Shanghai is China’s leading industrial and commercial city as well as the major financial center of the country. Shanghai has two faces. On the east side of the famous Huangpu River lies Pudong, the sophisticated new district with its skyscrapers and glamorous shopping malls. On the west side, Puxi, the old but lively district, fights a losing battle against modernity, with its street markets, ancient sites, and historical landmarks.
When to Go?
April and May are lovely months with nice temperatures, some rain, and 70% humidity. The gardens are stunning when in full bloom. September, October, and November are also a wonderful time to visit as the gardens shine under the golden colors of autumn. Avoid the heat of the summer when the sky turns white with pollution and the humidity reaches 90%. The humid cold wind can also be torturous in the winter.
Major European cities have direct flights to both international airports in Shanghai. Hongqiao International Airport (SHA) is located only 13 km from downtown and is connected to the city by several shuttle buses. A taxi ride will be cheap and quick. Pudong International Airport (PVG) is about 40 kilometers away from downtown Shanghai. Shuttle buses are also available. A taxi ride to the city center will take about 30 minutes. If you are in a rush, try the Maglev train – you will get to line 2 of the subway in only seven minutes at 430 kilometers per hour!
The Shanghai subway is modern, well kept, safe, and easy to understand. Each station is announced in English! The eight subway lines will take you almost everywhere. Taxis are also a great way to get around. They are cheap and you can hail them from almost anywhere. Before going, download the SmartShanghai app on your smart phone. It will be a lifesaver to look up restaurants, shops, and hotels as you will be able to show the addresses of these places to the driver in Chinese characters.
To make the most out of your stay in this megalopolis, follow my tested and approved tour!
Take a stroll in the Yu Garden in the heart of the old city, rated one of the three most beautiful classical gardens of China, dating from 1559. The neighboring Yuyuan Bazaar, known among old-timers as, Old City God’s Temple Market, is the place to do most of your shopping. Continue browsing at the traditional Fangbang Zhong Lu, boarded by countless stalls. Take a look at the famous flea market of Fuyou and don’t miss the sculptural Chinese door that guards the ancient city center. Carry on to the curious Bird market of Xizang Lu and wander among the mainly fake antiquities on Dongtai Lu.
Xintiandi, the trendy area, will illuminate your nights! This is THE place to eat out and dance the night away!
Take a walk on the People’s Square, the political and cultural center of Shanghai if you want to gain insight about the modern chic and refined elegance of the city and its people. For museum lovers, the Shanghai Museum is a must see. The crowded Nanjing Road, one the oldest streets in Shanghai, will lead you to the picturesque Bund. Some of the most majestic buildings tower over the Huangpu River. The wide riverfront promenade is a popular spot to watch the sunset over the Pudong skyline.
You will fall in love with the lovely Taikang Lu neighborhood and its tiny alleys filled with fashionable shops, restaurants, and art galleries. The whole place becomes magical at night!
The Huaihai Lu, the Champs Elysées of Shanghai, will lead you into the heart of the old French Concession with its unique atmosphere. Take a break in the lively Fuxing Park.
Don’t miss the mesmerizing Temple of Jade Buddha, the famous sanctuary of Zen Buddhism, built in 1882. The Longhua Temple, the most venerated and largest temple in Shanghai, will not leave you indifferent with its magnificent octagonal Pagoda.
In Luijiazui (Pudong), the Manhattan of Shanghai, gain some height in one of the three highest towers: the Jin Mao or Tower of the Past at 420.5 meters, the Shanghai World Financial Center or The Bottle Opener at 492 meters, and the shining symbol of Pudong, the Oriental Pearl TV Tower at 468 meters with its glass floor! Just vertiginous! Don’t miss the fascinating historical museum in the basement.
Eat and Drink
Inside the Yuyuan Bazaar is the best dim sum restaurant in town. Nanxiang Steamed Buns Restaurant is an institution. You can order to go, or eat in on the first or second floors. The higher the better as you will get more choices in the upper rooms.
Watching the delicate jasmine flower unfold in your cup of hot tea at the ancestral Hu Xin Ting Tea Pavillion in front of the Yu Garden will be an experience you may never forget. Just follow the Jiu Qu Qiao or Nine Turns Bridge. Demons will not follow you there as they are supposedly afraid of corners!
For a surprising yet delicious dinner, the restaurant Mr&Mrs Bund is a sure choice. Its chef has won many awards around the world. For just a drink, try the trendy Bar Rouge. Located on the sixth and seventh floors of Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, their terraces offer the most fantastic view of the Bund and the skyline of Pudong.
For the adventurous at heart, the food streets at Huanghe Road, Yunnan Road, and Zhapu Road will dazzle you with their local delicacies. You will need a strong stomach though to stand the persistent smell of fermented tofu!
The Waterhouse at South Bund is an artsy boutique hotel build in the old dockland section of the Bund. Authenticity and boldness are the words that come to my mind when I am asked to describe it. Its roof terrace is a nice spot to finish the evening and admire the incredible view over Pudong. If you are hungry, the wonderful restaurant Table N°1 is on the ground floor.
An oasis nested in the heart of the historic French Concession, Quintet Bed and Breakfast will become your home away from home in the hectic city of Shanghai.
Here are additional options for where to stay in Shanghai.