China’s biggest city is a stunning metropolis brimming with glamour and mystique that blends history with a cosmopolitan feel. Modern architectural wonders including mind-boggling skyscrapers sit next to art deco buildings, cathedrals, synagogues, Buddhist temples and the charming Old Town, all of which combine to make Shanghai the glittering wonder it is today.
With so much packed into one amazing city, you may have to be very selective with your itinerary, so we’ve put together a list of the top five things to see in Shanghai to help you on your way:
Arguably Shanghai’s most popular tourist attraction, The Bund is a symbol of the city’s incredible heritage as a colonial trade hub. The mile-long strip of 52 stunning riverfront buildings, all of which offer unique western architectural styles from gothic and baroque to neoclassical, is highlighted by excellent sculptures including the Bund Bull and the Monument to the People’s Heroes which lies in the oasis-like Huangpu Park.
Watch out for Customs House with its famous bell ‘Big Ching’ and the beautifully renovated Peace Hotel, along with various lavish designer retail, arts and restaurant complexes.
Walking along The Bund during the day is incredible, but at night (7-10pm) when all the building are lit-up, it is mesmerising.
Former French Concession
The former French Concession (FFC) is the trendy alter-ego of Shanghai, contrasting the bustle of The Bund. The laid-back area great place to wander aimlessly amid tree-lined avenues and colonial-era architecture reflecting Shanghai’s international sophistication and style. Don’t miss the grounds of the Ruijin Guest House, 118 Ruijin Er Lu, and a variety of restaurants, art galleries, designer boutiques and cafés on Tianzifang. For shady walks, head for Fuxing Park which is also home to many beautiful old residences along Sinan Lu.
For some real escapism, head to Wukang Lu, a beautiful street full of pretty cafes, charming outdoor wine bars and art-deco design throughout which looks like it was taken straight from Europe.
The nerve knot of Shanghai’s centre, People’s Square was once the site of the Shanghai Racecourse. In the shadow of the imposing Tomorrow Square skyscraper, this open space is dotted with performing arts venues and museum, as well as the leafy People’s Park. Beneath the Square, the city’s frenetic energy peaks amid the Shanghai Metro tunnels and the city’s metro interchange. It’s interesting to note that the Shanghai Metro is the world’s biggest rapid transit system and is a safe, quick way to get around the city and its suburbs.
Yu Yuan Gardens and Bazaar
For any traveller wanting to get a feel for traditional China, the Yu Yuan Gardens and Bazaar are a must. The beautiful gardens were first created in 1559 by a family of Imperial officials and are rich with shaded alcoves, fish-filled ponds and pretty rockeries.
There’s also a stone boat which hosts river parties as well as a fine Chinese opera stage. Outside this walled area of tranquillity, the Mid-Lake Pavilion Teahouse and Nine Twists Bridge are also well worth a wander.
The Bazaar, which is found next to the Yu Garden, is a maze of small streets packed with authentic restaurants, tea houses and shops – great for sampling local foods and souvenir shopping.
It’s best to visit on a weekday and keep an eye out for the minute details that account for much of the garden’s beauty in the tiny carvings and sculptures.
Beautifully crafted into the shape of an ancient Chinese bronze ritual vessel, the excellent Shanghai Museum showcases more than 120,000 artistic and historical treasures from 5,000 years of Chinese history.
Exploring the entire museum is big task requiring a full day, but the excellent chronological tour of China’s greatest artistic traditions, complete with bronze figures, paintings, sculptures, ceramics, calligraphy, coins, furniture and folk art is worthwhile.