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
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 flavor 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 sky scrapers and business culture, is designed with the 2010 Shanghai World Expo in mind. The Oriental Pearl TV Tower, the largest tower in Asia and symbol of Shanghai's prosperity, is an integral part of Shanghai's skyline. The tower houses the
Pu Xi is a warren of city districts that together make up the cosmopolitan flavor of Shanghai. Unlike Beijing's city center, which emanates from the Forbidden City in outward rings, Shanghai's districts each offer a different flavor and diffuse the “center” of the city into well connected neighborhoods: 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
Huangpu District houses several of the top sites of Shanghai, including the Bund, Nan Shi,
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
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
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.
In colonial days 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
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
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
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.
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 splendor 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 errupted 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 rivaled domestically only by Beijing. The Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center contains a model of the city as planners anticipate it for the 2010 World Expo, including the rebuilding of entire neighborhoods.
Shanghai lives up to its reputation as China's entertainment capital. With so many things to do and see day and 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 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 the many galleries. ShangART in Xintiandi often exhibits avant-garde works by Chinese artists, while the ArtSPACE features experimental works in Jing'An's M50 Art District. For more classic fare, the Chang'an Gallery shows traditional Chinese paintings.
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, and the German Consulate Auditorium features German films. Judy’s Too shows movies on Mondays. For Hollywood blockbusters and the latest Chinese films, look into the Paradise Theater in Changning or the Majestic Theater. The Shanghai Film Art Center also has a good selection.
Several of the city's venues showcase dance performances. The Shanghai Grand Theater, a first-class international standard theater, often hosts international acts, while the Shanghai Stadium, Majestic Theater and Grand Theater at People's Square also provide sites for cultural performances big and small.
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 archeological 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.
If you are looking for a musical performance, Shanghai will not disappoint. The Shanghai Grand Theater, Majestic Theater and Shanghai Center Theater provide high quality facilities to enjoy a performance. Less formally, Jing An Chamber Music offers weekly chamber music concerts every Sunday evening at the Jing An Hotel.
The Shanghai live music scene is well developed, with plenty of big and small venues offering a variety of styles of music. The much celebrated Cotton Club has live jazz and blues nightly and attracts international talent. Surprisingly intimate, the JZ Club in Xuhui also has great live jazz. The space below Madame Zung's has been taken up by B:lo, which hosts a variety of modern, rock and alternative music plus a fun dance floor. Most bars along Mao Ming Nan Lu host rock cover bands Friday and Saturday nights.
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 Shanghai Grand Theater and the Shanghai Theater Academy offer modern dramatic theater. Check out their websites or call for the current listings.
One of the breath taking traditional Chinese performance artforms 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 we cannot possibly recommend all the great places that make up a fun night out, but some places stand out as great for dancing. The theatrical Bar Rouge on the Bund, Dragon Club for late late nights, and Zapatas, specializing in fishbowl margaritas, are all highly recommended for their dance floors. Still a novelty in China, salsa lovers will enjoy one of the early evening dance classes or late night open dance floor at Salsanova.
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 kilometer (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. Treat yourself to a gelato at Milano Ice Cream in the lobby of the Sofitel Hyalnd. There are kitschy flavors like spaghetti and rice, but also some of the tastiest Italian style ice cream in Shanghai. 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 Shanghai Art Museum and the 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.
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 neighborhood 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 colorful neighborhoods 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.