The bustling metropolis of Shanghai is a captivating blend of culture and history and modernity that stands as one of China’s most iconic cities. As China’s largest city, Shanghai stands as a captivating hub of culture, commerce, and innovation. In this Shanghai travel guide, we’ll be exploring Shanghai’s vibrant neighborhoods, cultural landmarks, delectable cuisine, and unique attractions, ensuring that your visit to this megacity is both unforgettable and deeply enriching.
Unveiling Shanghai’s Iconic Skylines: Discovering the City’s Architectural Marvels
Apart from the food and the shopping, Shanghai is renowned for its one-of-a-kind structures and skyscrapers that break records. The Lujiazui financial area has super tall buildings, the Bund is home to European-style constructions, then there’s the Art Deco 1920s buildings and a striking Soviet center – all these architectural wonders make Shanghai as fascinating as the city itself.
Shanghai Tower – The Shanghai Tower opened in 2016 and it’s absolutely stunning. You can’t miss it as it towers over the city’s financial district. On a clear day, you can spot its peak from miles away. It may not be the tallest building in the world, but it has the highest observation deck and can fit 16,000 people in its space.
Shanghai World Financial Center – The Shanghai World Financial Center, more commonly known as the “bottle opener” because of its trapezoidal-shaped top, opened up to the public in 2008. As the name implies, it’s home to a bunch of financial groups, such as banks, insurance companies, investment firms, and money managers.
Jin Mao Tower – The Jin Mao Tower was designed with traditional Chinese tiered pagodas as inspiration. Its dimensions were based on the number 8, which is considered the luckiest number in Chinese culture. It has 88 floors, split into 16 sections that are each 1/8 shorter than the base of the building.
Orient Pearl Tower – When people think of Shanghai, the Oriental Pearl Tower is usually one of the first things that pops into their minds. It has been around since 1994 and is both a TV tower and a tourist attraction, with 15 observatory levels and a rotating restaurant. It looks like two big, shiny pearls connected by three columns, and when they light up the LED lights at night, it looks like a bunch of glimmering pearls – it definitely lives up to its name!
Cultural Odyssey: Exploring Shanghai’s Historical Neighborhoods
Figuring out Shanghai can be super intimidating. It’s huge – 1,020 square miles of city – so it can seem impossible to get your bearings. Don’t worry though, there’s something for everyone! If you like a bustling nightlife scene, or prefer a peaceful stroll through a park, this guide will help you find a place that feels like home.
Zhujiaojiao – If you’re a foreigner in China, Zhujiajiao ancient town is a must-visit! Take a walk down Nanda Street, and try the popular “Granny’s zongzi” or traditional glutinous rice dumpling with different fillings while you’re there. Everywhere you look, there’s something perfect to snap a pic of. You won’t be disappointed after a trip to this 1,000-year-old town!
Jinze – Jinze ancient town is known to be the initial bridge town in Jiangnan, which is the area south of the Yangtze River’s lower reaches, because it has 42 stone bridges with various designs. Bridges are a part of the locals’ everyday life. If you want to know more about the town, just take a stroll on any of the bridges.
Liantang – Liantang ancient town still has that ancient vibe. It’s got eight different sights and the Sanlitang River. You can explore the old town by foot or take a traditional Jiangnan boat and check out the 10+ stone bridges.
Fengjing – Sketch painters will love this ancient town – there are a whopping 52 amazing stone bridges! Tourists flock to Fengjing’s No. 3 Bridge, which is at the intersection of Zhongda Street and Shengchan Road. Plus, since the town is situated on the border between Zhejiang Province and Shanghai, the culture and history, customs and language from the two places blend together here, forming a unique “boundary river culture.”
Culinary Adventures: Tasting Shanghai’s Vibrant Food Scene
Shanghai wasn’t much until the 1800s when it opened up to the world as a port. Then it started to become a really successful industrial city and a center for trading. The food culture was also booming and continues to be today, with so much to offer. People tend to think of soup dumplings when they think of Shanghai food, but there’s a lot more out there, from breakfast street foods, to tasty snacks, to Western-inspired soups. The only disappointing thing about Shanghai food is the airport!
Hong shao – Hong shao, or “red cooking”, is a cooking style that involves simmering a protein in a soy-based sauce with a bit of rice wine and rock sugar for a glossy finish, a rich smell, and a balanced taste. Pork is the most common ingredient used for hong shao dishes like hong shao rou, and hong shao pai gu which is made with pork ribs.
Yan du Xian – Yan du Xian is a famous Shanghai soup that’s super flavorful. To make it, you simmer dry-aged ham and fresh pork on low heat until the meat is really tender and flavorful. Then you add in some crunchy bamboo shoots. It’s often served in fancy banquets, but it’s also easy to make at home – you can throw in whatever you have and make it your own.
Chinese mitten crabs – Come fall, Shanghai is absolutely buzzing with excitement for hairy crabs! Crabs are everywhere in the markets and people don’t mind spending a bit extra for the biggest ones. These crustaceans have been a regular part of family meals for centuries, and steaming is the most popular cooking method.
Shengjian – The shengjian is nothing like its fancy cousin the soup dumpling. It’s much more down-to-earth, but still just as tasty. Meat and gelatine are mixed with scallion, then wrapped in semi-leavened dough which is then pan-fried in a flat cast-iron pan. The result is a golden brown bun with a crunchy outside, steaming wrap and juicy insides.
Shanghai’s Waterfront Wonders: The Bund and Huangpu River
If you’re in Shanghai, the waterfront promenade known as the Bund is a must-see. It’s an amazing experience that’ll give you a glimpse into the city’s past and current transformation into a major global hub.
The Bund is well known for its collection of 52 historical buildings from the late 19th to early 20th centuries. They feature a range of architectural styles like Romanesque, Baroque, Gothic, Renaissance and Neoclassical Revival. Some of the most famous buildings are the Asia Building, the Union Building and the old HSBC Building. Not to mention the China Merchants Bank Building. These buildings are more than just a reminder of Western colonialism in the city – they’re a living museum and one of the most popular destinations for tourists in China.
The Huangpu River runs through Shanghai, splitting it into two parts – Pudong and Puxi. It’s about 113 kilometres (70 miles) long and can be anywhere between 300-770 metres (984-2,526 feet) wide. It serves many purposes, such as providing drinking water, transportation, drainage, fishing, and tourism. There are also several tunnels and bridges that go under and over the river to help with transportation. Along the river, there are lots of different buildings and scenery. If you’re looking for some gorgeous sights, you should head to the Bund on the west side of the river and Binjiang Avenue on the east. Both the Bund and Lujiazui Finance and Trade Zone are close by, so you can take it all in.
Binjiang Avenue isn’t as packed, but the Bund’s got some real eye candy – all these amazing buildings in Western-style, built about a hundred years back when Shanghai was still partly a foreign settlement. On the east side, Pudong, you’ve got all the modern, towering skyscrapers that have gone up in the last few decades. It’s now a big financial and commercial center for Shanghai and China as a whole. Seeing the contrast between the high-rises of Pudong and the old-school architecture of the Bund gives you a real sense of the city’s growth in the last century.
Retail Therapy: Shopping Havens in Shanghai
Shanghai is China’s biggest city and it’s a total shopping paradise! You can find super fancy malls, big fast fashion spots, cool craft stores, excellent tailors, and awesome electronics markets if you do some digging. Plus, you can even find pretty spot-on copies of well-known brands if you know where to look.
Nanjing Road – Shanghai’s Nanjing Road is the ultimate shopping destination – it’s 6 miles long and one of the longest shopping streets in the world! It’s split into east and west sections – the east side has small shops, markets and stores selling everything from clothes and jewellery to electronics and home appliances.
Xintiandi – This fancy walking street is full of shikumen (traditional Shanghai-style) buildings and modern glass fronts. Split into two sections, and speckled with high-end stores and wine bars, you can purchase designer items from Shanghai Tang, and get some of the newest Chinese designers’ pieces like Uma Wang and Ban Xiaoxue at Xintiandi Style Shopping Centre.
Huaihai Road – If you’re after some fancy fits, Huaihai Road in the old French Concession is where it’s at. It’s divided into three parts and the middle one is where the real action is. It’s over 3 miles long and has heaps of stores that sell designer and trendy gear. When you need a break, you can grab some tea at the Shanghai Huangshan Tea Company.
AP Plaza – If you’re on a budget but still want to look luxurious, head to the Xinyang Fashion Market at AP Plaza near the Science & Technology Museum Station. Here, you’ll find all the counterfeit handbags, sunglasses, shoes, and watches you could ask for. Just be sure to bring cash or download Wechat to pay, and don’t forget to haggle for the best price.
Art and Culture Enclaves: Galleries and Museums in the City
Shanghai is definitely the place to go if you’re into art. It’s got an awesome art scene and you can find some of the best contemporary Chinese art around. Whether it’s checking out museums, galleries, art districts or enclaves, there’s tons of stuff for art lovers to see and appreciate in Shanghai.
Shanghai Museum – If you’re ever in People’s Square, the Shanghai Museum is definitely worth checking out – it’s one of the top museums in China! It has over 120,000 artifacts from the Neolithic era and beyond, like bronzes, ceramics, jade, sculptures, paintings, calligraphy, and furniture. Plus, it’s free to get in and they’re always adding new exhibits.
China Art Palace – The China Art Palace looks like an upside-down red pyramid, and it’s huge – over 700,000 square feet! It’s one of the biggest art museums in the country and has a ton of modern Chinese art. With 25+ galleries, there’s plenty to explore. Admission to the main galleries is free, but there might be a charge for special exhibitions.
West Bund Cultural Corridor – The West Bund Cultural Corridor in Shanghai is known as “Museum Mile,” with a ton of awesome museums and galleries, like the Long Museum, Yuz Museum and the West Bund Art Museum, which also has a branch of the Pompidou Center.
Tianzifang – Tucked away in the French Concession, Tianzifang is the place to be if you’re into the hip and artsy scene. With three main lanes and lots of side alleys, you’ll find art galleries, design studios, chic boutiques, and quirky shops all in cool traditional Shikumen buildings or old factories.
Nightscape Magic: Experiencing Shanghai’s Lively Nightlife
Once the sun goes down, the city’s skyline starts to glimmer and the nightlife really starts to kick off. There’s so much to do – from shopping on the streets to partying at the clubs, to eating your way through the city on a night food tour, to sipping cocktails in rooftop lounges, to dancing the night away in the bars. It’s an awesome opportunity that no one should pass up!
There are lots of ideal spots to chill with your buddies and have a great night! You can check out some awesome live music, or take in a show at one of the top-notch theaters and auditoriums. DJs at the clubs keep the energy going all night long with killer music – you can find something for everyone, from reggae and hip-hop to techno, experimental and mainstream. Get ready to rock out on the dancefloor until sunrise! Locals and visitors alike love the scene here.
Shanghai doesn’t have any designated bar streets, but you and some pals could always share a taxi and check out some of the city’s best clubs. Whether you’re looking for splurge-worthy cocktail bars, chill lounges, or rock music venues, there’s something for everyone. Plus, if you’re looking to get a good deal, lots of bars have special offers on Thursdays and weekends – like free drinks, entrance, and gifts.
Shanghai has a ton of spots to hang out with friends and family at night, like bowling alleys, go-kart tracks, theme parks, and cinemas. It’s one of the pricier cities in China, but it’s worth it cuz of all the fun options. Keep in mind that you can’t smoke inside most public places and if you’re under 18, don’t even think about buying booze.
Navigating Shanghai: A Comprehensive Guide to Getting Around the Megacity
Shanghai is a huge city, and it’s well-known internationally. It’s over 6,340 km2, so it’s not hard to imagine why it has an efficient and affordable system of public transport. It’s the best way for visitors to get around and non-locals should avoid driving because of the heavy traffic and complex roads. It may take a while to get used to the transportation system if you’re a first-time visitor or just moved to the city, but this guide can help you navigate the Pearl of the Orient easily.
Metro – The Metro runs from early in the morning until late at night, every day. With trains coming every three to five minutes, you can rely on it to get you around quickly and avoid the traffic. During peak times – from 7 to 9am and 4 to 7pm – the stations can get pretty busy. Look for the big red “M” sign on the entrance to know you’re at a Metro station.
Bus – Shanghai’s bus network has over 1000 vehicles and ten different companies running them. You can catch a bus between 5am and 11pm, with the 300 series running all night. Buses are super cheap and tickets cost only ¥2. You’ll need exact change, though, as the drivers don’t give change.
Taxi – You’ve probably noticed taxis in Shanghai come in lots of different colors – blue, orange, green, white, and more. That’s because they’re run by over 150 different companies and each one has its own color code. The two most in-demand are Dazhong (light blue/turquoise) and Qiangsheng (yellow).
Megalev – In 2003, the Shanghai Maglev Train started running. You can go from the airport to Longyang Road station in no time – it’s one of the fastest trains out there, hitting speeds of up to 430 km per hour – that’s insane! It’s a great way to get to the city and it’s a total adventure. Plus, it’s quieter, smoother, and more comfortable than regular trains.
In the heart of China, Shanghai stands as a testament to the nation’s rich history and its unrelenting march towards the future. The city’s dynamic blend of tradition and modernity, culture and innovation, offers travelers an experience that transcends time and borders. When you go to China’s megacity, take with you not just memories of its iconic landmarks, but also the spirit of resilience and progress that defines Shanghai. Your journey here is not just a travel experience; it’s a glimpse into the soul of a nation and the vibrant pulse of its people.
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