The new Chinese Manhattan
The most evident example of modernity in Shanghai is the financial district of Pudong, facing the Huangpu, where you can admire a whole host of futuristic buildings in a single glance. The most notable of these is the Oriental Pearl Tower (the television tower), a symbol of the city, whose spheres of different diameters and heights create a series of striking effects.
The building is home to various attractions (exhibition spaces, restaurants, recreation and business centres, a hotel and the Shanghai History Museum) and has 3 different panoramic levels (the Space Module, the Sightseeing Floor and Space City), which offer unparalleled views.
Another important Shanghai landmark is Jin Mao Tower with its harmonious blend of Eastern and Western architecture; previously the tallest skyscraper in China (420 m), it was exceeded in height by the Shanghai World Financial Center (492 m) and then subsequently Shanghai Tower (632 m).
Opened in 2015, this vertical city (whose 127 floors can host up to 16,000 people) is composed of 9 overlapping cylinders embellished with green spaces and recreational and cultural areas, as well as restaurants and shops, and also stands out for its sustainable construction methods and use of recycled materials.
Founded in the 10th century during the Song dynasty, Shanghai began to develop from the 17th century onwards, over time transforming into the ultra-modern and at times futuristic metropolis that we know today.
The vestiges of ancient Shanghai can still be seen in a number of highly striking temples and gardens. One fine example is Shanghai Wen Miao (the Confucian Temple) in the district of Huangpu, erected between 1368 and 1398 and dedicated to the famous Chinese philosopher.
The buildings sculpted into the stone, the pagoda and the wonderful Wen Miao lakes create a wonderfully peaceful and relaxing environment for visitors to enjoy.
Meanwhile, located in Xuhui, in the south-west of the city, is the Jade Buddha Temple, one of the few still dedicated to this religion. With its perfectly symmetrical rooms and courtyards and its yellow walls, this temple is without doubt one of the most beautiful in the city and its crowning glory is its statue of the sitting Buddha, sculpted from a single piece of white jade and decorated with precious stones.
Finally, other must-visit attractions include Yuyuan Garden in Nanshi (the Old City), built during the Ming dynasty and the only surviving example in Shanghai of the traditional Chinese garden, whose trees, ponds, little bridges and pavilions encourage contemplation and calm.
Discovering the historic districts
Walking through one of the city’s historic neighbourhoods is the best way of discovering the old Shanghai. In Bund, on the western bank of the Huangpu, directly opposite Pudong, there are around 50 colonial buildings of different architectural styles, the most noteworthy being the art deco Sassoon House, the headquarters of the Bank of China, the old British Consulate and Union Church.
From here you can walk to the former French Concession (home of the first French Consulate from 1849), and the Xin Tian Di district, entirely redeveloped with the aim of preserving the history and architecture of the past and today one of the city’s chicest and most romantic areas, its tree-lined avenues filled with designer boutiques, art galleries, refined restaurants and elegant colonial residences.
Equally popular and frequented by artists and intellectuals is the quiet neighbourhood of Tianzifang, where you can still find examples of traditional stone houses (Shikumen) and historic artisan workshops, and the peaceful atmosphere has an olde-worlde 1930s charm to it.
Finally, if you have enough time it is worth heading out as far as the district of Qingpu and the ancient water town of Zhujiajiao where you can only travel along the narrow network of canals on foot or by boat.
The place to go to - if you are looking for cheap bargains - is the area around People’s Square, off of which leads the first shopping street in China, Nanjing Road, a long, pedestrianised road easily recognisable for the neon signs of the thousands of shopping malls, stores and restaurants that line it. These include the historic Shanghai First Food Store, a good place to make some interesting purchases.
Meanwhile, in the malls of Huaihai Road, you can also find fine silk garments and traditional clothes as well as the leading international and Chinese labels.
Other areas of interest are Bund, the area of the major luxury brands (Giorgio Armani, Dolce & Gabbana, Cartier, Patek Philippe, Ermenegildo Zegna), which have occupied the old colonial buildings, and Xintiandi, the most glamorous pedestrian area in Shanghai and home to the city’s hippest bars and shops.
Located in the aforementioned financial district of Pudong, Jin Mao Tower, with its view over the Huangpu, is one of the tallest and most original skyscrapers in China. Its speedy lifts reach the 88th floor in under a minute where a 60-metre walkway that goes around the spires of the tower, without any protection or railings, offers thousands of tourists the exciting experience of seemingly walking on air at a height of 350 metres and real thrill seekers the chance to dive off into the abyss (obviously with harnesses!).
A little less hair-raising, but no less interesting, is a trip to the Shanghai Ocean Aquarium which with its 450 species of fish is the biggest aquarium in the world. Here you can experience what it is like to walk along the ocean floor.
Finally, film buffs might fancy a trip to the Film Park in the district of Songjiang where as well as watching the production of TV shows and films it is possible to walk through sets that faithfully reproduce landscapes and objects from 1930s and 40s China (old roads, country villages, early 20th century buildings and vehicles, phone boxes and much more).
Typical Shanghai cuisine, known as Hu, is distinctive for its use of a number of particular ingredients and the methods used to prepare raw materials. For example, in some recipes fish, crab or chicken are steeped in alcohol and then served cooked or raw. Many recipes also use sugar, generally combined with soy sauce.
Located by the sea, but also close to lakes and rivers, many of Shanghai’s local recipes are based on freshwater or saltwater fish. Its crab, oysters, white meat, game and seasonal vegetables are also excellent.
Classic Shanghai dishes include fried crab eggs, Da Zha Xie, fried bamboo shoots, sweet and sour mandarin fish with pine nuts, Chinese-style braised pork belly and steamed dumplings filled with meat, fish or vegetables; the most popular snacks include fermented and marinated tofu with hot sauce, notable for its strong aroma and very unique flavour.
To enter China you need an entry visa which is issued according to a procedure based on your reasons for travelling. Visa requests can also be submitted via travel agents to the diplomatic and consular authorities of the People’s Republic of China in your country.
Tourist visas permit you to enter China once and to stay for a maximum of 30 days. Visas are not issued at the border so those who arrive in China without a visa will be denied entry.
For Shanghai, it is also possible to request a 144-hour transit visa.
The following documents are required to apply for a tourist, business or short stay visa:
- Passport with at least 6 months of validity and 2 consecutive blank pages;
- Photocopy of passport pages;
- Chinese Visa application form filled out and signed;
- Privacy notice of the Chinese Visa Centre;
- Bookings of return flights to China.
For more information visit https://www.fmprc.gov.cn/mfa_eng/
The best periods to visit Shanghai are the Spring (from March to May) and the Autumn (from late September to mid-November). In fact, the Summers are normally hot and humid (July and August are the wettest months of the year and temperatures can rise as high as 40 °C) and the Winters are characterised by cold winds, particularly in January when temperatures go below zero.
TipsBefitting of a city that is very attached to its ancient customs, there are numerous traditional events in Shanghai. The most typical of these include, in April, the International Flower Show and the Peach Blossom Festival in Nanhui, which celebrates the life of the old peasant villages with dances, songs and a sea of colourful and fragrant flowers. This is also an excellent chance to taste a few typical dishes and perhaps take part in some of the rural activities proposed.
The International Tea Culture Festival takes place in April and May. Completely different yet just as interesting are Shanghai Fashion Week (March and April), an international event dedicated to Chinese fashion, luxury and design, the Shanghai Music Festival (in May), and the Shanghai International Film Festival (in June), the most important event of its kind in East Asia, which screens films from all over the world.
Located on the Huangpu River and looking out onto the East China Sea, with its 24 million inhabitants Shanghai is the most populated city in China and one of the biggest citiesin the world. Following the rapid development of recent decades, today Shanghai is a crucial economic, financial and business hub for the entire country. At the same time its majestic and extravagant contemporary skyscrapers, intermingled with the splendid vestiges of its ancient past, form an extraordinary panorama of unmistakable oriental flavour. Known as the “Paris of the East” for its beauty and charm, Shanghai is also one of the most fashionable and cosmopolitan cities in Asia.