By Karen Espig
Industrial giant Shanghai is one of the world’s largest seaports and a major Chinese commercial hub. The country’s most populated city at 24,870,895 is now a far cry from its modest roots as a small fishing village in the 7th century CE.
But, fascinating history and unique cultural flavour aside, why should you visit?
Originally consisting of trading houses and offices to support port activities, The Bund is a 1,500-metre embankment on the Huangpu River. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, financial institutions, corporate offices, luxury hotels, and nightclubs moved in. The two-dozen or so buildings here bring an eclectic collection of western architecture thanks to the American and British influences in its construction.
Enjoy this fascinating architectural district by strolling along its length, taking a cruise on the Huangpu River, or joining the locals for Tai Chi early in the morning!
Pudong New Area
Directly across from the Bund, the Pudong New Area represents modern Shanghai and features the Free Trade Zone (FTZ), encouraging regional trade and international investment. It is a futuristic collection of impressive and innovative buildings known worldwide.
The iconic Oriental Pearl Tower boasts three observation decks at different heights. The lower sphere has a revolving restaurant and a glass-bottomed floor affording 360-degree views of the city 259 metres below.
Another observation platform to check out is at Jin Mao Tower. The high-speed elevator gets you to the 88th-floor viewing deck in 45 seconds. For thrill-seekers, there is a 60-metre long glass skywalk which is hand-rail free! Not for the faint of heart!
Unique Museum Experiences
Tucked away in an unmarked apartment complex, the Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Center certainly comes as a surprise. The museum houses thousands of posters from the Maoist era (the 50s, 60s, and 70s), providing history through poster styles employed during this political climate. Grab some talking-point, unorthodox souvenirs in the small shop while visiting.
The new Shanghai Museum building’s design, housing over 120,000 objects, symbolises “round sky, square earth”, an ancient Chinese concept of geography. The museum’s extensive collections are arranged in 11 galleries. They include historic bronze pieces, palaeolithic ceramics, jades, and calligraphy works—all displayed in chronological order, from Neolithic times to the present.
Don’t miss the life-size terra-cotta statues of a horse and two warriors from the 3rd century BCE or the gorgeous Ming vases.
The Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum reveals a bright spot in China’s history. During World War II, Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis found a safe haven. Exhibits and films are presented on the main floor of the Ohel Moshe Synagogue; the lower floor remains a place of worship. The wall with the names of the 13,000 refugees engraved is a particularly touching monument. It is one of the few memorials listing the names of Jews who survived the war instead of those who perished.
Shop Until You Drop
Shopping in Shanghai is a not-to-be-missed experience. Nanjing Road is the city’s main shopping area and one of the busiest in the world—in the company of Fifth Avenue (New York City, USA) and Oxford Street (London, UK). The pedestrianised section is 1,200 metres long and 18-30 metres wide, with a strip called “The Golden Belt”, featuring seating, information booths, sculptures, and shopping kiosks.
There are hundreds of stores to choose from, including many international shops alongside historic ones selling handcrafted and local goods. The pedestrian walkway meets the central part of the Bund at the easternmost end.
Looking for bespoke clothing or just curious about what the fuss is about? Visit the three-storey South Bund Fabric Market to find hundreds of stalls selling custom-made suits, dresses, jackets, and traditional Chinese qipao. Many shops are foreigner-friendly, with signs in English and the ability to order online or ship home.
The Tian Shan Tea City is right up your alley if you are a tea-lover! It is home to approximately 150 sellers in a four-storey building which looks like a temple from the outside. Perfect for refreshments after a busy day shopping!
Formula 1 Grand Prix
The Chinese Grand Prix contract has been extended to 2025, with the next race being held in 2023. The Shanghai International Circuit last hosted a race in 2019, with the intervening years suspended due to Coronavirus.
At full capacity, this state-of-the-art track can accommodate 200,000 spectators. If you are a racing fan or travelling with one, be sure to get tickets well in advance.
Shanghai is a unique and fascinating city. Whether you are interested in architecture, history, culture, or just walking around taking it all in, you will undoubtedly have an experience to remember.