It is China’s most populated city with over 24 million people cruising through the streets daily. Government officials wanted to make Shanghai the New York of Asia, and with soaring skyscrapers and shops that open for 24 hours, the energy of the city certainly makes the title a worthy one. Yet the beauty of Shanghai isn’t in getting lost in the bustle of the city, it’s the stark contradictions at every street corner that you’ll likely encounter.
From seeing an elderly woman chopping onions in preparation for a family dinner, to bumping into a teenage girl leaving the house dressed in high fashion, the different flavours of Shanghai will surprise you.
Shanghai is filled with endless sightseeing attractions that every visitor must fit in. If you’re an early bird, then a sunrise walk around the Bund along the Huangpu River is a must. It’s popularly known for its nightlife, so to experience the waterfront area before it is filled with thousands of people is pretty rare.
Another popular activity is to go for a night cruise along the river (above). It is there that you’ll get to see the magnificent lights from all the tall buildings on full display. There are various companies offering tourists full tours of the city lights which include a night boat ride. Prices vary on the day – operators will decrease the price if it isn’t a busy day, so they are always open to negotiation.
The best time to visit Shanghai is during spring and autumn. If you go during spring, your walk along the Bund will be filled with dozens of flowering Yulan magnolia trees (above). These seasons are also ideal for tourists as the temperatures are milder and the air “cleaner.”
Once you’re done walking around the Bund, perusing through 5,000 years of history at the Shanghai Museum is worth a visit. Located on the People’s Square, the museum is filled with ancient Chinese art. If you have enough time, visit the museum several times over a few days. That way you can divide the different art sections up and you’ll have ample time to digest the beauty of all the pieces.
A must-have travel accessory when visiting Shanghai is a good pair of shoes. Once you’ve browsed the museum, make your way to Fuxing Park. It is here that you’ll find groups of grannies singing Chinese opera (above) and men taking their caged birds for a stroll. The house of Sun Yat-sen is nearby at 7 Xiangshan Road. Yat-sen is considered the founding father of modern China and the residence is filled with furniture and ornaments that will give you a feeling of what Shanghai was like back then.
Jade Buddha Temple (above) has over 70 resident monks living and working there. The inside centrepiece is a 1.9m-high white jade Buddha and is encrusted with tonnes of jewels. A vegetarian restaurant at the temple offers over 80 kinds of delicacies and takeaway options. The cost is relatively cheap at between 30 (US$4.36) to 100 yuan per person. A visit here is ideal if you want to experience an active temple.
We told you to put on your walking shoes, and you’ll need them to visit the world’s second tallest building: The Shanghai Tower (above). It is 2,073 metres tall and a popular tourist site. It’s said to have the world’s highest observation deck at 561 metres (6 metres higher than Dubai’s Burj Khalifa’s deck) and the world’s fastest elevators. Watching the night lights and sunset from here are incredible. Just remember, if it’s raining or there is fog, your views won’t be too great.
Shanghai has the longest metro system in the world and it spreads across a mammoth 588km underneath the city. There are over 300 stations throughout the city and it is relatively easy to navigate to all the major tourist attractions. Shanghai also boasts the world’s fastest train in the form of the Shanghai Maglev (above).
Although it doesn’t cover the whole of Shanghai – the train ride is an eight-minute trip from the international airport – the ride is certainly worth every bit of dizziness you’re bound to experience. At 430kph, the Shanghai Maglev was built to impress tourists and not so much as a primary mode of transport for locals. Click here for more information on times and rates.
If visiting Disneyland is on your must-do list, then you’re in luck. Shanghai’s Disneyland opened in June 2016 and will transport visitors into a magical land of dinosaurs, dragons and meet and greets with your favourite characters. The resort has rigid operating times, so it is best you check the details before planning your day.
Of course, when you’re in a foreign city then you’re going to want to shop. Dongtai Road (above) is filled with antiques and curios. Modern art is a hugely popular trade in Shanghai and many stores feature young artists’ work.
If you’re feeling hungry after all the walking, then you might want to sample some local food. Xiao long bao (above) is a soup dumpling and almost a staple in Shanghai. As much as there are hundreds of food stalls and restaurants to choose from, Din Tai Fung, is known for its xiao long bao. The restaurant chain is certainly not a five-star venue that many tourists will go to, but Din Tai Fung is popular for a reason: the dumplings are mouth-watering! Plus they do takeaways, which makes it convenient.
End your visit with a traditional Chinese massage. Warning: this is not for the faint-hearted. Your feet may be aching from all the walking, and while the massage will hurt at first, you’ll feel the benefits afterwards. Green Massage is just behind Huaihai Park and is a much better option than the street massages available.
Perhaps the biggest tip for any tourist visiting Shanghai is to carry many business cards. It is customary in the city to exchange business cards when meeting locals, even when visiting a shop.
Custom dictates that you bow your head slightly and offer your card. Also, don’t get a fright if a group of people start clapping when you approach them. This is a form of greeting and it’s suggested that you clap in return.
The dialect in Shanghai is very different to the standard Mandarin which is spoken around Beijing. Shanghainese is probably only about 70 per cent understandable to those who speak Mandarin. But as a modern and global powerhouse in China, most of the residents speak English fluently.
– TEXT BY JESSICA FARAH
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.