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Shanghai, China

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Personality Types that Like it Best

Did You Know … ?

  • Speakers of Cantonese, Mandarin and Shanghainese cannot understand one another.
  • China’s Communist party held its first national congress in Shanghai, in secret (1921).
  • The verb shanghai, meaning kidnap, recalls a time when men were kidnapped to be sailors on ships to the Orient.
  • Shanghai was first to put a maglev (magnetically levitated) train into service (2004), its top speed: 311 mph.
  • Playwright Noel Coward completed “Private Lives” while a guest at the Peace Hotel.

The Bund and beyond

Less than 200 years ago, Shanghai was a small fishing village and port. Then came the First Opium War of 1840-42. The British prevailed and forced the Chinese to open a number of ports for international trade, Shanghai among them. Arguably — setting aside the circumstances — this was the best thing that ever happened to Shanghai, assuming a bustling and prosperous world class metropolis is more desirable than a city that the world little notes.

Shanghai grew as the foreigners (Americans, British and French) built up their designated settlement areas, called concessions, producing a European look that persists to this day. The top attraction is the Bund, a riverside boulevard notable for many fine buildings that reflect this history.

Today, Shanghai, with more than 14 million people, is China’s largest city. It is divided north to south by the Huangpu River, which flows into the Yangtze delta.

The city west of the river is called Puxi and encompasses the foreign settlements plus the original Chinese village. Much of a tourist’s sightseeing (including the Bund), shopping and dining are centered in the former French concession. Xintiandi, the pedestrian-friendly entertainment district, is also in the former French area.

The major shopping street, Nanjing Road, and its pedestrian walkway are to the north in the former American and British areas. The People’s Plaza, the city’s largest public open space, is on Nanjing Road. (The plaza was the site of a British racetrack.) The original Chinese village is south of the foreign settlements.

Puxi remains the city’s center even with recent aggressive development of Pudong as the city’s financial district east of the river. The striking Oriental Pearl TV Tower overlooks Pudong’s high-rise skyline.

In sum, Shanghai is fittingly noted for its architectural history, vibrant economic activity, buzz-y nightlife, good dining and its shopping options (second to Hong Kong in China in that last category).

The city sits at a latitude almost even with New Orleans. Accordingly, Shanghai is hot and humid in summer. Rains make winters cold and damp. Spring and autumn are the best times to visit. As for manmade challenges, air and water pollution are significant.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Eat Chinese food, of course, but see how many of the country’s 16 different identifiable cooking styles you can sample. Shanghai has them all.
  • Set aside time for bar hopping in Xintiandi, a pedestrian-friendly entertainment district, or Tongren Lu, another popular entertainment street.
  • Stay in town long enough to study Chinese, the Shanghainese variety.
  • Find something quirky and insightful in the basement of an unremarkable apartment building. It is the Propaganda Poster Art Center. It charts some of China’s turbulent modern history and some of the era’s political thinking through propaganda art. The center, created by a tour guide, may possess the world’s largest collection of Chinese revolutionary art.
  • If a train aficionado, ride the maglev to the airport even if you aren’t about to fly anywhere.
  • Compete in the Toray Cup Shanghai International Marathon, held in early December.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Look down on the bustling and huge Shanghai from the World Financial Center. The building is 1,614 feet tall.
  • See a Kunju opera performance. This iteration of Chinese opera is said to be more melodic than the better-known Beijing opera.
  • Take a day trip to Zhouzhuang, a traditional walled canal town with no cars or roads. Take a boat tour on these waterways, shop a little, drop in at the town temple or visit a teahouse.
  • Join locals in one of the city parks for early-morning tai chi exercises.
  • Time your visit for late October/early November for the Shanghai International Arts Festival, which features art, dance, music and theater from around the world.
  • Eat tzungtzu (rice dumplings stuffed with bean paste or ham) and watch the boat races at the June Dragon Boat Festival.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Take tea at the Huxining Teahouse at Yu Garden.
  • Take a night cruise on the Huangpu River. The Bund and the Pudong skylines are illuminated.
  • Second only to Hong Kong, Shanghai is a shopper’s city. Start with the major shopping streets, Nanjing Lu and Huaihai Lu, but there are others aplenty including the considerably more casual outdoor markets. (The markets are the place to hone your bargaining skills.)
  • Treat yourself to dinner in an upscale establishment. Consider one of the restaurants found in the old shikumen (stone gate) houses in the Xintiandi district.
  • Visit the Jade Buddha Temple, which is known for its huge statue of the Buddha carved from a single piece of white jade.
  • Spend time at the Children’s Palace where you can see musical and cultural performances by children who attend classes there.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Shanghai Municipal Tourism Administration at