Must-Sees for a Shanghai Visit

Get Travel Channel's list of must-sees for a visit to Shanghai.
By: Andrew Yang
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Photo by: iStockphoto

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While Shanghai can’t claim to be the capital of China, the city -- one of the largest in the world -- can claim to be the capital of many things: a center of finance, culture, social trends and a melting pot for the world’s largest country.

Venturing into this sprawling metropolis of 20 million residents is to see modern China in its sweeping, dynamic, continually evolving character -- from the skyscrapers of Pudong (the business district to the east of the Huangpu River which divides the city), to the revived lane houses of the city’s former French quarter, known as “Concessions,” with its winding streets and back alleys. Within the dining rooms of lavish restaurants of the Bund to shopping districts of Nanjing and Huaihai roads or the museums and theaters around People’s Square, it’s not hard to see why Shanghai is the bellwether for the world’s fastest growing economy.

For a stay of a day or 2 mixed into a business trip, the pulse and energy of Shanghai can be found in the following places.

A Not-So-Long March
A recent renovation of the Bund district -- the city’s 1920s neoclassical riverfront strip -- resulted in a beautiful, pedestrian-friendly promenade that stretches from the recently opened Waldorf-Astoria on the southern side to the Peninsula Hotel on the north. The Bund provides the perfect vantage point to glimpse the contrast of old Shanghai -- a city largely built by the French and British in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and the business district of Pudong, which has been rising across the river since the early 1990s.

Lounging About
A row of lounges popping up in the French Concession have become the most laid-back and chic in Shanghai, from el Cóctel to the Apartment. Perfect for entertaining in a more civilized environment, these lounges are bustling without being rowdy. For an even more sedate setting, head down the street to Kiitos, a Tokyo-style whiskey bar.

A Bustling Café Culture
Lately, Shanghai has been big on preserving its history and developers have wised up to the charm of the "longtang," or lane houses, which have given the city’s streetscape an intimate scale with its mix of residential and commercial uses. The bustling environs of Taikang Road promote an afternoon lunch in the outdoor cafes or some casual perusing in some of the boutiques that feature local fashion designers, hand-crafted silk souvenirs and local artwork. Nearby is the recently opened Sinan Mansions complex, which mixes these small houses with modern buildings while giving a cozy feel to its restaurants and bars.

A Room with the Best View
Shanghai is a city of skyscrapers, and the best one from which to see the city is the Shanghai World Financial Center. It features a Park Hyatt on floors 79 to 93. The 91st to 93rd floors are occupied by 100 Century Avenue, a multi-restaurant and bar that provides a perfect perch from which to drink a glass of crisp wine or have a full meal and glean the rest of the city -- from Pudong to the French Concession, a 360-degree view.

An Afternoon at the Museum
The geographic and symbolic center of the city is People's Square, a former British racetrack that has been turned into the city’s municipal center. It’s the seat of the city government and the home of Shanghai Museum, the Shanghai Grand Theatre, and the contemporary Shanghai Art Museum, which occupies the clubhouses left from the horse racing days. The Shanghai Urban Planning Museum features a full-scale model of the city. A crowd-pleaser, this model shows the vastness of the city. It’s updated frequently to reflect the city’s rapid rate of construction.

Big Night Out
The Bund is nightlife central, and a prime place to start the evening is at the Jazz Bar at the Peace Hotel, one of the legendary hotels on the Bund that was renovated just last year. Popular as it was in the 1920s and ’30s when it was a haven of Western culture in Shanghai, it’s still a great way to start the evening. From this base, hop over to the other nightlife dens along the Bund, from nearby members-only club M1NT, or 1 floor up to Bar Rouge with its large deck overlooking the Bund. Wherever you go in the night, dress appropriately because the city’s bold and the beautiful will be on display wherever you go.

A resident of Shanghai from 2007 to 2010, Andrew Yang has written on architecture, design and travel for, among others, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Financial Times and Wallpaper.

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