A City Break to the East: Dubai vs Shanghai

When I’m seeking a city break with some extra pizzazz, I look to the East to the sprawling and eclectic continent of Asia. Home to over 40 countries, with a huge variety of cities to suit every type of city break, there are so many I love to visit. But when I want excitement, energy, and extravagant luxury, it has to be Shanghai or Dubai. Shanghai and Dubai were both historically known for being small pearl trade towns, but both have grown rapidly from mere small cities to booming, world-renowned metropolises. There is so much to see and do in these fabulous cities, but which is my top choice for an Eastern city break?


Dubai and Shanghai are modern cities, with dazzling skyscrapers, exquisite malls, and impressive modes of transport, and while both are shiny and new, they each have a rich history. They are both financial hubs, and revenue is drawn in through tourism and trade, and whilst Shanghai is still known for its pearls, Dubai is known for its spices!

Do look down in Dubai!
Both cities are also home to large expat communities, which has influenced the diversity of these places, from the food to the architecture, and has had an impact in making these some of the more westernised cities of Asia and the UAE.

Dubai and Shanghai are iconic shopping meccas, where designer and luxury stores reign and in Dubai, the malls are one of the main tourist attractions. The Mall of the Emirates in Dubai is a dazzling super-mall, home to hundreds of luxury stores, as well as restaurants, hotels, theatres and even a ski resort. You could spend your entire trip here! Meanwhile, Shanghai’s Xintiandi is the leading lifestyle landmark in the city. Here visitors can enjoy vibrant culture and entertainment, and it is the hub of the city’s trendiest shopping, dining, and nightlife. Xiantindi plaza is a shining shopping mall much like the Mall of the Emirates, but the Xiantiandi district has a bit more character than the modern mall of Dubai.

Both cities host incredible modern architecture, alongside traditional and historical buildings, and Dubai is even cooler from above! Take a trip up the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, in Dubai and gaze down over this unique and impressive metropolis. Meanwhile, in Shanghai enjoy a stroll along the water and take in panoramic views of The Bund, where the famous Western-style buildings that were built in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries soften the skyline with architectural styles from Neoclassical to Beaux-Arts to Gothic to Baroque.

Both cities are impressive demonstrations of rapid growth, with a focus on luxury and modernity at their hearts. But whilst Dubai is otherworldly in its modernity, Shanghai still has beautiful reminders of its rich history in between the new.

And while Dubai’s shopping malls are unparalleled in their facilities, Shanghai’s Xiantindi district has a bit more character and personality. So, for me, Shanghai wins this round with a 9/10 for scenery and culture, and Dubai an 8/10, (there really is no place like it.)
Sunsets here will make you feel (Shang)hai!

Food and restaurants

An extravagant lifestyle comes with luxurious food, so the dining options are diverse and plentiful. With everything from cheap eats and food tours to high-end and Michelin star restaurants featuring world-renowned chefs, both these cities have a lot to offer when it comes to dining.

In Shanghai there is nowhere better to dine than The Bund. You can’t beat fantastic dining alongside stunning views! One of the most exquisite dining experiences on The Bund is at, The Chop Chop Social Club. Chef Paul Pairet’s multi-sensory dining experience is highly sought after, but with bookings needed months in advance, this is one for the lucky few! You can’t visit Shanghai without a meal at the iconic M on the Bund. It is something of a Shanghai institution, and the kind of place you can bring friends to really show off the character of the city, and perhaps even spot a celebrity! Enjoy a meal on the beautiful roof terrace with unbridled views of The Bund.

Dubai’s food scene is just as impressive, and much like Shanghai, there are restaurants serving virtually every national cuisine, including Dubai’s own Arabic delights. Dubai is known for hosting world renowned chefs and Nathan Outlaw at Al Mahara is one of the best spots to dine in Dubai.

The Bund is buzzing!
Enjoy exquisite seafood dishes in this unique setting of a vast aquarium! Al Hadheerah in The Bab Al Shams Desert Resort & Spa is best for fine dining under the stars in this remote location amongst the sand dunes. Here, fourteen live cooking stations serve up authentic Middle Eastern cuisine while guests enjoy live entertainment.


Many travellers may not know that despite cultural sensitivities, Shanghai and Dubai both have an incredible nightlife scene. One that respects culture, and keeps to class, expect lavish surroundings to be injected into every kind of night-time activity.

Matching the fast pace of the day, and buzzing with young professionals, Shanghai’s nightlife is electric. Meanwhile, where extravagance knows no bounds, Dubai’s nightlife is equally as enchanting.

From seriously cool bars, rooftop terraces, and underground speakeasies, both cities have it all. One of my favourites in Shanghai is Bar Rouge atop Bund 18. Everything here is red, from the furnishings to the atmosphere, and with a spacious roof terrace overlooking the city, this go-to venue really has it all. The Geisha is also a popular concept club featuring three floors, to enjoy Japanese food and cocktails, a nightclub, sake lounge and of course, a roof terrace.

Dubai is known for its extravagant happy hours and ladies’ nights where women can enjoy selected free drinks. There is no air of restriction here! One of my favourite spots is the beachfront bar, Masti. The name roughly translates to ‘fun,’ and you’ll find plenty of that in this colourful and vibrant spot! For insta-worthy views of The Palm and sumptuous cocktails, head to the rooftop bar, Twenty-Three and watch the sun set as you sip your tipple.

With so many options for every kind of night-time party-goer, both cities leave you spoilt for choice when it comes to nightlife. I love the lap of luxury mixed with unique and vibrant energy in both cities, so they come out equal in this round, both scoring 10/10, for style, variety, and glamour.
Dubai is dizzyingly cool!


Both Shanghai and Dubai are, unsurprisingly, home to a huge range of high-end accommodation options.

In Dubai, extravagance is limitless when it comes to lodgings. The One and Only Royal Mirage Resort at Jumeirah Beach, features seafront views, gourmet restaurants and facilities that include three swimming pools and tennis courts. Jumeirah Dar Al Masyaf is a beautiful hotel set amongst zen gardens and waterways and features its own private beach. For classic luxury, book a room at the iconic Mandarin Oriental.

Whilst Dubai may trump Shanghai when it comes to its number of lavish hotels, Shanghai has a wider selection of boutique hotels alongside the larger luxury accommodations. Capella Shanghai boasts beautifully furnished villas set in a private courtyard, where guests can enjoy a drink on the rooftop balcony or browse the history books in the Capella library. Wand Reign on The Bund is an art-deco hotel with breath-taking views, or book a room at The Drama. Here rooms are named after Shakespeare’s plays and infused with theatrical elements.

With more options from the cool and quirky to classic luxury, Shanghai wins this round for me.

Hang out in Huangpu!
The hotels in Dubai are undeniably impressive, but it’s nice to have a range of unique options when embarking on a city break, and Shanghai’s boutique hotels provide both accessibility and individuality. Shanghai finishes here with a score of 10/10 and Dubai 9/10, as you’ll never be short of options in either city!





  • Cool and quirky food and nightlife options
  • Old and new architecture makes for a beautiful skyline
  • Shanghai’s rich history can be felt in the character of the city today
  • You can find pearls of every colour here!
  • Dubai has the best shopping malls in the world
  • Luxury is limitless in Dubai
  • The view from the Burj Khalifa is unparalleled
  • Dubai’s food scene is incredible


  • Shanghai is a crowded city, and traffic can be ‘challenging’
  • Smog can be as bad as Los Angeles in the 1970s
  • Dubai can be hotter than a furnace
  • So much modern luxury can feel impersonal at times


So which Eastern city is my favourite for an electric city break? When it comes to the numbers Shanghai comes out on top with a total score of 9.5/10 and Dubai is close behind at 8.9/10. Both are truly incredible and energetic cities, and both have a unique character of their own. Whilst Shanghai is my top choice this time, I cannot deny my love for Dubai!

Make time to go to both and you won’t regret it!





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