hong Kong Shopping Center

Take the Shanghai Maglev to the Airport

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.

Maglev Shanghai Entrance
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.
Maglev Shanghai Entrance
maglev train china

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.

maglev train china
Like most non-luxury things in China, the Maglev is quite inexpensive. A single ride costs 50 Yuan, or the equivalent of only USD $7. There is no need to buy tickets online beforehand. There is a ticket booth near the platform.

The Bund: Iconic Skyline Views

Shanghai’s iconic skyline views are found along this waterfront promenade. The Bund is one of the most popular places to visit in Shanghai. It’s a place that every traveler has to visit regardless of how tourist-filled it is.
Shanghai gay travel
Bund historic photo
Bund historic photo
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 gay travel
Although you can see the Shanghai skyline across the Huangpu River from the Bund at any time, I recommend going at night. Shanghai’s glistening colors reflect on the water. Make your way toward the area between Huangpu Park and Shanghai People’s Heroes Memorial Tower to take in these views.
the Bund at night
The later in the evening you visit the Bund, the frighted the surroundings will be. This probably depends on the season, but after 7PM or so, lights on the west side of the river (the side you’ll be on) illuminate the streetscape even more.
No matter what time of year it is, expect a crowd at the Bund. I was there in quite cold weather and there were still thousands of people about.
Shanghai Urban Planning Museum

Shanghai Urban Planning Museum

I was completely blown away by the exhibits at the Shanghai Urban Planning Museum. This place was one of the best Museums I have ever visited.
Shanghai Urban Planning Museum
One of the upper floors of the Shanghai Urban Planning Museum has an absolutely stunning, full-floor scaled model of Shanghai. The images on this page simply cannot capture the grandeur of this meticulous model.
Shanghai Urban Planning Museum
Shanghai Urban Planning Museum
Other floors of the museum feature exhibits on urban history, city planning feats, and plans for Shanghai’s future. You can easily spend three hours here.

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.

Shanghai Restaurants

Shanghai Restaurants

Shanghai Restaurants

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!
Sichuan citizen
Martini in Sichuan citizen restaurant
Sichuan citizen

Mercato Shanghai by Jean-Georges

Enjoy a luxurious dining experience at this elegant tapas restaurant with skyline views of the Bund. Mercato serves diving Mediterranean inspired dishes. Part of the Jean-Georges Vongerichten line of restaurants, Mercato received a Michelin star in 2019.
Mercato Shanghai
Mercato Shanghai
Shanghai restaurant

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!

Shanghai restaurant

Starbucks Reserve Shanghai

I stopped by a Starbucks Reserve location to warm up from the chilly November weather. It was actually the first time I’ve been in one of these specialty locations. The high-end coffee was great, but watching them make it was probably even more enjoyable than the drink itself!
Starbucks reserve Shanghai

Shanghai Gay Bars & Parties

Shanghai gay bars are clustered in one area of town, which is on the border of the Changning District and the French Concession.
Shanghai gay nightlife
Shanghai gay nightlife
It is important to know before heading out that Google is not helpful in sorting through the best gay bars to visit in Shanghai. But, I’ll give you the needed info for a fun night out and what to expect.

Lucca 390 & Telephone 6: Shanghai Gay Travel Musts

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 Bar
Lucca 390 is probably the best Shanghai gay bar for foreigners. They warmly welcome travelers and ex-pats. On Saturdays, expect a sizeable crowd ready to dance!
Lucca 390 Bar
Lucca 390 Gay Bar Shanghai

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.

Lucca 390 Gay Bar Shanghai
Telephone 6 gay bar is in the same building. It’s connected to and above Lucca 390. This area of the bar was not open on the night I visited and so I didn’t experience it! There isn’t much other information about Telephone 6 online, however the space is simply a lounge-like room with a bar above Lucca 390.
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Happiness 42 Shanghai (New Location)

A short walk from Lucca 390 is another Shanghai gay bar called Happiness 42. 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.

Shanghai gay travel recommendation

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. Here are the exact coordinates of the bar, so you can bookmark it!

Happiness 42 gay bar
Happiness 42 gay bar
Shanghai gay travel recommendation
I highly recommend grabbing dinner or doing some shopping in the area just around the corner from the Happiness 42 new location. This area, called Panyu Building (West Gate), is a dreamy modern streetscape lined with ice cream shops, boutique stores, restaurants and more. None of this is on Google, but it’s there. I’ve seen it!
being gay in China

Angel: Biggest Shanghai Gay Dance 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.

Shanghai gay party
Take note that these types of gay parties in Shanghai may only host events sporadically. It’s possible they go many months without organizing an event.
Angel gay party
Shanghai gay party
Angel gay party

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!

Shanghai Gay Travel Tips for Visiting Bars

The gay bars in Shanghai are predominantly busy on weekends. During the work week you will experience more of a calm night of casual drinks in lieu of a rowdy dancefloor escape. If you’re looking for a crowd, then Friday night or Saturday night is best.
Shanghai gay bar
Shanghai gay bar
Shanghai gay travel 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. 

Shanghai gay travel bars

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

Lastly, many gay locals in Shanghai prefer to keep their gay 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.
Privacy in China

This general importance for privacy is also common in Japanese society. For example, some bars and restaurants in Tokyo and Kyoto do not allow foreigners to enter.

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.

Google Maps China
Shanghai gay travel
Google Maps China
Shanghai gay travel
Going to mainland China will truly test your ability to live without plentiful help from Google. Yes, you will still be able to use Google Maps and all of Google’s platforms while in China. You just have to download a VPN application.

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. 

Shanghai Taxi
Most importantly, transportation via taxis in Shanghai is difficult because rideshare applications will not work unless you have a Chinese bank account. DiDi is the main rideshare 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.
people walking near People's Square
Shanghai Taxi
people walking near People's Square
It took me a bit of time to realize that Shanghai taxi cabs don’t stop just anywhere. They can only pull over on certain streets, or in the pickup area or driveway of a building. A yellow curb will be an indication that they cannot stop. I had to walk quite a bit to find a place where taxis stopped.

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. 

City streets at night
City streets at night
glowing pedestrian walkway
glowing pedestrian walkway

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.

Shanghai gay travel nightlife
Shanghai gay travel nightlife

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

While mainland China currently lacks basic LGBT protections, the quality of life for LGBT Chinese citizens has certainly improved since China’s Communist Cultural Revolution. During this time, China classified homosexuality as a mental illness.
Peoples Park
From then, Chinese society progressed toward treating homosexuality as taboo, eventually reaching today’s state of ambiguous tolerance.

Interesting LGBT Rights Milestones in China

Between 1994 and 2009, the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association applied repeatedly to be a member of the UN Economic and Social Council. China voted against their inclusion on various occasions.
Drag queen in China
Shanghai gay travel
Drag queen in China
After an additional application in 2009, China changed its position, and joined eight other nations in supporting ILGBTA’s inclusion. This was a close vote, and China helped make a big difference.

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? A Background for the Shanghai Gay Traveler

It is not illegal to be gay in China, as the nation decriminalized homosexuality in 1997. A stigma certainly continues to exist, though. As reported in the South China Morning Post, China’s policymakers in Beijing declined to extend any marriage rights to the gay community. Sadly, China is not progressing in the realm of marriage equality.
Shanghai gay travel
For now, there is a legal workaround. Those married overseas can exercise certain legal rights that would otherwise not be available for a gay couple 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).

Martini in Sichuan citizen restaurant
Shanghai gay travel experience
Sichuan restaurant
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.
Sichuan restaurant
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 formed during this time.
Shanghai skyline
Shanghai skyline
being gay in China
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.
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