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Sophisticated Shanghai China: A guide to attractions, hotels, shopping, and travel through the city

Anyone who thinks they know China based on scenes of the Yangtze River, or farmers working in the fields, or thousands of workers on their way to the factory has not really seen China. They are snapshots. Fascinating, but limited in their scope.
Shanghai is yet another face of China – the face of commerce, sophistication, and tourism. Shanghai is China’s largest trade and commercial city, and first stop for many foreign visitors and businesspeople.

Getting Around

Taxis are definitely the best form of transportation around the city. They are easily found, honest, and inexpensive. The only caveat is that the drivers do not speak English.

Before you leave home, make sure you have the name and address of your hotel printed in Chinese. Once in the city, you can take a business card from the hotel and carry it with you. Also, before you leave for the day, ask someone at the desk to write out the name of the places you will be going. I have seen tourists stranded because the taxi driver didn't speak English and they couldn't produce the name of the hotel in Chinese.

Two Sides of the City - West of the Huangpu River

Shanghai spans both sides of the Huangpu River. The older historic part of the city on the west side, while New Pudong on the east side is as futuristic and modern as anyone could imagine.

Shanghai has had a long tumultuous history that has created a cultural pastiche. Colonized by the British and French, with Americans joining in as well, these countries put their imprint on the city. Subdued during the Opium Wars it is ironic that an era that was so difficult has helped create an open, vibrant and sophisticated city. It is to the credit of Shanghai and the Chinese government that this architectural and cultural legacy has been retained.

The Bund

One of the tourist imperatives is a stroll along the Bund. The colonial architectural neo-classical architecture takes the form of ornate buildings along a street that parallels the river. Many of the buildings are from the 1920s and 1930s, and have undergone renovation. Many are commercial buildings, but the 1929 Cathay Hotel, then the Peace Hotel, is now the Fairmont Peace Hotel. Sleep in a piece of Bund history.

Stop by Three On The Bund built in 1916 that today houses a gallery space, shops, and restaurants.

At the north end of the Bund is Huangpu Park, one of the many lovely green spaces that grace the city. Central to the park is the visually striking Monument to the People’s Heroes with its three pillars honoring those who died fighting the Opium Wars. Another piece of the colonial history is the area around Fuxing Park called the French Concession. This beautiful and well-preserved section is the old heart and is still one of the most beautiful parts of the city, dotted with historical buildings, cafes, fountains, shopping and pedestrian friendly streets.

In the park itself, you’ll find the residents of the city practicing tai chi, singing, strolling around the lake, practicing music. Marx and Engels are honored with statues in the park.

Yu (Yuyuan) Gardens and the bazaar: classical gardens and great shopping

Yu Gardens, the 5-acre classical garden is a magical place, with its meandering mosaic paths, pavilions connected by bridges, and artfully arranged stones and water. But the same beauty has made it a tourist lure of little equal. A staple of tours, it’s hard to enjoy a moment of contemplation amid the press of others also seeking that moment of solitude. Try a late afternoon visit when the tour buses have generally left.

Immediately adjacent is the Yu Garden Bazaar, the Ming style buildings are sometimes called “Chinatown in China” because it is a kind of fun, shopping and tourism destination that recreates the buildings and alleys of old. No one actually lives there, but it offers great shopping and strolling.

Hustling entrepreneurs offer knock offs and intriguing novelty items. In contrast is the sedate and very well-stocked government store that offers guaranteed genuine merchandise complete with eager sales associates and higher prices. The merchandise is definitely quality and worth a visit, but you won’t find irresistible bargains.

Although a communist society, the area also has a plethora of small individually owned shops selling all manner of products. Pearls abound. But there’s also a store selling chopsticks of all price ranger and material, a tiny fan shop. Wandering I spotted the beautiful graceful art scrolls and found myself drawn to an art gallery upstairs with original art and watercolor scrolls in all price ranges. The are also photo opportunities aplenty.

Ohel Moshe Synagogue (also called the Ohel Moishe Synagogue)

Few people associate China with Jewish history, yet there is a wonderful story of Dr. Feng Shan Ho, the rescuer of thousands of Austrian Jews who fled the Nazis, finding a haven in Shanghai, China. His story and more is the focus on the exhibits at the Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum.

There is no website, but you can visit the Museum at 62 Changyang Road in the Hongkou District.

Huangpu river cruise

A visit a city on a river requires a river boat cruise, and Shanghai is no exception. You’ll go right down the middle between new and historic Shanghai. The guidebooks laud the photo opportunities of he Bund and Pudong from the water, but taking those fabulous photos is a bit tricky – there is an urban haze that makes the crystal clear shots a rarity. Use a filter if you can, otherwise, take the cruise, and take your chance with photos.

Both sides of the river offer access to the cruise.


One of the newest and most decidedly futuristic Pudong (which means “east of Huangpu”). As is the way of China – it’s bigger than life, like the predictions of the urban future with multi-use mega-skyscrappers interspersed with green areas.

It is home to two of the world's tallest buildings, and the Pearl Tower. The vertically sprawling, sleekly contemporary Shanghai World Financial Center (SWFC), the pagoda-inspired Jin Mao tower and the comparatively smaller but definitely futuristic Pearl Tower have all created a synergy of modern, sleek, high-tech in the new financial district.

Shanghai World Financial Center
The newest building is also the tallest and the most elaborate. The Shanghai World Financial Center, completed in 2008, features 101 floors above ground level and soars to a height of 1614 feet. It is the world’s third tallest building.

It is a vertical city with office space, an observatory, offices, restaurants and shops, and the incomparable five-star luxury of the Park Hyatt Hotel.

Jin Mao Building
Nearby is the differently amazing Jin Mao Building. No tiny construction, it is the 8th tallest in the world at 1379 feet with offices, a deluxe 5-star hotel - the Grand Hyatt Shanghai, exhibition halls, banquet halls, an observation deck, and entertainment facilities. Although the pagoda elements are there, they appear transformed through an art-deco lens. The effect is oddly ethereal.

Jin Mao and SWFC are neighbors and the view of Jin Mao from SWFC is particularly striking.

Oriental Pearl Tower
Although not as tall as the other buildings, the Pearl Tower (at 1,536 feet) offers its own futuristic architecture that reflects its function as a television and radio tower, the tallest in Asia. Visitors can almost imagine power pulsing up and down the columns.

There are several observation areas, restaurants and a shopping mall, and at the base of the Pearl Tower is the Shanghai History Museum. Tableaux depict scenes of history, and cobbled streets lead from one area to another. From the beginnings of the city through the Opium dens that were part of the Opium Wars and the British to domestic scenes of restaurant, herb shops, street life. It presents the story behind the colonial architecture that enchants visitors – the carving up of the city by the French and the British in earlier times. This is not an indictment of the horrors of colonialism, it is instead an acknowledgment of the variegated history that has created the complexity of the city – its architecture, its story, and its people.

Along this side of the Huangpu River across from the Bund, is another pedestrian walkway. It’s not as famous as the Bund, but is a lovely place to stroll, with views across the river.

ERA Intersection of Time

When it comes to nightlife, there are bars and clubs, but one of the uniquely Shanghai and Chinese experiences is the ERA - Intersection of Time: The Multimedia Theatrical Spectacular. It is that and more. With echos of Cirque du Soleil, the skill and athletic prowess of the performers is enhanced by choreography, costume, and music.

Lighting shifts, people rise up from hidden wells in the floor and drop from wires in the ceiling. As colorful as butterflies and graceful as dancers they twirl from ribbons in the ceiling doing a pas de deux the ballet never anticipated but would love to emulate.

Acrobats leap, jump, fling and roll themselves through narrow hoops. Performers slowly, gracefully create sculptural forms using their bodies as building material, balancing on each other as they add layer and layer. The pose is held momentarily as if fused of bronze or steel only brilliantly color bronze or perhaps porcelain.

Performances take place at Venue: Shanghai Circus World No. 2266,Gonghexin Rd, Shanghai

Shanghai Maglev

When it’s time to return home, take the new maglev train. The Shanghai Maglev is the fastest railway system in commercial operation in the world reaching speeds of over 300 MPH without a whisper of acceleration. A true marvel of technology, it will take longer to get to the maglev station in Shanghai than it will take to be whisked to the airport.


We stayed at the elegant Portman Ritz-Carlton and the sophisticated Park Hyatt.

The Portman Ritz-Carlton is in the midst of the bustling city while the Park Hyatt offers easy access to the Pudong area. And I fell in love with the total luxury of Park Hyatt.

Located on the top floors of the Shanghai Financial one of the world’s tallest buildings it is a high tech marvel that managed to be low key and welcoming at the same time. Sleek and contemporary with classic Chinese influences and touches. With plentiful, inexpensive taxis it’s easy to go from one area to the other, making both hotels a fine choice. In addition, Shanghai has plentiful accommodations in all price-ranges.

© 2010