Updated: Mar 25, 2021
When you think of Shanghai, what do you think of? Big skyscraper towers on the 陆家嘴(LuJiaZui) skyline and dazzling lights in the night sky? Shanghai has come a long way from that small village and endured several ups and downs through history that serve as a testament to the glory it has today. My parents both grew up in Suzhou and went to Shanghai for university so they saw the drastic changes that Shanghai went through in the last 2 decades to become the cosmopolitan city it is today. My dad used to hear stories from my great-grandmothers generation about the glory of Shanghai in the 1930s. Today, I think that Shanghai has returned to the glamour in the 1930s, representing China to the world as friendly, cosmopolitan, and a socially and culturally international city. If you want to truly experience Shanghai, you have to experience both old and new Shanghai and how they come together to form a cohesive whole. New Shanghai encompasses the districts such as 陆家嘴(LuJiaZui) and 新天地(XinTianDi) , along with the many suburbs surrounding those districts that have being constructed in the 2 decades of China's industrialization age. Old Shanghai is found in the narrow and small Hutongs that are vanishing day by day because of rezoning projects near the newer districts. Today,Shanghai has long been seen has as a beacon of hope for many people in the countryside because it resembles the epitome of a large city- multinational corporations, international cuisine, and a vibrant nightlife scene.
Shanghai was a small fishing village in the 1840s before the British conquered it and opened up a few sections to various settlements. In the 1930s, Shanghai was known as Paris of the East, with glamours bars, brothels and international restaurants with many international guests visiting Shanghai from England,France and others.The area of the Bund with it’s international corporations and the French concession was also developed during this period, as reflected in the architecture. In the 1950s and 1960s, communism under Chairman Mao swept China and the charm of Shanghai vanished. It was only after the free market reforms of Deng Xiao Peng in the 1970s that Shanghai once again opened to the world, and the skyline we see today at (陆家嘴)LuJiaZui developed.Today Shanghai is one of the most modern and developed cities in the world, inviting the world to visit its culture and the history every day.
Top Attractions in Shanghai:
1.The French Concession District
The French Concession District is one of the several foreign concessions in Shanghai from 1849 to 1943 until the Japanese invaded China. 新天地(TianZifFang) is located in this district, where you can walk through a maze of alleys, arty shops and tea houses along narrow cobblestone roads. The architecture of the French concession is also in high demand in Shanghai, with trendy shops and cafes nearby.
Shanghai Disneyland is one of the newer Disneyland incorporations located in the Pudong District, which can be conveniently assessed by train from the city centre. Shanghai Disney has all the elements of a conventional Disney Park with added Chinese aspects including Mulan and other Chinese inspired characteristics. There are also many cafes where you can get character inspired treats. If you are a big Disney fan, this is a must see as you can compare the various Disneys around the world. One my my favourite rides was the Tron LightCycle Power Run because you are lead into a space capsule and get absorbed in the experience from the long alleyway to the ride in space.
3. Shanghai Oriental TV Tower & LuJiaZui
The Shanghai Oriental Tower is located in (陆家嘴)LuJiaZui, one of the districts in the Pudong Area which was non existent 20 years ago. The district of (陆家嘴)LuJiaZui represents China of the future and the walls and robotic future storytelling at the Pearl Tower all show that same theme with Shanghai leading the future. There is a revolving restaurant at the top and several exhibition facilities. The malls and shops near (陆家嘴)LuJiaZu all contain international cuisine selections that infuse both western and eastern culture, and my favourite was the curry pizza in one of the restaurants.
4. Starbucks Reserve
The Starbucks Reserve is the largest Starbucks in the world and is located on West Nanjing Road, one of the newer locations in Jing’an district, surrounded by high end shopping malls and shops.The reserve not only contains conventional Starbucks drinks, but 2 floors of exclusive Starbucks merchandise, the process of roasting and various snacks along the way. The Starbucks Reserve in Shanghai is one of the most elegantly designed Starbucks in the world and features in house roasting, 3 coffee bars, and a pizza shop all in one location.
5. 外滩-Wai Tan (Bund) and Surrounding
The Bund is long known to be as a symbol and the face of Shanghai as it was there when Shanghai first opened as a treaty port in the 1840s and after when China lost the first opium war. Large financial international corporations slowly built themselves along the Bund and various architectural styles such as Gothic, Classical ,Baroque, Renaissance and neoclassical styles can be found here. The night time view is a great walk along to see the great skyline of the (陆家嘴)LiuJiaZu and Pudong buildings that have developed in recent years. You can also to choose to take a boat tour of the the Bund during the nighttime.
Be sure to visit Shanghai’s impeccable construction of hotels and elegant decor at Flair at the Ritz Carlton and other rooftop bars. There are also many types of techno and various genres of music available on depending on the venue.
Shanghai has a humid subtropical climate with 4 distinct seasons. Be sure to savour the delicious Shanghainese (小笼包)XiaoLongBao, along with Shanghainese Noodles on your trip. Choose to dine at the widely popular DinTaiFung chain restaurants, or as I recommend, go for the smaller shops along the street alleys. Shanghainese is a distinct dialect of Chinese, so be sure to watch for changes in language when speaking. The centre of film and shopping in China is also located in Shanghai, with (南京路)NangJin Ru as the prime shopping and filming district. Recently, many films and Chinese documentaries have been filmed on the streets of Shanghai, including the popular (歡樂頌)Huang Le Song,which talks about 4 girls living in Shanghai and the popular drama (完美关系)Wan Mei Guan Xi, in which 2 public relations officers work together on cases from their head office in Shanghai.
2. Maglev Line-Fastest Train
The Shanghai Maglev Train is the fastest train in the world and runs between (龙阳路)Longyang Road station to Pudong International Airport. It takes around 10 minutes to complete a journey of 30km and Guiness Records in 2003 deemed it the fastest train in commercial use. The train is very environmentally friendly and is deemed the fastest way to travel out of Pudong International Airport to downtown Shanghai. This is a must experience for those of you who enjoy riding on trains and want to compare different train journeys around the world.
3. WaterTowns and Gardens located near Shanghai
Although there are many water towns located near Shanghai, about 30 minutes east of Shanghai is my hometown of Suzhou, known for it’s canals and gardens, which I will cover in another blog post. However, if you only have a day or two in Shanghai and you want to explore some of the water towns, be sure to explore Yu Garden and and the town of (朱家角)Zhujiajiao, where you can check out the ancient bridges and canals,similar to Venice in Italy.
4. Shanghai Architecture and Art Galleries
The Fairmont Peace Hotel and the Park Hotel all resemble hotels with an Art Deco architecture style, while many modern art galleries such as Art on the Bund and China Art Museum are also located in Shanghai. If you want to truly experience a piece of architecture that resembles Shanghai’s history, check out the 1933 Slaughterhouse in the Hongkou region, designed by Balfours, a British Master Architect to reflect an intricate Art Deco building. The building was originally designed to slaughter thousands of cattle,ship and pigs a day, but today the building is a less-known tourist destination that tries to acknowledge the history through intricate design.
Kentucky Fried Chicken was my favourite pastime time when I was little because McDonalds had not opened in China yet, and there where unique Chinese combinations of corn and chicken deals for when I needed a snack. In Shanghai, KFC is located more frequently throughout than Mcdonalds,which could be a good or bad thing depending on your fancy.
Shanghai is long known as a international city for its glamour and opulence. From growing up in Suzhou, about 30 minutes from Shanghai on the speed train, I’m happy to say that my neighbour has achieved many goals in the last 2 decades in infrastructure, the arts and sciences. From the open and wide streets in Jing’an to the Hutongs and artwork in (新天地)TianZiFong to the glamours views from Flair at the Ritz- Carlton, Shanghai infused new and old history together to form a coherent whole. From the Jewish Quater in Hongkou to the French Concession, there is international flair everywhere you go in Shanghai.Even though history has proven and tested Shanghai, it has proven itself to be formidable to the ravages of time and kept moving forward gracefully.