Shanghai... A place where East meets West... Old meets New... This Pearl of the East is China's business and financial center and one of the world's most vibrant cities. Even though Shanghai does not have the historical treasures that Beijing has to offer, or the amazing archaeological discoveries of Xian, a trip to Shanghai is a trip into the future of this nation. It is here that the sharp contrasts of an ancient culture trying to cope with progress and the promise of the future are more evident.
This is such a dynamic city, it is a city for wandering... catching glimpses of ancient traditions and customs as you stroll the Old Town, enjoying a respite at a teahouse or a savory dumpling feast.
And just across the river in total contrast is the ultra-modern skyscrapers and the everchanging iconic Shanghai skyline, symbol of the city's triumphs and ambitions.
And in between your wanderings of the past and the future, there's so much more... the old colonial landmarks, the leafy backstreets of the French Concession, and the river... the best place to witness the pulse and dynamism of Shanghai.
So let's get started!
1. Stroll The Bund
The Bund is the grand riverside boulevard lined with the landmark colonial buildings and well-preserved Art Deco gems that are at the heart of colonial Shanghai. Besides the stunning architecture, The Bund faces Shanghai's most iconic views, the modern and futuristic Pudong business district skyline accross the river which you can admire all along the wide promenade.
Up and About The Bund:
- Most remarkable colonial buildings you should not miss include the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank, the Bank of China building, the Customs House, the Former Bank of Communications and the grand old Peace Hotel.
- The Riverside Promenade that runs along the Bund is the perfect place for a stroll, people watching and that fantastic instagram worthy snapshot of the modern Shanghai skyline. It is also a great spot in the morning for watching the locals practicing their Tai Chi.
- Running perpendicular to The Bund is one of Shanghai's main shopping streets, Nanjing East Road. Even if you are not into shopping, a visit to this pedestrianized street is fun specially at night when all the glary neon signs come on. Nanjing East Road will lead you to the heart of the city, People's Square and the Shanghai Museum, the one museum in Shanghai you should not miss if you are into Chinese art and history as it houses some of the best cultural relics spanning a period of over 5,000 years.
- Evening spot: Enjoy cocktails and fantastic views at the Fairmont Peace hotel Jazz bar with its air of pre-revolutionary Shanghai. Even better, combine an evening of jazz with a VIP River Cruise.
- More evening spots: Shanghai Luxury Bar Crawl in 5-star Hotel or Boutique Hotel with skip-the-line entry, drink specials, cover charges to your choice of three of the most exclusive spots in the city. The hand-picked rooftop bars in the Bund side offer stunning views of the Pudong skyline and include La Terraza at Bvlgari Hotel, Wet Bar at the W, Sir Elly's Terrace at the Peninsula Hotel, the Long Bar at the Waldorf Astoria.
Fun ways to see The Bund
2. A Visit To The Old Town and YuYuan Gardens and Bazaar
The Old Town is the most "traditional Chinese" part of town. And this is where you find the Yu Yuan Gardens, an example of traditional Ming garden design, built over 400 years ago by a government officer, Pan Yunduan, for his parents' enjoyment in their old age.
The basic four elements of a traditional Chinese garden are
- plants and
And here at the Yu Yuan Gardens, all four elements are carefully interwoven, creating a strikingly beautiful space right
in the middle of the city and which are a delight for a morning or afternoon stroll as you wander through courtyards, fish ponds, bridges, rock gardens, moon gates and pavilions, all of which have been painstakingly restored.
Surrounding the gardens is the Yu Yuan Bazaar, one of the many Shanghai market areas full of shops, restaurants, tea houses, housed in relatively newer "old style looking" buildings. The shops and stalls are full of all sorts of trinkets. This is a very "touristy spot", there's even Starbucks to enjoy an iced latte... But it is a good time for all as the kids enjoy haggling with the vendors, Grandma hits paydirt at the jade shops, Grandpa heads straight to the dumpling stalls and you are certainly likely to find all sorts of souvenirs, paper cuttings, book marks and the like to bring home.
In the evening, the Gardens and Bazaar area are beautifully illuminated, all the buildings are covered with lights. Particularly during important holidays like Chinese New Year or the Mid-Autumn Festival, this is a wonderful spot to soak in the revelry of the festivities as the place will be covered with lanterns, lights and auspicious decorations.
Tips for visiting the Yu Yuan Gardens: During peak times it gets crowded, the gardens were not built to accomodate the influx of visitors it receives every day. Go early or in the late afternoon.
Up and About The Old Town:
- Explore the backstreets of the Old Town for a glimpse of traditional Chinese life, the old Shanghai, the incense-laden temples, overhanging laundry, narrow lanes...
- Just a short walk from the YuYuan Gardens you find the City God Temple with its beautifully carved ceilings, a Taoist temple quite frequented by followers who come to pay respects to the diverse deities. The area surrounding the temple is also a good place for souvenir and trinket shopping or to grab a quick snack
Most Popular Old Town Excursions
3. Admire The Pudong Futuristic Skyline
The face of modern Shanghai is represented in Shanghai's newest District, the District of Pudong which not long ago used to be farm land. In 1990, it acquired the status of Special Economic Zone and investment started pouring in. Today, Pudong has become a vast business district and China's financial center. It is home to over 300 of the Global Fortune 500 companies (another 100 reside on the other side of the river) and the Shanghai Stock Exchange.
The Shanghai Skyline with its ever-changing landscape has come to represent the dynamism of this nation.
A stroll through the district is a whirlwind tour of Shanghai's most notorious buildings and stunning architecture, high speed elevators, revolving restaurants, viewing platforms with dazzling vistas, cocktails and dining among the clouds...
Up and About the Pudong District:
- The most recognizable landmark of the modern Shanghai skyline is the Oriental Pearl TV Tower. With the three iconic metallic spheres that are supposed to resemble jewels, it is a vast entertainment center consisting of multimedia shows, VR roller coasters, revolving restaurants, a "Space Capsule", the Shanghai History Museum, and of course observation decks including a glass-bottomed observatory. Buy tickets in advance for the Oriental Pearl TV Tower and skip the line, you can also book admission and lunch, dinner or tea at the revolving restaurant.
- Pudong is also home to the world's first adjacent grouping of three supertall buildings: The Jin Mao Tower, the Shanghai World Financial Center and the Shanghai Tower.
- The Jin Mao Tower, the oldest of the trio, is home to offices, the Grand Hyatt Hotel, an observation deck and a Skywalk. With 88 (lucky) floors, it was once the tallest building in China. The enormous atrium is magnificent. Buy discount tickets in advance for the Jin Mao Tower 88th Floor Viewing Platform and skip the line. You can also enjoy a cocktail at Cloud 9, the Grand Hyatt's Bar on the 87th Floor, one of the highest bars in the world with splendid 360 degree views of the city.
- The Shanghai World Financial Center with 101 floors, is home to a host of international companies, the Park Hyatt Shanghai, conference rooms, shopping malls, a vertical garden and naturally observation decks. This is the building with the "bottle opener" top and this is where the observation deck which consists of three different levels is found, on the floors just above and below the aperture.
- The Shanghai Tower is currently the tallest skyscraper in China with 128 floors and second tallest in the world after the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.
The Shanghai Tower with its stunning twisting cylindrical design holds nine indoor zones providing public space for visitors featuring atriums, gardens, cafés, restaurants, retail space and panoramic views of the city. It currently offers office space, a shopping mall, a luxury hotel from the J-Hotel group (coming soon), restaurants, a concert hall and the highest Post Office in the world.
Shanghai Pudong Skyline Highlights
|Oriental Pearl TV Tower
||1st Sphere Outdoor Deck - 90 meters
2nd Sphere Glass Bottomed Observatory - 259 meters
2nd Sphere Sightseeing Galleria - 263 meters
|Multimedia Show, Space Capsule, 2nd Sphere Revolving Restaurant, Shanghai History Museum, VR Roller Coaster
|Jin Mao Tower
|88th Floor Observation Deck
Grand Hyatt Hotel Shanghai - Cloud 9 Bar on the 87th Floor
|Shanghai World Financial Center
|94th Floor - 423 meters
97th Floor - 439 meters
100th Floor - 474 meters
Park Hyatt Hotel Shanghai - on the 87th Floor, the Living Room for afternoon tea and Champagne at sunset
or cocktails at Music Room on the 92nd Floor
|118th - 119th Floors "Top of Shanghai" Observatory - 562 meters
||Multimedia Exhibition, highest Post Office in the world (at the Observatory)
4. Enjoy A Huangpu River Cruise
A Huangpu River Cruise is probably the best place to witness the pulse and dynamism of Shanghai.
The Huangpu river extends for 110 km (68 miles) from its source in Dianshan Lake to its intersection with the Yangtze River about 17 miles downstream from the city.
During the day, you can see the activity bustling from the docks. Nearly a third of China's trade enters through here.
There is lots of riverfront activity at this permanent rush hour water traffic venue. Freighters cruise along barges, junks and sampans.
At night, it is an amazing spectacle of lights... From the Bund and heart of colonial Shanghai, to the fantastic sights of Pudong's futuristic skyline...
Cruises depart from the Bund every 30 minutes and last one hour.
5. Hang Out At The French Concession: Xintiandi and Tianzifang
The former French Concession is one of the most visited parts of Shanghai and a very walkable part of town. The tree-lined avenues and old 1920s villas once occupied by foreign powers and reminiscent of a typical French town can still be admired as much remains despite constant modernization and redevelopment efforts. This is now the hip part of town where historical legacies coexist with a sleek and trendy vibe.
This is where you come to chill, people watch, enjoy an al fresco lunch or dinner, stroll the lanes bursting with ritzy boutiques, galleries, art shops, and admire the old Shikumen architecture, the historic houses with stone-framed entrances.
Up and About the French Concession:
- Xintiandi is a fashionable pedestrian complex offering a mix of old and new styles with historical Shikumen which have been rebuilt, a thriving
restaurant and bar scene, cafes, ritzy boutiques, galleries, design studios. Worth a stop is the Shikumen Open House Museum for a glimpse into the daily life on those days.
- Tianzifang just south of Xintiandi, and more low-key, is a small grid of criss-crossing narrow alleyways off Taikang Road, anchored on a block of Shikumen dating from 1933. The lanes are lined with art shops, galleries, tailors, boutiques, bars and cafes. Not far from Tianzifang is Cité Bourgogne where you find one of the most well-preserved Shikumen neighborhoods still inhabited by locals. Be mindful of their privacy if you wander around the area.
- Explore the best of Shanghai including the French Concession by bicycle on this 4-hour bike tour in one of the most classic routes.
Fun Ways to See the French Concession
6. Visit a Shanghai Watertown
Just a short drive from the skyscrapers and concrete sprawl of Shanghai you find a contrasting landscape of picturesque water towns and villages in the surrounding area which is entwined with canals, greenery and an easygoing and peaceful air.
Water towns sprung up along the many waterways as these have always been historically important means of communication and supplies distribution. Chinese traditional water towns are notorious for their very old houses lined up along canals and the bridges criss-crossing them.
You can explore these charming villages on foot through their historical Old Towns and over the many bridges or take a boat tour on the canals, it's a nice escape from the hustle and bustle of the big city.
Modernization has not left these little gems behind, evidenced by the Kentucky Fried Chickens and familiar golden arches that greet you when you first approach although efforts are constantly being made to counteract the pressures from a growing population and changing lifestyles to try and safeguard the traditional essence and cultural heritage of the water towns. It would be a shame if it all disappeared. They are definitely a national treasure worth preserving.
There are a number of popular watertowns within a short drive from the center of Shanghai, some within an hour or less.
Here's more on the most popular watertowns in the outskirts of Shanghai, tips for visiting and what you can expect. (Coming soon)
Most Popular Water Town Excursions From Shanghai
7. Play at Shanghai Disneyland
Grab your Mickey ears and let's go! Shanghai Disneyland is the newest Disney park to open and one of the most popular attractions in the whole of China. Like other Disney parks, you will find some familiar features: Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Toy Story Land are found here, but instead of a Main Street, we have Gardens of Imagination which lead to Enchanted Storybook Castle in the center of the park. Adventureland is split into two theme lands, Treasure Cove which is a Pirates of the Caribbean theme zone and Adventure Isle, which has roaring rapids rather than a jungle cruise and its own global version of Soarin', the flight motion simulator found in the other Disney parks.
Also like other Disney parks, you will find long lines for the popular rides, fireworks, parades, and all the familiar faces with Mickey and friends.
What's different from the parks back home? Some unique features make Shanghai Disney special: it boasts the world's tallest Disney castle and the only (so far) TRON Lightcycle Power Run which happens to be the most popular attraction at Disneyland Shanghai. And naturally there will be Asian details everywhere you look, from decor and fengshui accents to Mickey greeting you in Mandarin... as much is tailored to the local market, Pepperoni pizza is replaced by Peking Duck Pizza. And compared to other Disney parks, admission tickets for Shanghai Disneyland are relatively inexpensive, a one-day adult admission ticket is just under US$60, children US$45.
Besides Shanghai Disneyland, the Shanghai Disneyland Resort also includes a Disneytown, two hotels, the flagship Shanghai Disneyland Hotel and the Toy Story Hotel, and Wishing Star Park.
Save Big on Your Next Disneyland Shanghai Visit!
8. Ride The Hop On Hop Off Bus
Hop-On-Hop-Off buses are a great way to see the major highlights and attractions of a city, specially for first-timers, they give you a quick
introduction and you can opt to explore further whatever interests you. In Shanghai, the buses bring you through the skyscrapers of Pudong, the leafy avenues of the French Concession, along the busy Huangpu River, the colonial architecture of the Bund...
These are some of the popular stops of the Shanghai Hop On Hop Off Bus:
- The Bund
- People's Square
- Shanghai Museum
- Nanjing Road
- Huangpu River Cruise Pier 16
- Yuyuan Gardens
- Oriental Pearl TV Tower
- Jin Mao Tower and World Financial Center
With a choice of three routes, many points of interest, and departures every 30 minutes, these open-top double-deckers offer a fun way to get around Shanghai and a more relaxed alternative to crowded public transportation. A 24-hour ticket costs under US$15.
9. Watch a Chinese Acrobatics Show
Chinese acrobats are renowned and recognized as some of the world's best. It is amazing how the young acrobats contort themselves while balancing objects with extraordinary accuracy, grace and coolness. They make it all look so easy, what in reality must have taken years and years of determination and practice. These are displays of incredible strength, control, balance and flexibility.
Shanghai is home to some of the most experienced and talented troupes and catching one of these astonishing performances while here is likely to be a highlight of your trip.
There are a number of well-established shows running throughout the year. The shows go beyond the acrobatics, these are spectacular performances full of entertaining lively music, special effects, extravagant costumes, superb coreography and many many surprises throughout...
One of the oldest acrobatics troupes in China, the famous Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe has performed around the globe and earned a number of international awards including the coveted Monaco International Acrobatic Competition in 1985. They have created several shows which are currently playing in Shanghai. One of the most popular acrobatics shows in Shanghai is ERA Intersections of Time.
ERA Intersections of Time at Shanghai Circus World is a 90-minute extravaganza that beautifully encapsulates the story of China in a whirlwind of acrobatics, martial arts, modern technology, history, culture and tradition with a jaw-dropping finale.
By the director of Cirque du Soleil, this show does not disappoint. This is a circular stage, there are no bad seats.
10. Savor The Flavors
From star-rated Michelin restaurants to no frills street food markets, food in Shanghai is serious business and you can't leave without experiencing the incredible array of food and authentic regional culinary treats.
"Shanghai cuisine" although not a separate style of Chinese cooking per se, mostly reflects a combination of different styles and influences, that go beyond the different Chinese regional styles, mirroring Shanghai's status as a cosmopolitan and commercial center, "fusion" cuisine is quite prevalent.
Fantastic Food Experiences in Shanghai
- Try the Dumplings and in particular the Xiaolongbao, a Shanghai original. These are simple pork dumplings served in steaming hot baskets swimming with flavor and a scalding broth inside, don't burn yourself!
- Seafood! Shanghai is a port after all, and fresh fish and seafood is plentiful. Hairy Crabs are a Shanghai specialty and a must if you are visiting between October and December when they are in season.
- Ramble through Shanghai's Food Streets and sample an amazing variety of regional Chinese restaurants and noodle and dumpling shops and of course street vendors offering all sorts of snacks on a stick, steamed buns, scallion pancakes... Try the Food Streets at Huanghe and Yunnan Roads in the center of the city.
- The French Concession is also a foodie paradise and a good starting point for a culinary expedition. See No. 5 above.
- A day trip to the nearby water town of QiBao is not only a wonderful escape from the racket of the city, besides strolling the ancient alleyways and bridges, admiring and drifting through the canals, you will find in QiBao one of the most picturesque and diverse food streets around. It's only a subway ride away and definitely worth the trip.
Most Popular Shanghai Food Excursions
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