The exhilarating, vibrant, and futuristic city of Shanghai is a bustling hub of 24 million people. From the booming financial skyline of Pudong, to the tree-lined neighborhood of the French Concession, to the bustling shopping centers, this Chinese city offers up an enticing mix of Eastern and Western fashion, food, and technology. A taste of old Shanghai can be found along Huangpu River's historic Bund, where temples and old street markets lay nestled between skyscrapers. Here are four reasons to visit this intoxicating, one-of-a-kind metropolis.
New Food and Drink
Shanghai offers a bevy of cuisines for every palate. First things first, grab a seat atop Jade on 36 with a glass of bubbles for expansive panoramic views of the bright city lights, sky-high towers, and the warm glow of the historic Bund. For Yunnan food, the dark, moody Lost Heaven uses ingredients from spots like Burma and Lao. Try the eggplant and tofu salad and fresh spicy cod steamed in banana leaves. Arrive early at the small, crowded local mainstay Jesse's (visit the original 41 Tianping Lu locale) for authentic Shanghainese cuisine like crab dumplings and warm nuggets of hongshao rou (braised pork in soy sauce). The menu is in English, but waiters don't speak the language. Just outside Yu Garden, you will find mouth-watering, authentic steamed soup dumplings (xiao long bao) at the crowd-pleasing Din Tai Fung. Just a few minutes away, the three-story Lu Bo Lang also doles out fresh dumplings and has hosted such esteemed western visitors as Bill Clinton and Queen Elizabeth. Western palates will appreciate the quality and range of the raw bar and beef at the industrial cool 1515 West. The café set should relax outdoors at the old-school, hip Kommune for fresh juices, iced coffees, and cold beers.
Sights New and Old
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The modern, spherical Oriental Pearl Tower module affords 360-degree views of the city and its booming building craze. You can't miss China’s tallest building, the Shanghai World Financial Center (currently under construction). For optimal viewing, wait for clear skies, buy a VIP Pass (to avoid the staggering long lines), and head to the highest observation deck at 1,148 feet. The second deck at 863 feet makes for vertigo-inducing views and thrilling bird's-eye-view photos, thanks to the thick laminated glass floor. Skip the theme-park diversions on the lower floors.
After heading through the packed labyrinth of the bazaar, cross the zigzagging Bridge of Nine Turnings into the tranquil Yu Garden, a winding, fabled Ming Dynasty treasure with ponds and greenery. Later, venture to the grand, golden-hued holy place of Jing 'An Temple situated among modern-day high-rises. Perhaps the best, most unique way to see Shanghai is by vintage sidecar (use the friendly, informative outlet Insiders Experience) with stops at the towering Pudong skyline, the architecturally historic Bund, and all-steel Waibaidu Bridge. Expect fantastic people-watching opportunities as pedestrians weave in and out of traffic.
The new, glistening four-story Shanghai Film Museum affords visitors a glimpe into the historic, artistic heyday of 1920's Shanghainese cinema with video clips (in English subtitles), interactive panels, old film props, and advanced animation. The vast, three-story Long Museum is China's largest private museum and showcases 1,000 years of Chinese art, including stunning jades and porcelains.
A visit to the narrow Dongtai Antique Road (Liuhekou Road) stalls allows you to browse flea-market trinkets from chopsticks to Chinese dominos to posters of General Mao. Serious window-shopping happens at the upscale retail haven of Plaza 66 and the fashionably luxe IAPM (999 Huaihai Middle Road). For small, independent boutiques, drop by the colorful ceramics outfit, Pilang Palang, and a few doors down, Woo features pretty silk scarves with stunning patterns. Spin Ceramics is a great place to pick up unique gifts, offering designer Jeremy Kuo's reasonably priced, handmade porcelain produced in Jingdezhen with a modern, playful twist.
Where to Stay
In the heart of Shanghai, the gleaming new, LEED certified Shangri-La Jing An is a highly stylish, mod retreat with 508-rooms featuring floor to ceiling windows, stunning views, and a plush spa with restoring CHI treatments. Expect stellar service and an eclectic range of world cuisines at its four restaurants.
Kate Donnelly is a freelance writer based in New York. She's the founder of the creative collaborative, From Your Desks. She's a Contributing Editor at Fathom and her work has appeared in Bon Appetit, Forbes, The Huffington Post and Refinery 29. She travels for the food. Follow Kate on Twitter: @k8bdonnelly.