The Ultimate Gay
Shanghai is China at its most dizzyingly modern, with jaw-dropping skyscrapers, young trendy crowds, and a vibrant nightlife to rival some of Asia’s biggest party hubs. However, …
It is also rich in history and tradition, from the elegant colonial architecture of The Bund to beautiful temples and narrow winding lanes serving steaming hot street food. There is perhaps no better place to understand the past, present, and future of China than Shanghai, and it is an equally great destination for eating, shopping, exploring, and partying.
For the gay traveler, Shanghai is home to the country’s most progressive and gay-friendly nightlife, with plenty of gay bars, clubs, and saunas to enjoy. It is at the heart of China’s emerging LGBT movement, as evidenced by the fact that it is home to the country’s only major Pride event every June. Gay Shanghai is extremely condensed for the biggest city in the world, but on the bright side that means you know exactly where to go.
Essentials for Gay Shanghai
Gay Shanghai Nightlife
Shanghai is miles ahead of any other city in mainland China in terms of gay nightlife, though it still lags behind other Asian cities like Bangkok. There are a few great gay bars and clubs, plenty of gay-friendly mixed venues, and a strong local gay community that frequents them.
Whilst not really a “Gay Area”, the hub of gay Shanghai is located in the Changing district, albeit at the very edge of it, next to the French Concession area. This makes it very easy to mix gay and straight bars on a night out, which is particularly handy if you are traveling with straight friends. Gay-friendly mixed bars in the area include Smash and DADA. A bit further north in Jing’an, Roxie is one of the city’s only lesbian bars, and welcomes everyone.
A few iconic gay Shanghai venues in Changing recently shut down, such as the large PinkHome complex and its disco Club Deep. Other popular spots like Eddy’s Bar, G8, Asia Blue, and D2 have either reopened with another identity or closed altogether.
However, plenty of options remain, many of them grouped close together. Happiness 42 (formerly Shanghai Studio) is one of the most popular places for a drink and a dance on Friday nights, and is located next to H42 gay sauna. Lucca 390 is quiet and friendly during the day and on weeknights, turning into a popular club night on weekends: expect a young crowd with plenty of foreigners. Upstairs, British-themed Telephone 6 has great decor and cocktails, as well as private rooms available. RICE bar, located a few blocks away, is a relaxed Japanese-style bar that is good for meeting new people, both local and foreign.
A short walk away, closer to the French Concession, Lollipop Bar & Lounge offers sleek designer surroundings, top-notch cocktails, and an eclectic playlist, tailor-made for conversation. Come on a Thursday to be served by their resident topless model bartender.
In the Northernmost part of Jing’an, you will find Bandai Namco Shanghai Base, a massive concert venue that is home to most ANGEL parties. These are the closest to a gay megaclub experience you will get in Shanghai, with legendary parties hosted year-long featuring international DJ’s, dancers, and state-of-the-art lighting and effects. Check out ANGEL’s social media to find out about their events, and try to hit up one of their HEAVEN parties during your stay.
For a more unique and subdued experience, head to the slightly run-down Lai Lai Dance Hall in the northeastern Hongkou district. A longstanding refuge for the city’s closeted gay scene, this is not so much a club as a place for older men – many married – to be themselves and dance to Chinese pop tunes for a bit. Foreigners are welcome – and will be probably asked to dance – but you should be respectful of the vibe.
1st Night in Shanghai
The hub of gay Shanghai is located in the French Concession area of Changing district. Most gay nights start off in the French Concession and at some point in end up in Lucca 390, Shanghai’s most popular gay club. Happiness 42 is one of the most popular places for a drink and a dance on Fridays. Lucca 390 is quiet and friendly during weeknights, turning into a popular club night on weekends.
Gay Shanghai Saunas
As the most gay-friendly city in China, Shanghai has a number of exclusive gay saunas and clubs throughout the city. These tend to have a mixed crowd of locals, expats and tourists of all ages. Most are open 24 hours and offer full spa facilities as well as private cabins. Bring your own condoms and lube if you are planning to use these, and not all spas will have them on offer.
The largest sauna is Ding Lin Men’s Club, which requires signing up for a membership. H42 Sauna is another popular choice, conveniently located next to several gay bars and clubs.
Our Play Guide contains more detailed information on the gay saunas and clubs around Shanghai.
Shanghai’s Best Gay Friendly Hotels
Many gay visitors choose to stay in the French Concession area as it offers a good compromise between tourist activities and gay Shanghai nightlife. From true 5 star luxury to backpacker hostels Shanghai has it all..
As a general rule, you should not struggle to find gay-friendly accommodation in Shanghai. Most places welcome same-sex couples when booking double rooms, but opt for international chains if you want to be sure. Stay in the French Concession area for a good compromise between tourist activities and gay Shanghai nightlife.
There are accommodation options for all budgets. Because hotels tend to be relatively cheap for Western standards, many travelers opt to stay in nicer hotels that would be outside their budget in another country: a standard room in a high-end hotel will run you about ¥1000 (approximately $160) a night. Look for luxury hotels around The Bund, boutique stays in the French Concession, or incredible skyline views in Pudong.
However, if you are wanting to socialize and party, a backpacker hostel is probably the best choice. They also tend to have more English-speaking staff, and will be able to point you towards a good time. A dorm bed will usually cost about ¥70-¥90 ($10-£15), and there are a few great hostels not too far from the gay Shanghai hubs: Rock & Wood International Youth Hostel is a quiet and laid-back option a mere 15-20 minute walk from the grouping of gay bars and clubs in Changning.
Alternatively, there are quite a few budget options near The Bund, which is ideal if you want to stay close to the tourist spots. Bear in mind that while there is a friendly and varied backpacker crowd, hostels in China tend to be a more chill affair than some of the party hostels seen in Europe and Southeast Asia. Still, they are a great place to meet travelers with whom you can go out and enjoy the nightlife.
Check out our Sleep Guide to gay Shanghai to see our recommended hotels.
China’s Gay Apps
The main three most popular gay dating apps in Shanghai are Blued, Aloha and Grindr. Blued is the Chinese version of Grindr. Aloha is more similar to Tinder with some Instagram features. Grindr can be used when the online censorship allows.
First time in Shanghai?
Gays and the Law
Same-sex sexual activity was legalized in China in 1997, and homosexuality was declassified as a mental illness in 2001. Same-sex marriage remains illegal, and a large number of Chinese gay men remain closeted due to societal pressures.
The authorities in Shanghai are not particularly gay-friendly, but they will most likely not give you a hard time. The locals do not tend to be homophobic, particularly the young, trendy crowd you are likely to see in areas like the French Concession and Jing’an. It is relatively normal for heterosexual men to hold hands, so a certain level of PDA will go by unnoticed. Overall, you are not likely to be hassled, but be discreet unless you are in a gay space.
Getting tested in Shanghai
Getting tested for HIV in Shanghai can be a bit tricky, but is not too complicated if you know where to go. Avoid big international clinics, as they require a consultation – including a discussion of lifestyle choices – as well as your name and passport number to be registered. Patients tested positive for HIV will also have their visa revoked.
Instead, go to a public hospital and ask for an Aids test. Time Out has compiled a detailed – and very handy – guide to HIV testing in Shanghai public hospitals, including where to go, what to say, and the speed, discretion, and friendliness of the service.
China’s rate of HIV infection is 5-6%, but rises to 20% amongst the highest-risk groups, which include the patrons of gay saunas and brothels. 30% of new HIV infections in the country are reported to come from male gay sex. Condoms are easily found in shops throughout the city; lube can be a bit harder to find but is still available.
Area’s of Shanghai
Despite probably being the most gay-friendly city in mainland China, Shanghai does not have a defined “Gay District”. Gay venues are spread out across the city, except for the Changning District, which is the closest thing to a Gay Shanghai area.
French Concession – The trendiest and most sophisticated area of the city, this is where Shanghai’s affluent youth go to let their hair down. It has the highest concentration of bars and clubs in the city, with plenty of gay-friendly places that you can enjoy with straight friends. The gay bars of Changing District (see below) are very close…
Changning District – The suburban west of the city is mainly a business and residential area, and does not have much to offer for the regular tourist. It does however contain the main hub of Gay Shanghai, with popular destinations like Lucca, Happiness 42, and Telephone 6 just a stone’s throw away from each other. Stay nearby to be at the heart of the gay Shanghai scene while still being close to the more tourist-friendly French Concession.
Jing’an – North of the French Concession lies Jing’an, a harmonious blend of high-end luxury and traditional architecture. It is home to gay Shanghai’s famous ANGEL parties: massive, state-of-the-art dance parties that welcome international DJs and crowds of local and international gay men.
The Bund & People’s Square – The tourist heart of the city, with the main attraction being the iconic Bund, a curving riverside promenade. Best for museum hopping and shopping, there is not much here specifically for the gay traveler, except for a gay spa near People’s Square, Shanghai ThaiLand Health Club.
Pudong – Shanghai’s gleaming modern mecca, lined with famous and unique skyscrapers. Nothing here catering to gay nightlife, but this is the place for sipping cocktails on dizzying rooftop terraces alongside Shanghai’s business elite. It is also home to Shanghai’s brand-new Disneyland resort, which opened in 2016.
Hongkou – A grittier area of the city, often ignored by tourists. However, it is home to a few gay spas as well as one of Gay Shanghai – and Gay China’s – most iconic venues, the Lai Lai Dance Hall.
Getting around Shanghai
From Pudong International Airport – Zoom into central Pudong on a high-speed Maglev (magnetic levitation) train to Lonyang Station or a Metro 2 to Guanglan Road: in both cases, you will have to make a switch to reach Puxi (the other side of the river, where most attractions are). Alternatively, Airport buses run direct to the city center, but tend to take longer, particularly if you are traveling during rush hour. A taxi will cost you around ¥160, but the price will again depend on traffic.
From Hongqiao International Airport – Closer to central Shanghai than Pudong, and connected to key areas in the city by Metro lines 2 and 10 (10 only for Terminal 1). Multiple buses are available to reach various areas of the city, most of them running until late at night. A taxi to the Bund will cost about ¥100.
Metro – Shanghai’s metro system is extensive, comfortable, and reliable, and will be your best friend during your time in the city. However, it closes at 10:30 or 11pm, meaning it is not really an option for nightlife. For either airport, it is best to take the metro when you are flying out of the city: you don’t want to be late for your flight because you were stuck in Shanghai traffic.
Taxi – Taxis are your best option for traveling to and from nightclubs and bars. They are plentiful and generally affordable, but a more expensive rate applies between 11 pm and 5 am. You can either hail one from the street (look for ones with an illuminated sign) or get one at a taxi rank, which are common around nightlife hubs.
Bus – Shanghai has an extensive bus network that reaches the areas not covered by the metro. However, they tend to get stuck in traffic and are difficult to navigate if you do not speak Mandarin.
Bicycle – Renting a bike is a good way to explore a neighborhood, but do not expect to make your way around the whole city on two wheels: we are talking about the biggest city in the world.
Walking – Same goes. Walk around areas to get a feel of them, but do not underestimate the distances between districts. You can easily walk between venues within the Gay Shanghai area of Changning.