The showcase city of a nation with over 5000 years of history is bound to be staggering and a top ten list is hard to put together without leaving out something worthwhile. Shanghai is less a place of things to see and more a place of things to experience. Don’t be perturbed by the lack of color that hits you as you exit Shanghai Pudong International Airport, as the glass, concrete and grey quickly give way to innumerable splashes of red and green. Road signs are confusing but main arteries are clearly marked, so ask your hotel concierge or people you are staying with to give you a card with the Chinese names of all attractions written in large bold letters. This allows taxi drivers or locals to guide you effectively. The key is to enjoying Shanghai is walking as the journey to each destination is littered with fascinating glimpses into a unique culture. So arm yourself with a map and a bottle of water and begin your stroll through the most populated city in the world. This list is by no means exhaustive but it should cater to the artist, historian, shopper, bargainer and clubber in you.
For a country with a history as deep as China’s, Shanghai’s lack of museums is glaring but Guangzhou and Beijing hoard much of the country’s ancient attractions. The recently built Shanghai Museum in People’s square is hoping to change some of that. With its distinctively modern façade built in the shape of a bronze vase acting as a contrast to its beautiful old world interior, the museum is by far one of the easiest I have found to navigate. The three floors have sections dedicated calligraphy, regional clothing, furniture, ceramics and currency. The museum can take days to consume so pick your interest to do each room proper justice. The calligraphy section is among the finest in the world but my personal favorite was the ceramics section as the Museum gives you a veritable crash course on Chinese dynastic history through its ceramics. Shanghai Museum, #201, Peoples Great Road,
Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street:
As you leave Shanghai museum, walk through People’s park and find your way to Nanjing Pedestrian road. This stone paved street is a contradiction in retail terms with one side boasting Häagen-Dazs while the other serves you fried sparrow and jellied pig feet- a true testament to the adage -“One country with two systems.” Don’t be surprised if you’re constantly approached by salesman hawking the latest Louis Vuitton. While the fakes are of lackluster quality, keep your handbag close if you still plan to follow one of them into a dimly lit alleyway.
Walking down Nanjing road will ultimately lead you to The Bund. Yes, it’s a tourist magnet and the resemblance to Westminster is somewhat uncanny, but if you manage to get there on a weekday, this one-mile stretch of historical buildings is the portal to understanding what China has tried to achieve in the last 30 years. On one side you have all of Shanghai’s major banks, the newly opened Waldorf Astoria hotel (erstwhile Shanghai club), consulates and the Masonic club. Across the boardwalk itself you have a fantastic view of Pudong Skyline with its Oriental Pearl TV Tower. Twilight is the perfect time to navigate the Huangpu river and witness Shanghai come to life at night as all of the Bund and Pudong are bathed in neon. The cruise departs from the Bund and sails to Huangpu Bridge in the south, turns and heads north towards Wusongkou and returns to the Bund for you to sink your teeth into some local chinese fare at the Shanghai Grandmother at 70 Fuzhou Lu.
More of my Shanghai top ten here.