Beijing often hogs the limelight as China’s cultural nexus but, for what is essentially a town of wheelers and dealers, Shanghai is surprisingly creative. The nation’s top artists, writers, movie-makers and musicians converge here, making this the place to take the pulse of China’s ever-evolving cultural scene. Many art galleries are exciting, offering a window onto contemporary Chinese concerns, while nightlife options have exploded. Acrobatics shows are always a favourite and you might grab the chance to catch some Chinese opera. Shanghai’s music and club scene is vibrant: from unpretentious jazz and indie venues to all-night hip-hop and electro dance parties, the city swings with the best of them.
China is famously fixated with food but do yourself a favour and exchange your meagre local Chinatown menu for the lavish Middle Kingdom cookbook. Wolf down Peking duck, size up a sizzling lamb kebab in Kāifēng or gobble down a bowl of Lánzhōu noodles on the Silk Road. Spicy Húnán food really raises the temperature but find time for momo (boiled dumplings), tsampa (roasted barley flour porridge) and other titbits from Tibet. Impress your friends as you gānbēi (down-in-one) the local firewater, sip a frozen daiquiri in a slick Běijīng bar or survey the Shànghǎi skyline through a raised cocktail glass. Second to none, the never-ending culinary adventure is possibly the most enticing aspect of Middle Kingdom travel and you’ll come back from China with highly stimulated taste buds and much-cherished gastronomic memories.