A Guide to Shanghai

Previously known as the Paris of the East, Shanghai was the most vibrant and cosmopolitan city in China. Today, this international metropolis is undergoing an urban revival, quickly regaining its status as a sophisticated and fashionable cultural center.

By the numbers

Population: 24,150,000 (city); 34,000,000 (metropolitan)

Elevation: 4 meters / 13 feet

Time Zone: GMT +8; China Standard Time (CST)


Average Annual Rainfall: 117 centimetres / 46 inches

Average January Temperature: 4.8ºC / 40.6ºF

Average July Temperature: 28.6ºC / 83.5ºF

Did you know?

The Port of Shanghai is the busiest in the world.

Shanghai has the longest subway system in the world, with 588 kilometres (365 miles) of tracks and tunnels.

Shanghai is located on China’s east coast in the Yangtze River Delta and on the shores of the East China Sea and Hangzhou Bay.

District Guide

A major economic hub situated on the Yangtze River Delta, Shanghai is a fascinating symbol of prosperity and modernity. Shanghai’s relatively small city center makes it easy to navigate. It consists of two basic districts, Pu Xi (western town) and Pu Dong (eastern town), facing one another across the Huang Pu River. As a general rule, Pu Xi embodies “Old Shanghai” and Pu Dong represents “New Shanghai.” Excellent examples of this dichotomy are characterized in the architecture, with the early 20th century facades of the Bund on the Pu Xi side such as the Peace Hotel and the conspicuously modern architecture of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower and the Grand Hyatt Shanghai on the Pu Dong side.

Shanghai summer shopping in traditional market, China

Pu Dong
In the early 1990s, Pu Dong consisted of little but farmland. In a plan to elevate Shanghai to the level of a major Asian commercial center, the Chinese government created the Pudong New Area Open Economic Development Zone, with a fast rising skyline and loads of investment money. After 1992 the rapid economic development of the area changed the demographics of Pu Dong, creating a growing cosmopolitan flavour with a more modern and technical sophistication than the older, traditional heart of the city in Pu Xi.

Chiefly a financial district but also a growing community, Pu Dong offers increasingly more to do and see east of the Huangpu River. The shops and eateries along Century Boulevard, a 21st Century main street to match the ultra-modern skyscrapers and business culture, was designed with the 2010 Shanghai World Expo in mind. The Oriental Pearl TV Tower, one of the largest tower in Asia and symbol of Shanghai’s prosperity, is an integral part of Shanghai’s skyline. The tower houses the Shanghai History Museum and an observation deck open to the public. Nearby Jin Mao Tower caps the Pearl’s view and is free to the public.

Pu Xi
Pu Xi is a warren of city districts that together make up the cosmopolitan flavour of Shanghai. Unlike Beijing’s city center, which emanates from the Forbidden City in outward rings, Shanghai’s districts each offer a different flavour and diffuse the “center” of the city into well connected neighbourhoods: densely populated Huangpu; historic French Concession, which spans the Luwan and Xuhui districts; park-like Changning district; expat-friendly Jing’An district; crowded Putuo district; Zhabei district, home to the Shanghai Railway Station; Hongkou district, where 20th Century writer Lu Xun made his home; and Yangpu district, home to Shanghai’s distinguished Fudan and Tongji Universities. Most of the places of interest to the traveler are in Huangpu and Luwan districts, and the grid-like city plan makes it easy to find your way around Shanghai. The city has areas that range from the traditionally Chinese Yu Yuan Gardens to the modern urban bustle of Huai Hai Road. The following areas of Pu Xi and should not be missed.

Huangpu District houses several of the top sites of Shanghai, including the Bund, Nan Shi, Nanjing Road, and People’s Square, where the incredible Shanghai Museum sits.

The Bund
Definitely one of Shanghai’s major highlights, the Bund offers an impressive showcase of Shanghai’s colonial past. Beautifully preserved Art Deco and neoclassical buildings line the waterfront that faces the developing Pu Dong skyline. In the early morning one can join in on Tai Chi practice. In the evening one can stroll along the water to watch the skyline light up with the night. For a taste of nostalgia, visit the Peace Hotel. Once Shanghai’s premier hotel, it was the place to stay during Shanghai’s colonial heyday.

Nan Jing Road
Shanghai’s historical shopping street became an exclusive pedestrian thoroughfare in 2000. On the western side stands the massive Shanghai Center, a multi-complex that houses the Portman Ritz-Carlton Hotel, commercial businesses, consulates, a shopping mall and Shanghai Center Theater. The open area of the walking street gives it a carnival atmosphere. At night the shops create a neon frenzy of colour and glitter that has a long and famous tradition. Nan Jing Road is 6 km (3.7 miles) from east to west, starting at the Bund and ending at People’s Park. It has the reputation for being the busiest shopping street in the world, catering to over 1 million visitors a day.

Nan Shi
Set in the district that was formerly the Chinese-governed Old City outside colonial jurisdiction, Yu Yuan Gardens is a traditional Jiang Nan (south of the river) style garden. A popular destination every day of the week, it offers a rare visit to peace and tranquility from an older time to balance the quick pulse of most of the Shanghai experience.

People’s Square
In colonial days, the People’s Square Park was a horse racing track. After 1949 when gambling was banned it became a public square and parade ground. With the rapid development of the 1990s, People’s Square became the residence of Shanghai City Hall. The Shanghai Museum now stands where the race track clubhouse once stood. The Shanghai Grand Theater also lines the square, as does the JW Marriot Shanghai.

Jing An District
Jing An is a popular residential district for the city’s large expat community. Western-oriented shops full of curios are in ample supply. Jing An is also a popular leisure district and as such the fitting home of the historic Great World Entertainment Center, featuring acrobatics and Peking opera, among other amusements. If you find you need someplace to relax and mediate after all the stimulation that Shanghai offers, head to the Jing An Temple, a reconstructed structure sitting on an ancient site (first erected in 247 CE). This temple complex soothes the soul amidst the energetic and sometimes overwhelming frenzy of the city.

Old French Concession Area
The French Concession was where French law prevailed before the revolution. It was here that the Communist Party of China was started in 1921 and revolutionaries found refuge from the local Chinese police. The shikumen townhouses, architecture unique to Shanghai, have been preserved, several sport plaques detailing their long lives. The tumultuous history of the French Concession can be explored at Dr. Sun Yat-sen’s Former Residence & Memorial Hall. Beautifully preserved, his home furnishes a place for visitors to walk the grounds. Now, the French Concession is no longer a hotbed of political activity but a charming shopping district, with super stylish boutiques found along tree-lined streets, especially Changle Lu and Xinle Lu and throughout Xintiandi. Huai Hai Road is by far one of the most popular shopping districts in Shanghai. It is a bit cheaper than Nanjing Road, less crowded, and has more of an emphasis on European fashion.

Dining and drinking

Shanghai is home to some of the most varied and high quality cuisine in China. As a world destination, top-class restaurants are definitely one of the things people remember on a trip to Shanghai. If you have been traveling through China for some time, this may be your first chance to indulge in the international cuisine supported by Shanghai’s diverse population. Competition is fierce for French, Vietnamese, Japanese and Italian cuisine. Satisfying interpretations of Chinese regional cuisines, from the hearty roasts of the north to the spicy creations of Sichuan, and even difficult-to-find Yunnanese choices make a traveler wish there were more than three meals to be had in a day.

Dumplings, China

Shanghai’s native cuisine is known for delicate dim sum, including the incredible xiaolongbao, a soup-filled bite-size dumpling in a thin dough wrap. Try to figure out how there is such a thing as a soup-filled dumpling while you order more of them by the jin.

Shanghai’s drinking establishments are among the most developed in China and frequented by the widest range of people. Uber-chic world class lounges set in highrise towers welcome patrons to drink among the beautiful people. Hip neighbourhood bars welcome travellers and give a relaxed chance to practice and expand your recently acquired Chinese phrases in directions most important, such as how to order another drink. Live music has an established following in Shanghai and night clubs support a wide, eclectic range of musicians, from Filipino rock cover bands to jazz quartets to Beijing punk to acoustic folk types.

Below is a partial list of just some of the great dining in Shanghai by neighbourhood.

Nan Jing East Road
With so many things calling for your attention as you walk down Nan Jing Road, restaurants promising delicious dim sum or American style burgers are a tempting choice. There are some memorable places to dine here, but how to choose? If you crave the comfort of American ribs, Tony Roma’s will not disappoint. If you seek traditional Chinese food, head over to Gongdelin Vegetarian Restaurant for satisfying flavours and fresh dishes. A comfortable cafe with wine by the glass and a staple of pastas and salads is found at Kathleen’s 5 Rooftop Restaurant on People’s Square. Further investigate the French influence in this Paris of the East at Allure. Any evening that includes a martini at 789 Nanjing Road is bound to be memorable. With the Shanghai skyline out the windows and a cocktail that cost as much as your entree, you might find yourself arguing that it is completely worth it.

The Bund
Perhaps the priciest neighbourhood to dine in, but with most restaurants and lounges sporting waterfront balconies and menus that justify the price tag, the Bund plays host to several of the Shanghai bars, lounges and restaurants that make world-wide dining guides. M on the Bund is home to a high quality family of restaurants, including the French Jean Georges, widely popular for weekend brunch. Another building that has made a culinary name for itself is Three On The Bund, which houses New Heights cocktail lounge, the home of Shanghai haute cuisine Whampoa Club, and French supper club Hamilton House. The collection is crowned with the top notch fusion restaurant Laris. Rich selection and world class views can leave one breathless, but the ambiance and pseudo-sexy intellectual atmosphere of Glamour Bar gives any evening a classic feel. Never a disappointment, Bar Rouge gives any Shanghainese establishment a run for its money when it comes to ambiance and the ability of its barkeeps. If hearty northern brew is what you seek along the Bund, head to the Dutch brewery Fest for a draught.

French Concession
The French Concession holds the heart of Shanghai nightlife. Spanning Xuhui, Huangpu, Xintiandi and the Mao Ming Nan Lu bar street, it offers a variety of dining and drinking for a broad range of budgets. Many establishments take advantage of this area’s early 20th Century houses with decadent gardens to create an elegant dining experience suitable for brunch, business lunch, or romantic dinner.

Mao Ming Nan Lu
The garden, drinks specials and burgers are what keep customers coming to Blue Frog. It also has some of the friendliest servers in the district. The fusion cuisine and interesting setting of Mesa & Manifesto are memorable, as is the wine list, set in a former light bulb factory. Beer and barbecue are the order of the day at Henry’s, popular with the happy hour crowd. Another neighbourhood stop with satisfying light snacks and a great garden is Abbey Road. Popular for its pho, Foreign Culture Club offers French and Vietnamese cuisine in a refined setting that beckons patrons to sit up a little straighter.

Regional Chinese cuisine is also a hot item along Mao Ming Nan Lu. The draw of spicy Sichuanese pulls people into the gardens of South Beauty, set in an old estate. Di Shui Dong serves up satisfying Hunanese food. The ambiance includes homage to Hunan’s favorite son, Chairman Mao Zidong.

The tree-lined streets of Luwan offer up a rich velvet atmosphere on a summer night. Even if you come during winter, the ambiance in Lost Heaven Yunnan Cuisine will fill one with a warm glow as the unique flavours of this remote province gets the loving attention it deserves. If the line is out the door, Southern Barbarian is never disappointing. The long established Melting Pot offers up nightly live music of an eclectic variety with well poured drinks, friendly staff and an adequate dance floor. Turn a few more alley corners to drop into Yin Yang, a hip local bar great for practicing your Chinese.

Tucked in among the alleys lined with shikumen townhouses is a growing selection of some of the most memorable dining in Shanghai. Come wander the alleys as you seek out your dinner! Top points for innovation, ambiance and selection go to Xintiandi. Some people call the Enoteca wine bar their living room, preferring to meet friends in its casual and conversation-inducing lounge. Serving up Mediterranean tapas and a wide variety of wines by the glass and by the bottle, they also have a delicious selection of desserts and paired dessert wines. If you are craving the fresh tangy tastes of Mexico, slip into Maya for Yucatan cuisine and perhaps the most popular guacamole in town. Notoriously small, as well as notoriously crowded, Shanghainese cuisine reaches a peak at the small and nondescript Jesse. Within the realm of eclectic but satisfying lies A Future Perfect. Serving fusion flavours, a dinner here is something you will talk about long after wards. Raising the consumption of chocolate to something of a spiritual experience is the Whisk Choco Cafe. Order, enjoy, but do not linger, the waitstaff can be a bit of a joykill. Serving up a vast brunch is the Mediterranean inspired Azul. For a reasonably priced opportunity to sample dim sum suitable for both a novice or an old hand, a trip to Crystal Jade is highly recommended. Explore Shanghai’s Southeast Asian selection at Simply Thai. An ever popular spot is the Paulaner Brauhaus for hand crafted beer and a delicious German menu. As if homemade German beer in Shanghai wasn’t enough, there is a constant stream of events and live music to keep patrons coming back. Anyone who has spent a moment in China’s cold and robust north will appreciate the colourful and boisterous Dong Bei Ren, where the red and green decor is the setting for delicious cumin roasted lamb, hearty northern dumplings and singing waiters. Upbeat is one way to describe Zapatas Mexican restaurant, especially after one of their fishbowl margaritas and a turn on the dance floor. After dinner, head over to one of the longest established night spots in Shanghai. Cotton Club offers up nightly live jazz.

Jing’An has a more residential feel than Huang Pu and the French Concession. That does not necessarily mean it is sleepy, as this district is home to many Shanghai expats. If fresh salad is what you crave, head to Element Fresh for vegetable-packed sandwiches, wraps and salads. Their fruit smoothie menu alone has a loyal band of followers. A great choice for Thai is Coconut Paradise, while Jing’An also hosts one of Shanghai’s pre-eminent Japanese restaurants, Shintori. Food this good requires a special finish. We recommend the Long Bar for one of a kind cocktails of mind-bending but agreeable ingredients.

If you find yourself east of the Huangpu River, you are truly in for a dining treat. As the neighbourhood is still relatively new, it first relied on satellite restaurants of good repute from Puxi to fill its wide boulevards and international hotel cafes. For example, popular Dublin Exchange is owned by the same team that opened O’Malley’s Irish Pub. Dolar Shop is another satellite that serves refined hot pot with a high grade selection of meats, mushrooms, vegetables and more. Most Pudong dining and drinking establishments are aimed at business class clientele, however Jade on 36, the crown jewel of the Pudong Shangri-La Hotel, is a romantic spot overlooking the Bund, especially spectacular in the evening at the moment the waterfront buildings light up. A similar effect can be viewed from 24 hour Grand Cafe on the 56th floor of the Grand Hyatt Shanghai. Meanwhile, superb dim sum and Yue cuisine can be found at Canton and Gui Hua Lou. A comfortable place to take it easy after a long flight or long day of meetings is the Canadian-owned Malone’s Cafe.

Hongqiao and Changning
While not as lively as its neighbours in the French Concession, this part of Shanghai has some wonderful restaurants and gathering spots. Ever-popular Mexico Lindo serves Tex-Mex style cuisine, perfecting classics such as empanadas. People travel from all parts of Shanghai to pay a visit to Din Tai Feng for memorably delicious dumplings, including xiaolongbao. Champion’s Sports Bar offers a comfortable dining room and typically American food, including chicken wings and burgers. Long considered one of Shanghai’s finest, Da Marco serves authentic Italian cuisine with an emphasis on quality. You might have to get a little lost to find it, but a visit to Patiala Pearl for Indian tandoori is especially satisfying.


Shanghai lives up to its reputation as China’s entertainment capital. With so many things to do and see both during the day and the night in the city, it may be hard to choose. Below is a general guide to just some of the ways to have fun and see something new in Shanghai.

Shanghai fan dance

As part of a national initiative that aims to encourage and put China’s artistic and cultural achievements on the global map, Shanghai has become one of the country’s major hubs for promoting regional art and culture. Shanghai and its immediate environs support several local artists. Many artists from other parts of the country also come here to exhibit their work in one of its many galleries. The decade-old ShangART in Xintiandi often exhibits avant-garde works by Chinese artists, while the ArtSPACE features experimental works in Jing’An’s M50 Art District. Shanghai also supports a burgeoning contemporary art scene, represented in a slew of modern galleries that have sprung up in the last few years, including the M97 Gallery, the much-acclaimed Rockbund ART Museum, and the Art Labor Gallery that is nestled in the Former French Concession neighbourhood.

Shanghai’s many large movie theaters screen a wide variety of films, from Hollywood blockbusters to Chinese epics. Also, various organizations show movies that do not get as much press with English or Chinese subtitles. The Cine Club de l’Alliance shows French films with Chinese subtitles. For Hollywood blockbusters and the latest Chinese films, look into the Peace Cinema near People’s Square. The Shanghai Film Art Center also has a good selection, and plays host to the annual Shanghai International Film Festival.

Dance and Musical Performances
Several of the city’s venues showcase dance performances. The Shanghai Grand Theater, a first-class international standard theatre, often hosts international acts, while the Shanghai Stadium, Majestic Theater and Grand Theater at People’s Square also provide sites for cultural performances both big and small.

Less formally, Jing An Chamber Music offers weekly chamber music concerts every Sunday evening at the Jing An Hotel. The Shanghai Concert Hall, originally founded in 1930 as the Nanking Theatre, is the city’s longstanding fixture for brilliant classical concerts. The Shanghai Symphony Orchestra is known to play at the dazzling Symphony Hall in the Xuhui district, a 1200-seat venue designed by a Japanese architect-duo. The Lincoln Center Shanghai also hosts seasonal jazz performances.

The Shanghai live music scene is also well developed, with plenty of big and small venues offering a variety of styles of music. Most bars along Mao Ming Nan Lu host rock cover bands Friday and Saturday nights. For an underground live music scene on the weekend, look no further than Yuyintang, one of the city’s most notable fixtures for rock gigs.

The Shanghai Art Museum, located at People’s Square, is the most visited museum in Shanghai. Designed to look like an ancient Chinese vessel, the museum’s modern exterior stands out as a showpiece. The museum features superbly displayed, first-class exhibits of ancient Chinese artifacts and archaeological finds with Chinese and English explanations. The scientifically inclined may enjoy the Natural History Museum, which features a curious assortment of dinosaur bones and pickled human remains. While you are at People’s Square, check out the Urban Planning Exhibition Hall for a miniature model of the city’s design plan for the 2010 World Exhibition. Well worth a visit, especially for those who appreciate history, is the Museum of Public Security. This incredibly frank, thorough, world class museum rivals the Shanghai History Museum in the Oriental Pearl Tower for its number of historical artifacts and creative curating. Also a hit, especially if you are traveling with youngsters, is the Shanghai Ocean Aquarium in Pudong.

The acrobatics, bright costumes and high pitched vocals of Chinese traditional opera are truly part of the Chinese cultural experience. First time patrons are recommended to prepare themselves before giving it a go, as it is a highly stylized artform full of symbolism that will not be readily apparent to the uninitiated. It is recommended to read up on traditional opera, pack an open mind, and make sure you see a performance with English subtitles to ensure a pleasant experience. Venues to try for Chinese opera include the Yi Fu Theater or the fabulous and historic Great World Entertainment Center. The Bandai Namco Dream Hall also hosts a plethora of traditional Chinese operas from time to time.

The Shanghai Grand Theater and the Shanghai Theater Academy offer modern dramatic theatre.

One of the breath taking traditional Chinese performance art forms is acrobatics. An added bonus to enjoying an acrobatics show is the lack of a language barrier, so anyone can fully enjoy a show. The Shanghai Acrobatics Troupe is one of the city’s most celebrated performance troupes. Acrobatics shows can be found at the Great World Entertainment Center and Shanghai Grand Theater. Another place to enjoy smaller productions is the People’s Art Theater.

Nightlife and Discos
Shanghai’s nightlife is so developed that there are endless options for a fun night out, but some places stand out as great for dancing. The theatrical Bar Rouge on the Bund and Zapatas, specializing in fishbowl margaritas, are all highly recommended for their dance floors. Promoting a robust underground club scene for more than five years is Arkham, while Dada, a local dive is known for its hypnotic blend of DJs and youthful expats who take over the dance floor on Fridays and Saturdays.

Recommended Tours

Multi ethnic hipster couple cycling along city street, Shanghai French Concession, Shanghai, China

The Bund
The historic waterfront of Shanghai is an easy and pleasant walk at any time of the day. The old financial center of the city is lined with buildings dating back to Shanghai’s time as colonial concession. The 19th Century architecture is a distinctive contrast to typical Chinese buildings both old and new. Start your walk at the People’s Hero Memorial Tower, then head south along the water through Huangpu Park, where, if you are early enough, you can enjoy the peaceful synchronicity of morning tai chi. The Huang Pu River waterfront joins with Zhong Shan Road, the broad boulevard offers views of both the modern developing skyline of Pudong and an up close look at the old Bank of Agriculture Building, Huili Bank Building, and the Trade Building. Keep walking down passed the Shanghai Customs House, then enter what was once Shanghai’s tallest building, now the Bund Museum. Within is a lovely look at the area’s history, replete with photos. Next door is the upscale complex Three On the Bund, which, among its waterfront view restaurants, is the Shanghai Gallery of Art. Trace your steps back to Nan Jing East Road and turn left. The art deco Peace Hotel has a rooftop cafe with an extraordinary view of the area as well as quite good coffee. You will need the rest, because next you will head to the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel directly across the street from the beginning of Nan Jing Road, where you can walk under the Huangpu River to Pudong. The tunnel lets out at the Shanghai Ocean Aquarium, one of the most popular sights in Shanghai.

Nan Jing East Road and People’s Park
Start with a coffee at the Peace Hotel’s rooftop cafe to enjoy bird’s eye view of the Bund. Walking in from the waterfront, Nan Jing East Road becomes a pedestrian street at Henan Zhong Road and continues for an exciting kilometre (less than a mile) of shops, restaurants and carnival-like fun. There are plenty of fabric shops and tailors along the way, a nod to Shanghai’s past role as export warehouse for high quality Chinese goods such as silk. In the thick of it all is the Shanghai Center, where buskers and street entertainment are easy to find. Among the many shops is an excellent gallery, the Duo Yun Xuan Art House, home to traditional art objects long before Nan Jing Road became a walking street. Further along the street, among the selection of shops, of particular note is the Guo Hua China Ware Store featuring traditional porcelain and Ling Ling Pearls & Jewelry. Two blocks up, a stop into Le Royal Meridien Shanghai, take the elevator to floor 64 and enjoy the view and perhaps a tipple at 789 Nanjing Road Bar and Lounge, featuring 360-degree views of Shanghai.

From here, People’s Square or Renmin Guangchang is just a few blocks away. Past Tibet Road, the pedestrian street ends in the broad park-like square where you can choose between some of Shanghai’s finest museums, including the celebrated Natural History Museum. Whichever you choose, ending your trek at Kathleen’s 5 Rooftop Restaurant on the balcony is highly recommended.

French Concession and Xintiandi
Start out in the cobble stone streets of the Isetan Department Store near Mao Ming Nan Lu. This area is known as a fashion hub, as demonstrated by the selection in Shanghai Tang’s. Follow Fuxing Middle Road towards Fuxing Park, Shanghai’s French style park of fountains and open gardens. Nearby are the Former Residence of Zhou Enlai and, just about directly across from the park, the Former Residence of Dr. Sun Yat-sen. These two revolutionary heroes made their homes in the French Concession to hide out from the Manchu police. Their residences have been turned into museums that detail their contributions to the overthrow of the Qing Dynasty and establishment or the Republic of China.

On the other side of Nanbei Elevated Road, follow Zi Zhong Road until you enter the narrow alleyways of shikumen townhouses and shops of Xintiandi. Turn left at Huang Pi South Road and walk along Taipingqiao Park, one of the welcome open spaces here. On the other side of the park is the Site of the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China, another house-turned-museum. Among the bookshops, cafes and restaurants of Xintiandi, a dip into Huang Shan Tea Company for a cup of tea or introduction to regional teas in China is especially pleasant. There are plenty of fantastic restaurants to enjoy a meal and rest your feet at, but the xiaolongbao at Crystal Jade is highly recommended.

Nan Shi
Known as the Old City (Nan Shi) or, during the concession era, the Chinese quarter, this district offers a look at traditional architecture and original city planning. Rock gardens, walkways, teahouses and flying roof eaves provide a peaceful contrast to the steel and glass of modern Shanghai. A big destination in this district is Yu Yuan Gardens, which date back to the days of the Ming Dynasty. Bring your camera as you head east towards the water, follow Fuyou Road to the Ancient City Park. Once you’ve had a look around, head south down An Ren Street to the Temple of the Town God and try to remember that you are in the 21st Century, the atmosphere is rich in traditional Chinese elements. The warren-like neighbourhood offers plenty of eating and shopping. Of particular note is Nan Xiang, a restaurant over 100 years old and popular for its traditional Shanghainese food. Take a deep breath and work on your bargaining vocabulary before dipping into the Antiques Bazaar.

Jing’An Art Tour
One of the most crowded and colourful neighbourhoods in Shanghai, Jing’ An is home to lots of traditional culture as well as the elements that continue to propel Shanghai onto the stage of contemporary Chinese art. The Jing’An Temple is easy to get to via the subway. The temple was originally built at this site during the Song Dynasty in 1216. It was moved here from a site along Suzhou Creek that dated from 247 CE, or the Three Kingdoms period, making it the oldest temple in Shanghai. The temple is set within Jing’An Park, a welcome open space in such a crowded part of the city. The peace and tranquility of the temple is reflected in the waterfall themed People on the Water restaurant inside the Hilton Hotel where we recommend stopping to sample Zhejiang style cuisine. Move forward in time as you head over to the non-profit Museum of Contemporary Art (MoCA) on Nan Jing West Road. With exhibitions by Shanghai local artists plus contemporary art from around the world, this is one place to find out how Shanghai’s artists interpret the major changes taking place in their city. The rooftop cafe often hosts interesting parties and discussions. The next stop is another famous temple in the area. While not nearly as old as the Jing’An Temple, Jade Buddha Temple is one of the most celebrated temples in Shanghai, with two large Buddha statues carved of jade from Burma plus a larger marble statue of the Buddha gifted from Singapore. Finally, head to M50 Art District and the 1918 ArtSpace, housed in an stylish warehouse on Moganshan Road.


Once known as “Paris of the East,” Shanghai in the early 20th Century laid claim to being the most glamorous, decadent and cultured city in China—and all of Asia. After years of being closed off to the rest of the world, Shanghai is rapidly regaining its reputation as a cosmopolitan city. While Beijing remains the capital, the center of politics, culture, information and academia, the world knows Shanghai as China’s financial center, the center of fashion, and a progressive enterprising city open to new ideas.

New and ancient Shanghai, China

Unlike Beijing, Shanghai’s history does not date far back. Until 1842 it was a sleepy fishing village. Its name in Chinese literally means on the sea, which describes its advantageous location on the banks of the Yangtze (Chang Jiang) River delta, close to the silk and tea producing regions of China. Its geography propelled it to prominence when sea trade with the West became more important.

The 1842 Opium Wars are central to Shanghai’s origins as a cosmopolitan destination. To even out the trade imbalance between England and China, England began importing Indian opium to China, against the wishes of the Qing imperial court. Unable to stop the opium trade, which was quickly decimating every social class in China, the Qing declared war on opium traders. The English quickly won the war, as indemnity the Qing were required to open Shanghai to foreign merchants. Before the opium wars, foreign merchants were restricted to the treaty ports of Hong Kong, Guangzhou, and Portuguese held Macao. This port was further north and much closer to production areas, a huge advantage.

After the war, Britain declared Shanghai a treaty port, and the sleepy village was suddenly transformed into a cosmopolitan destination. The British, French and Americans took up autonomous concession zones in the city, each of which was independent of Chinese law. All three brought colonial influences to the city, which can still be seen today in the European architecture of the buildings on the Bund and in the Old French Concession area.

Shanghai quickly became an important industrial center and trading port in China. During these prosperous times, Shanghai gained a reputation for being one of the world’s most cultured and sophisticated cities. The rich, foreign tai pans led self-indulgent lives in casinos, cabarets and brothels. One such remnant of Shanghai’s decadent past is the Great World Entertainment Center, once a den of illicit pleasures, the building today offers more wholesome entertainment—such as Chinese acrobatics, karaoke and a video arcade.

Amidst the imported splendour of the concessions was the poverty of the Chinese-controlled parts of town. The dichotomy brewed social discontent that helped bring down the Qing court in 1911. In the ten years between the founding the Republic of China and the founding of the Chinese Communist Party in 1921, Shanghai was the portal for new ideas such as democracy, modern science and communism. Today, people can trace history by visiting a number of historical sites commemorating the birthplace of the Communist Party and its original members, including the Memorial Hall of the Site of First National Congress of Communist Party of China and the Dr. Sun Yat-sen Former Residence & Memorial Hall.

Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek’s power base was in Shanghai and during the Republican time an uneasy and sometimes violent relationship existed between the Communist party and the Nationalist Party. The invasion of Japan forced the two into an alliance that did not last beyond the end of the Japanese occupation. At the end of Word War II, civil war erupted between the two factions.

In 1949, the People’s Republic of China emerged under Chairman Mao Ze Dong. Shanghai’s reign as the most cosmopolitan city in China ended as foreigners fled the city and the property of the wealthy was taken over by the state. Chairman Mao’s wife Jiang Qing was formerly an actress in Shanghai and had several connections to the city. During the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s she made Shanghai the base for new cultural experimentation, most famously remembered in her revolutionary “operas”. Following the Chairman’s death, Madame Jiang and her colleagues, referred to as the Gang of Four, were arrested in Shanghai as they planned a coupe. In 1979, Deng Xiao Ping initiated a program of market liberalization and reform to kick-start China’s economic development. Shanghai did not immediately benefit from these reforms because it was considered more industrially advanced than most of China.

In 1992, reforms opened to new economic conditions that allowed it to quickly regain its place as the country’s economic head. A booming construction industry, increased private businesses, larger personal incomes and growing foreign investments made it one of the most industrialized bases in the country. The city’s resurgence in economic prosperity is best exemplified in the development of the Pu Dong New Area. The Shanghai government invested millions of dollars on infrastructure projects in Pu Dong, such as the aggressively modern Pu Dong International Airport. With its economic progress, Shanghai continues to undergo a renaissance of its arts and culture. The impressive Shanghai Museum and the architecturally striking Shanghai Grand Theater are just two examples of the city’s cultural rebirth. Since the mid-1990s the city has gained a reputation for experimental and extravagant architecture rivalled domestically only by Beijing.

Getting there and getting around

Getting There

From the Airport
There are a number of services that provide transportation from these airports to destinations throughout Shanghai.

Taxi: Metered taxis are available outside the airport, but it is advisable for travellers to have their destination written in Chinese.

Bus: There are seven Airport Buses that offer service to destinations throughout the city.

Train: The Maglev Train (http://www.smtdc.com/en/) is the world’s first magnetic levitation line and offers service from Pudong International Airport to Longyang Road Metro Station with trains leaving every 15 minutes.

By Train
Shanghai is accessible by Chinese Railways (http://www.chinamor.cn.net). Shanghai Railway Station is the main train terminal.

By Bus
Numerous coach services service Shanghai. One of the most prominent bus services is Shanghai Dazhong Bus (+86 21 5651 3313)

By Car
Driving in Shanghai is inadvisable for those unfamiliar with the city’s elaborate matrix of roadways. For foreigners wishing to travel by car, it is best to hire a driver.

Getting Around

Public Transport
There are numerous means of getting around Shanghai. Public buses are difficult to use without a comprehensive understanding of Mandarin, but the city’s metro system operated by Shanghai Municipal Public Transportation (+86 21 0500 2300) is user friendly.

Taxis are also easy to use provided you have your destination written in Mandarin. Some of the biggest dispatch companies include Friendship Taxi (+86 21 6258 4584) and Dazhong Taxi (+86 21 6320 7207).

Bicycle rental is uncommon since road conditions are extremely dangerous.