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Shanghai for the first-timer

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Shanghai for the first-timer

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This article is an itinerary.


Shanghai is so vast and varied that the only sensible plan is to select a few destinations, historic sites and cultural icons and experience the uniqueness of each one. Unlike Beijing, a royal city for centuries, Shanghai's history is not dramatic. Until the mid-19th century it was just a fishing village. Then it expanded into a trade center, colonized by the British. Change was rapid. The French came next and it was not long before Shanghai became an international settlement. By 1895, the city was parceled up into settlements, all autonomous and immune from Chinese law. Enter China's first fully fledged Special Economic Zone.

After the world's great houses of finance and commerce arrived in the 1930's, Shanghai became a byword for exploitation and vice. Guarding it all were the American, French and Italian marines, British Tommies, and the Japanese Bluejackets. The Communists arrived in 1947 and took on the job of cleaning Shanghai's house, so to speak. For the West, the party was over and had moved on.

In the 1990's the city government opened its doors to new ideas (together with old vices and exploitation) and sent out invitations for capitalists to set up shop again in a bid to reinvent and revitalize the city. Since then, the "Big Boom" has changed the city and continues to change the city on a yearly, weekly and even daily basis.

This itinerary focuses on one of the most enjoyable and exciting aspects of time spent in Shanghai - people watching.


Good walking shoes and an appetite.

Have your hotel concierge or good Chinese friend write down on a piece of paper the Chinese name of your hotel should you get lost and need to take a taxi back.

Get in[edit]

We start this tour where Suzhou Creek runs under Zhongshan Dong Lu at the north end of the Bund (Huangpu Park).


  • The Bund - Shanghai's famous Bund - an Anglo-Indian term for muddy embankment - with its row of Western institutional banks and business buildings, was once the most important financial street in Asia. Although all the buildings that formerly bore major international names have been taken over, mostly by governmental offices, the Bund (Waitan in Chinese) still retains its proud atmosphere. The broad boulevard is a museum of turn-of-the-20th-century Western architecture, with stately columns and porticoes.

Walking south along the river down the stately Bund, take in the view of Old Shanghai on one side of the river and the future of Shanghai on the other side. You could say that the river, full of shipping traffic, represents the here and now of Shanghai.

At the southern end of the Bund, you will find a ferry terminal (well-signposted). This will allow you to cross the river and get to the Pudong side. The ticket only costs 2 RMB and sailings are frequent.

  • Across the River - The promenade along the Huangpu River, across from the Bund, is a popular place for locals to meet. They go there to stroll, practice ballroom dancing or tai chi, buy souvenirs or snacks, and chat with foreign visitors--a popular pastime.

When you step off the ferry, you will find yourself in a fairly empty neighborhood. But just turn left along the river, and in 10-15 minutes you will find yourself within sight of the Oriental Pearl tower. The Oriental Pearl Tower is definitely distinctive and has views that are amazing. Get tickets for the museum located at the base of the Tower as well as the second bauble and outdoor viewing platform. The city history museum is well worth the visit.

At this point, look for the metro signs for the station located under the area between the towers. You will want to descend back down into the bowels of the city and ride the subway one stop to East Nanjing Road station. Transfer to line 10 and ride one stop south to Yu Yuan station. Get off and follow the signs to Yu Yuan Garden.

  • You now find yourself in Nanshi (Old Town) - South of the Bund, the ancient city (Nanshi), once surrounded by walls, is a lively, down-to-earth place whose crowded, narrow streets bring old Shanghai instantly to mind. In this traditional neighborhood, people seem to live in the streets--shopping for vegetables, smoking, eating, gossiping or reading.

Nearby, the walled Yuyuan Garden, still retaining the feel of traditional China, is an ancient park of rock formations, pavilions, towers, and man-made lotus ponds designed by a Ming dynasty family. The zigzag Bridge of Nine Turnings, one of the most well-known sights in Shanghai, crosses an artificial lake to Huxingtang, a beautiful little pavilion that holds a classic Chinese-style tea house. In and around the garden, you will find excellent snack food stalls and feel free to point at what you like, use small bills since most of what you will buy is cheap and smile a lot. Just have fun!

Go back to Yu Yuan station and ride the subway back to East Nanjing Road. From the subway station, you will see that E. Nanjing road is a pedestrian area. You can walk the entire length of it towards People's Square in less than 30 minutes.

  • Nanjing Road - Nanjing Road, from the Bund to the Portman Ritz-Carlton Hotel, takes you through several blocks of wide pedestrian streets lined with shops of all kinds.

When you reach People's Square at the western end, head over south (left) to the Shanghai Museum and view the exhibits there, very modern and very worth it. Afterward, head to the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall. If you thought the Shanghai History Museum at the Oriental Pearl Tower was unusual then this one beats that one hands down.

On the east side of the Park lies People's Square Metro Station. But if you are hungry, you can cross over to the other side of the street and turn right(south) down Xizang Road. When you reach the elevated highway (Yan'an Road) you will see on the corner a wedding cake shaped building. This is the Great World where traditional performances of human acrobatics is shown. Turn left(west) and one street down Yan'an Road on the right side is Yunnan Road food street. If the ingredients look fresh and its served hot off the wok, then you should feel no ill effects. Wander around and check out the offerings. Be aware that the Chinese standard of cleanliness are not always up to Western standards.

Stay safe[edit]

Shanghai is a remarkably safe city and violent crimes are very rare. Main problems are pickpockets in crowded areas and sexual harassment on crowded trains and buses. Be protective of your possessions, and carry a card with your hotel information on it in Chinese so that if you feel uncomfortable at any time, you can hail a taxi and return to more familiar surroundings. It is not uncommon to suddenly feel claustrophobic all of a sudden when in a crowd situation and Shanghai does have a lot of those kinds of situations.

Get out[edit]

From Renmin Square/Park, you can get to just about any part of Shanghai by metro, bus or taxi.

Shanghai has excellent fast rail connections to nearby cities. Suzhou is about half an hour away, Hangzhou 75 minutes, and Nanjing two hours.

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