Shanghai is a cosmopolitan city, which in its halcyon days of the 1930s, was known as the ‘Paris of the Orient’. Keen to learn about its history, I visit China’s most globalised city to admire its preserved heritage buildings as well as contemporary architecture.
The vibrant city is the face of the new China and now one of the world’s most vibrant cities. I appreciated this from the Bund that runs along the western bank of the Huangpu River.
Things to do in Shanghai
One way to discover Shanghai’s main attractions is on an open-topped Big Bus Tour. I was told that the city’s revitalisation started some years before 2010 when it was the home of the World Expo. Many new projects were implemented for the international crowds that flocked to Shanghai during the Expo.
Get oriented on a Big Bus Tour.
One of Shanghai’s appealing qualities is that much of the downtown is compact and can be explored on foot. I walked the Bund to see the locals exercising and tourists admiring the grand heritage buildings and the futuristic ones across the river in Pudong. Most impressive were the ornate ceilings and old fashioned teller banking in the former Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank Building (now the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank).
The Bund is one of the best places in Shanghai for people-watching.
One of the Busiest Ports in the World
One of the ways to appreciate Shanghai’s busy port is to ride a ferry down the river. Back on land, the Shanghai Museum in People’s Square is the place for culture vultures. The museum, shaped like a bronze cooking wok, showcases Chinese art and antiquities. From People’s Square, I used the viaduct to access Nanjing Road for all its retail delights.
The Huangpu River
One of the precincts I had heard a lot about and wanted to explore was the former French Concession. Here, Zhou Enlai’s (China’s first Premier) bungalow and garden is open for visitation and I couldn’t help but think I was in parts of Paris.
Aerial view of the French Concession
Another delight is to discover Shanghai’s old longtangs (alleyways), which are marked by stone gates or shikumen. Head to Tianzifang or Xiantiandi, where old houses are now smart boutiques and cafés. Cité Bourgogne, built by the French in 1930, remains intact.
On the other side of the river, the skyline of Pudong is dominated by the towering Oriental Pearl Tower and Jin Mao Building. Pudong now has millions of residents but it only dates back 15 years or so when a decision was made to develop it as China’s financial centre.
Disneyland also appeals to families and the young. Race fans know it as the home of the Chinese FI Grand Prix Race at the Shanghai International Circuit.
A Night on the Town
Xiantiandi is a trendy area of converted old buildings. The Bund is a popular precinct with many several dining and smart bars. Diners come and go quickly so make sure that restaurant you’ve heard about is still open.
I enjoyed visiting Ferguson Lane in the former French Concession to enjoy French cuisine (The Bistrot is considered one of Asia’s best French restaurants) and bars. Xinjiang Moslem noodle shops, where hand-pulled noodles are served in a beef broth, are identified by their blue signage. While Starbucks is available, there are many local coffee concepts. Visitors can relive old Shanghainese days with afternoon tea in the Jasmine Lounge of the Fairmont Peace Hotel.
Dine in the trendy French Concession
For dining with elevated views, try international cuisines in the revolving Epicure on 45 in the Radisson Blu Shanghai New World. Li Palace Cantonese delights are served in the elegant surroundings of the Radisson Blu Plaza Xing Guo Hotel. Large establishments like hotels add a service surcharge of 15% onto the bill.
City Night Life
Cloud 9 on the 88th floor of the towering Jinmao Tower is considered the highest bar in the world. For Oriental Bohemia, check out Yin Yang (YYs) on Nanchang Rd. Yong Foo Elite in the French Concession is a heritage bar and restaurant located in the leafy surrounds of the former British Consul’s residence.
The French Concession is one of the trendiest parts of the city.
Shanghai offers a very glamorous nightlife. While those in the know head to the trendy bars in Xintiandi or French Concession districts, there are many excellent downtown venues too. One of the city’s most impressive bars is Sky Dome Bar at the Radisson Blu Hotel Shanghai New World. Located on level 47 at the rooftop glass dome, this bar is special in offering an elevated and revolving view of the skyline.
Enjoy live music in one of many clubs.
Shopping in Shanghai
Serial shoppers head straight to Nanjing Road, considered one of the world’s most impressive shopping precincts. It extends for over six kilometres with an estimated 600 shops with some sections being exclusively pedestrian precincts.
Nanjing Road’s pedestrian shopping precinct.
Appreciate old Shanghai by taking a walk through Xintiandi or visit Nan Fang Curio Market for shopping delights including vintage clothes, old teapots and Chinese goods.
Seek out antiques in local markets.
Aerial view of Nanjing Road
Where to Stay in Shanghai
Shanghai has many international hotel chains represented and some emerging Chinese properties. I cannot recommend the boutique Radisson Blu Plaza Xing Guo Hotel Shanghai enough. This impressive location is a semi-private garden located within the French Concession.
Room in the Radisson Blu Plaza Xingguo Hotel Shanghai.
For a central hotel near People’s Park on Nanjing Road, check out Radisson Blu Hotel Shanghai New World. Facilities here include a spa, indoor heated pool, private mahjong rooms, and a virtual golf course.
Hotel Pullman Shanghai Skyway.
Practical Info: Plan Your Visit
Best Time to visit Shanghai
The spring months are mild and rainy, while July and August are very hot. Autumn is widely regarded as the best time to visit, with temperatures in the mid-twenties and clear skies. After that, it can get freezing cold in winter.
Tourists on the Bund
International flights arrive into Pudong International Airport Pudong and Shanghai or synonymous). Travel into the city by taxi (30km) or the Maglev train (speeds up to 350km/hour and only eight minutes to reach eastern Shanghai). From here, use the city metro. Get around in metered taxis or use the efficient Metro. Alternatively, go local, hire a bike and hit the streets.