To visit Shanghai is to greet a Jetson-like skyline above an antique wonderland of labyrinthine neighborhoods. Here, you can carry your bags from the glistening mall to a nearby subterranean hot pot shop that has been serving up steamed dumplings in pungent beef broth for the past century or more.
This classy mélange of old and new, east and west, futuristic and traditional, carries forward to infuse Shanghai’s cuisine, shopping, arts, museum attractions, and architecture. In a land where the lion’s share of the world’s cranes have been buzzing for the past two decades building Feng Shui-perfect monuments to the heavens, builders always provide a huge hole for dragons to use should they need to make a quick escape through a skyscraper of steel and glass.
The old is preserved most aesthetically at the Yuyuan Garden, a medieval classical garden of the Ming and Qing dynasties abutted by a colorful and lively street bazaar featuring handicrafts and clothing. Here, time-choked visitors can have a quick and satisfying shopping venture. Then there is the Jade Buddha Temple nearby, built in 1882, in Song Dynasty style enclosing a six-foot white jade Buddha encrusted with jewels. It is one of the city’s few Buddhist temples and is still alive with worshippers. Jews also have a history here–and a temple museum. The Ohel Moishe Synagogue, built in 1927, was the centerpiece of the Jewish ghetto that housed the great diaspora of European refugees who fled the Nazis between 1933 and 1941.
A cruise along the Huangpu River is a good way to spend the heated afternoon hours in shade and breeze while getting to know the place from the cityscapes along the banks. The river cuts through the heart of Shanghai and the cruise runs from the Bund to Wusongkou, about 40 minutes each way, passing such icons as the Pearl Television Tower needle and the Monument to the People’s Heroes. The Bund starting point is an attraction in itself – a mile of 52 high rises in all the shapes, sizes and designs of contemporary Shanghai. The area originally housed foreign banks and embassies in its turn-of-the-(last)-century glory days. Now it is undergoing an extensive renaissance to become a global epicenter of galleries, restaurants, design, fashion and all that is cool. Shoppers will make a beeline to Nanjing Road, about three miles long and the busiest commercial center in the city. It is crowded with chic malls, restaurants, department stores and specialized boutiques. Catch a clean and fast levitated train, take a taxi or enjoy exploring the neighborhoods en route Upon arrival, take note: all prices are negotiable and tailoring to fit can be managed on the spot.
Whether the experience is Shanghai’s lively night markets or neon night life, underground noodle bars or five-star banquets, world-class museums, cultural attractions or eye candy architectural offerings, Shanghai has it and delivers it with bragging rights. After all, China’s currency is change. There is magic is in its metamorphosis— a dragonhead in the clouds.
Shanghainese can be considered a hybrid of regional influences from neighboring Zhejiang and Jiangsu, often resulting in a sweeter and more oily kind of noodle, dumpling or rice dish. Shanghai has its roots in internationalism. Therein, too, does its food find its flavor. You will find such favorites as “beggar’s chicken” (complete with the story of the pauper without a pot for his stolen chicken; he plucked the bird bare, covered it in clay and buried it in a burning hole), as well as fish with corn and pine nuts, crab roe dumplings and Bao (claypot) dishes.
You wil also find fine continental foods cooked up by Euro-trained chefs– even hamburgers done to perfection and chocolates shaped by imagination.
Many of the city’s top restaurants can be found on the Bund, in fine hotels and along the pedestrian-friendly streets of Xintiandi, where fashionista shopping, dining, clubbing and living collide.
Shanghai is easily the Paris of China—and for far fewer dollars and virtually no snobbery. Nanjing Road is the traditional center of it all, with its gleaming malls, known-designer chain stores, a Ritz-Carlton and nearby Four Seasons, banks, restaurants and wide, walkable sidewalks that lead to the Bund riverwalk. Just behind Nanjing Road, one finds old and atmospheric noodle shops, street performers as talented as anyone in the Shanghai Circus, and shop upon shop of desperately discounted jeans and sports clothes. Watch sellers approach. Buy if you want. A fine fake Rolex is still a bargain at $5. Better yet? The ever-ticking Mao watch.
Find fabulous fakes at Longhua Fashion and Gift Market — the unofficial new “Xiangyang Market.” It was the epicenter of faux until the city closed it up. Shanghai has markets galore and no doubt something for everyone–even an insect market for worms, snakes, and spiders along with antique books and scrolls.
The latest layout of Shanghai chic is Xintiandi, a bustling shopping and entertainment district near the French Concession area that mixes local mid-century building styles with car-free corridors and a cornucopia of sleek shops, clubs and cafes.
Also consider the Bund of Old Shanghai, a phalanx of fancy Art Deco splendor lining the Huangpu River. Find a fine mix of upmarket shops and high-class restaurants along this pleasant and walkable mile of Shanghai history. Find forward homegrown fashion, contemporary Chinese couture and accessories from such flashy designers as Zhang Da, Wang Yiyang, and Han Feng (designer of the costumes for Anthony Minghella’s noteworthy production of Madame Butterfly).
A visit to Yuyuan Gardens brings a bustling madhouse of tourist class restaurants, famous bun shops, tea houses and street vendors. The avenues around the garden comprise a crowded bazaar of great souvenir offerings, from beaded purses to Mao jackets to finely woven rugs, all at low prices and subject to even lower prices with some fearless haggling..
The five-floor, sun-dappled Shanghai Art Museum (325 Nanjing Xi Rd. West; 21 6327 2829; open daily 9a-5p –no entry after 4p) is one of the finest in all Asia. The modern “ding-shaped” (as in tripod cooking pot) structure houses 120,000 art pieces consisting of all manner of jade, calligraphy, bronzes, paintings, ceramics, coins and folk art. It also offers a splendid array of quality chotchkes, jewelry and clothing in its gift shops.
More than 70 million visitors are expected to show up between May and October of 2010 for the World Expo in Shanghai. The expo’s riverside site will feature festivities spanning more than two square miles. Some 185 countries are expected to participate in the expo, which is intended to illustrate urban futures and whose theme is “Better City, Better Life.” Shanghai itself is gearing up for the event with new green transport options designed to get visitors to the site, whether from the airport or their hotels, with seamless and carbon-considerate simplicity.
Shanghai is a haven of over-the-top hotels, literally. The 1,614-foot high World Financial Center houses on its floors a (79-93) one of the highest hotels in the world—the Park Hyatt, The city’s 1,377-foot Jinmao Tower features the high-tech Grand Hyatt on floors 55 to 87 and its Cloud Nine lounge on the 87th floor. The city’s Regent Hotel has floor to ceiling glass views of the city on all 53 floors.
The Four Seasons, the Portman Ritz-Carlton, St. Regis Shanghai, Peninsula and Shangri-La can also be counted among the city’s snazziest stays. All have spas sporting the latest beauty and pampering treatments. The spas drip in the ambience of the Orient, and the hotels boast six-star suites, lobbies, dining, shopping and services. They put even the fanciest hotels in the U.S. to shame.
For a fun stay at Shanghai’s latest “in” spot, try 88 Xintiandi, a boutique hotel of only 53 rooms. It is the winner of numerous awards for its comely designs. Rates start at $480. Also consider the Peace Hotel on the Bund, now part of the Fairmont Hotels collection. This was formerly the showpiece residence of Victor Sassoon. Its Art Deco interiors are meticulously preserved for an authentic experience of Old Shanghai. Rates average around $1,000 per night.
More Information about Shanghai
China National Tourism Office