I get asked for travel information all the time, and my most recent request came from some fellow travelers of Asia, Erika & Trey currently of Seoul, Korea, and this post is for them and anyone else who has asked me about what to do in Shanghai!
Oreintation & Transportation
The first thing to do is realize that Shanghai is basically divided into parts, Puxi and Pudong, bisected by the Huangpu river. The Puxi side is the historical roots of SH, (literally) where you can see European architecture from the concession days, or visit the site of the very first Communist Party meeting. On the other side is Pudong: an ever expanding sprawl of modernity which is growing at a blazing place on what was once rice fields a mere 20 some years ago. Every time I see Pudong, there is a building that wasn’t there last time, and my visits are not that far apart (few times a year).
As there are only so many ways across the river via bridges and tunnels, it is a good idea to try and do things clumped together based on which side they’re on, it can sometimes be troublesome to get a cab at peak hours to take you from one side to the other since they effectively get stuck on the other side unless they want to brave the congestion on the bridges. Alternative option is to use the metro, and Shanghai’s system is very good, I highly recommend picking a hotel near a metro station as having easy access to it can save you so much time, money and trouble taking a cab. Any tourist map of SH at the airport or hotel will have a map of the metro system in it so you can plan what stops and interchanges you may need ahead of time.
Speaking of cabs, it is a good idea to pick up business cards of places you may want to get back to since an address written in Chinese is an invaluable tool to communicate with the driver and make sure you end up where you want to. If you don’t have a card, ask the concierge or reception at your hotel to write out names and addresses for you in Chinese (I carry a small notebook for this purpose when traveling in China). Don’t forget to carry a card of your hotel! so you can get back, and many hotels in SH will give you a small card that has a list of popular destinations written in Chinese for you to use to get around.
The Puxi side (old SH)!
The Bund: A must do in SH is to see the city skyline at night. All the major buildings are lit up and SH really sparkles, especially the Pudong side, you’re going to want an iconic photograph with the Pearl TV Tower in the foreground. This is best accomplished from the other side of the river, and to do it in style, go to one of the many rooftop bars in the Bund area. I am partial to Mr. & Mrs. Bund (18 Zhong Shan Dong Yi Rd. 6th Floor) or New Heights (3 Zhong Shan Dong Yi Rd. 7th floor). You may want to consider going a bit before actual sundown, especially on the weekends, as seating with a view is limited. It will be a bit pricey, we usually just go for a couple of drinks and eat somewhere else. The Bund has a promenade along the waterside, it is a very popular place for lovers to take romantic walks.
The Bund Sightseeing tunnel (entrance and tickets on Bund promenade near where Nanjing street ends at river): Ok, so it’s kind of expensive, and a little bit goofy, but if you’re not on a budget and want a tripped out way to get across the river, the sightseeing tunnel is for you. It’s like a cable car, but on rails, that travels under the river and puts you right by all the tourist stuff on the other side, so it basically connects The Bund area / Nanjing street on the Puxi side with the Pearl Tower/Aquarium/Super brand mall on the Pudong side. So if you’re on foot and trying to do a loop of all that stuff, this is a fun way to cross the river. I imagine the experience is what a drug flash back feels like.
Nanjing pedestrian street: I’m going to mention real quick the cardinal directions in Chinese, many place and road names have a direction in them (as in this example).
North: Bei 北 (as in BeiJing)
South: Nan 南 (as in NanJing)
East: Dong 东
West: Xi 西 (pronounced “shee”. West is my favourite because the character looks like a pi sign trying to get out of a box, very easy to remember!)
Nanjing is closed to vehicular traffic and is mostly a shopping street. They have a huge Apple store. Probably not the best place to find deals in SH, but shopaholics can have a good time delving into the many stores, they go deep into some of the buildings. I’m going to try and not turn this post into a lesson in speaking Chinese, but it’s worth mentioning that ‘shopping’ in Chinese is mai dong xi. You may recognize ‘east and west’ in there, and the first bit mai means ‘to buy’. Traditionally, market streets were east west in direction so if you were going shopping you went to buy from east to west.
Yu Yuan Gardens: A crazed tourist destination. The gardens themselves are beautiful and labyrinthine (have fun finding the way back out!), full of water gardens, stone archways, rock formations, and stone sculpture, accessed by a footbridge over a koi pond with an auspicious number of right angles in it (7 or 9, I forget), it’s supposed to be lucky to walk the zig zags over the water. One of the oldest and most famous tea houses in SH is located here, a good example of classical Chinese architecture There is also the City Gods Temple, you can see the bizarre blend of traditional ritual, ancestor worship, superstition, possibly Buddhism mixed in, that counts as much as it can for religion in Communist China. People burn paper offerings and joss sticks (like incense) and pray to big golden figures that I won’t even pretend to understand, but they are impressive and cool to see. Buy some incense and say a kind word for any friends or family in need of a little good luck! Outside the gardens and temple, you will be hawked to death, every imaginable trinket and super stereotypical Chinese thing can be had here, but haggle since as a laowei (foreigner) you will undoubtedly be quoted a “special” price!
Xintandi & the French Concession: The concession is a leftover from when foreign countries had their own parcel of land that was considered part of that country within SH. The French one is probably the best preserved and the streets are lined with trees brought in from abroad. Xintandi has every luxury brand imaginable in huge stores and shopping centers. There is a small pedestrian area full of bistros, cafes and sweet shops. They also have a Xin Ba ca, or Starbucks. Nearby is the DongTai antique market street (almost everything mostly likely fake) and the site of the very first Communist party meeting, a historical if not hugely impressive, brick building.
Jade Buddha Temple: A real live Buddhist temple. They do get you coming and going, you have to pay to get into the temple and pay again for a separate ticket to see the actual Jade Buddha. Plus the poor unfortunates begging outside the temple wall. They will try to funnel you through the gift shop, but it may be worth it to see a guy on the second floor who does whole landscapes in ink with only the palm of his hand. It’s probably worth the 30 RMB to see the Jade Buddha, especially if you don’t have an opportunity to see many temples on your itinerary.
1933 Shanghai Slaughterhouse (29 Shajing Lu, 沙径路29号, 近海宁路): This is a really cool place, and not yet on the main tourist tramp. It looks like something out of a post-industrial nightmare dreamed up by M.C. Escher. It’s intended to be some kind of cutting edge artsy space, but the fact that it’s only partially populated with shops only adds to the creepy abattoir feeling. A great place to do cameo photography, even if you don’t go into a single business, it’s worth it to wander the bizarre ramps, cramped stairwells to apparently nowhere, arches, basements and just overall weird architecture. I would recommend eating at the Italian restaurant Rosso Italiano, I don’t know if it was because they weren’t busy or what, but we were treated like family and given a free slice of cake by the enthusiastic owner. Credit for discovering this goes to my friend Andrea Fontana.
Hongqiao Pearl market (No.3721 Hongmei Road): Not terribly near the other tourist stuff, but if you are into beads, jewelry, and general shopping, it’s worth it to spend a day here. The market sells all kinds of stuff, you can get decent deals on the usual China shopping suspects like silks, tea sets, etc, as well as pearls, loose semi-precious and precious stones, beads, fake everything and finished jewelry. When you get hungry, there is a most excellent Indian restaurant Bukhara (outside of the market on the corner, 2nd floor).
So this post isn’t meant to be an all comprehensive tour guide, but it does hit the things I have enjoyed doing whilst visiting SH, usually on my way to someplace else. Stay tuned for Part II: The Pudong side!
Wanderlust Wondering by christystarfish