City Guide to Shanghai

Shanghai - Trendy, Traditional and Timeless

8. Mar 2022
by Punita Malhotra

The 25-million-strong metropolis of Shanghai is a happy marriage of contrasts, as zippy as its famous Maglev train and as tranquil as its classic gardens. Here eye-popping architecture, cultural sights, lip-smacking cuisine, big money and fashion-forward denizens come together to whisk up a vibrant diversity that is rare to find.

Nanhuizui Guanhai Park

From a colonial treaty port to a communist industrial hub and an economic powerhouse of mega proportions, the narrative of China's most dynamic metropolis is deeply riveting. Shanghai is a curious mix of new and old, of fast and slow, of trends and traditions. It sparkles unabashedly against a maze of glitzy skyscrapers and basks contentedly in the labyrinth of its quaint neighbourhoods, balancing its twin personas with effortless panache.

Shanghai Tower

For an ideal start to the Shanghai spree, head to the city's mile-long waterfront front promenade along the Huangpu River, the Bund. A medley of architectural styles, including Gothic, Baroque and Neoclassical, are well represented in 26 heritage buildings, including the Fairmont Peace Hotel, the Bank of China Building and the remarkable art deco masterpiece, Waldorf Astoria Shanghai.

The Huangpu River bisects the city

Make time to ogle at the interior of the old HSBC building, where the central dome in the entrance hall is adorned with colourful mosaics depicting the cityscape from trading cities in which HSBC had branches back in the early 1900s. For a flash of futuristic, turn to the Lujiazui financial district, which flaunts the rocket-shaped Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai Tower, the second-tallest building in the world. Respect.

Oriental Pearl TV Tower

Your search for timeless charm and character will lead you to the millennia-old Shanghai Old City in the Huangpu District, splattered with red-and-gold roofed houses. A mandatory pitstop in the area is the 16th-century, 2 hectare Yuyuan Garden of the Ming Dynasty. Wandering around admiring the ornate pagodas, zig-zagging bridges, and glassy pools. Curiosity sated, head to the other landmarks on the trail, The City God Temple, Fangbang Lu and the Huxingting Teahouse.

The Old City of Shanghai

Brace for a dramatic change of scene at the tree-lined avenues of the French Concession area, where European-style mansions, art deco apartment blocks and alfresco cafes aptly justify the city's nickname, "Paris of the East". A food tour in the precinct is the best way to acquaint yourself with locally loved street stalls and joints for crispy bing (savoury pancakes with egg, spring onions and hoisin sauce), dim sum and xialongbao (soupy pork dumplings). Go hungry.

French Concession area

Knit it together with a cultural evening at the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra. If you prefer a lighter brand of entertainment, book a seat for a mind-bending acrobatic show or watch the ancient art of shadow storytelling at the Shanghai Puppet Theater. Bid goodbye with a slow drift along the Huangpu River in a private cruise boat. Chances are, the outline of the scintillating skyline will stay with you for a long time.

Shanghai Symphony


Xintiandi: The historic architecture of this area and the antique vibes of the Shikumen lend an air of elegance to this upscale shopping experience. Spend hours digging around for home-spun Chinese talent and local fashion designers like Shanghai Tang after you have adequately stocked up on international styles.


Huaihai Road
: From luxury brands to high-street labels, this 2-kilometre-long retail destination is on the list of every fashionista. Lined with 400 sleek stores and several department stores, Huaihai Road is Shanghai's answer to Paris's Champs Elysees and New York's Fifth Avenue. Add it to your list.

Huaihai Road

Nanjing Road
: 5.5 kilometres of this famous shopping strip runs from the Bund to People Square. Over 360 malls, department stores, boutiques, restaurants and entertainment centres make Nanjing Road the first choice for locals and visitors. Go, flow along with Shanghai at its busiest best.

Nanjing Road

The Bund
: The famous 1.5-kilometre long waterfront is a prestigious shopping address with high-end brands like Cartier, Ermenegildo Zegna and Omega, among others. Scout for handcrafted clothing, hand-painted porcelain, elegant silk shawls and cashmere at the local designer boutiques and artisanal craft shops in the side streets.

The Bund

French Concession
: Your hunt for tiny boutiques and local talent will culminate in the chic stretches along Changle Road, Xinle Road, Julu Road and Fumin Road. Come back with bags full of indie design and edgy fashion.

French Concession

Museums & the Arts

Shanghai Museum: Designed as a unique structure with a circular top over a square base, the building symbolises the ancient Chinese belief of the square earth under the round sky. There are a million cultural relics on display inside, including bronze ware, ceramic, coins, jade, sculptures, seals, calligraphy and paintings from different dynasties and eras. The highlight is the Dake Bronze Tripod dating back to the Western Zhou Dynasty.

Shanghai Museum

The Shanghai Science and Technology Museum
: Shanghai's most prominent science museum is a nerd's haven with interactive displays related to computing, robotics, cells, space travel and other science stuff. Education meets entertainment with the fascinating documentaries projected on the museum's two Imax cinema screens.

The Shanghai Science and Technology Museum

The Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum
: This is an unusual museum housed in the former Ohel Moshe Synagogue, where Jewish refugees sought sanctuary during Second World War. Built for homage to the tragedy of the persecution, it holds several attractive scrolls and cultural relics, which would be especially appealing to history fans.

The Shanghai Jewish Refugees Museum

Shanghai Liuli China Museum
: The only glass art museum in Shanghai, showcasing the history of glass in ancient China, is a unique cultural destination in its own right. The information-packed interactive exhibitions are a symphony of artistry and technology. You may end up lingering longer than you planned.

Shanghai Liuli China Museum

Restaurants & Bars

Ultraviolet: Prep for a multi-sensory culinary experience at the all-white dining space of this three-Michelin starred restaurant. The 20-course meal, paired with exquisite wines, dazzles with meticulously crafted surprises like black sesame cod sweetened with lavender honey. This is a place for celebrations and special occasions.


8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo Bombana
: Well deserving of two-Michelin stars, this fabulous dining establishment offers luxurious Italian dish fare like white truffle tagliatone and black truffle risotto made with the finest ingredients. Grab a table with wide-angled panoramas of the Huangpu River.

8 1/2 Otto e Mezzo Bombana

Taian Table
: This intimate three-Michelin starred diner has 20 seats set around an open kitchen. The 10- to 12-course menus are revised every 6 to 8 weeks. Sit back for the orchestration of a gourmet performance that is creative, sophisticated and consistent.

Taian Table

Ji Pin Court
: Book a table in the arty private dining rooms of this contemporary Cantonese restaurant to be floored by flawlessly cooked dim sum, barbecue, live seafood, soups and modern delicacies. Order the signature fried chicken with sand ginger in a clay pot or char siu pork in longan honey glaze, drunken mantis shrimp and drunken squab.

Ji Pin Court

Da Vittorio
: Seafood lovers can make a beeline for this Italian mecca in Shanghai. Signature dishes like warm steamed fish salad, Egg 'à la egg' with caviar, pigeon and lamb loin top the list of recommendations. The Tiramisu is a no-brainer.

Da Vittorio

Exclusive Experience

Indulge yourself with premium Chinese and English teas accompanied by savouries and buttermilk scones at the marble-floored Jasmine salon of the Fairmont Peace Hotel. Vintage is the theme on Saturdays when the salon is the venue for a legendary Tea Dance, a tradition dating back to the 1930s. Join in the fun with other guests as you waltz and foxtrot to the tune of the live orchestra.

The fabulous Fairmont Peace Hotel

Must-buy souvenir

Pick up artisanal ceramic, cloisonné, lacquer and paper artwork created by skilled craftsmen with ancient design techniques and tinged with modern influences from Piling Palang. Playful yet chic homeware of heirloom quality includes vases, jewellery boxes, trays, bowls and tiffin carriers in lively colour combinations like hot pink and soothing sky blue. The motifs are quintessentially Chinese.

Buy anything with colour

Side trip

Spend a day at Hangzhou to immerse in visions of classical China. Think lush green spaces and tranquil lakeside walks. The UNESCO World Heritage Site tagged West Lake is a photographer's dream, with stone causeways and willow-laden islands. Calm your senses with an uphill to Lingyin Temple through a bamboo forest. If you decide to stay after sundown, the sight of illuminated pagodas will be a bonus treat.

Xi Lake


There is no shortage of hangouts to enjoy a late-night in the city. But if you are looking for something more than just drinks and dance, consider the retro-chic Glam on The Bund waterfront. Popular with the Shanghainese for a regular line-up of talks, live performances, art exhibitions and film screenings, this bar-cum-lounge is the ideal destination for an evening to remember. The extensive cocktail menu is coupled with inventive small plates like Thai-style king crab omelette and a Peking duck pie.

Glam on The Bund


Shanghai is bisected by the River Huangpu – a tributary of mighty Yangtze. Puxi is the historic side and Pudong is the contemporary metropolis. Both boast superb hotels.

The guide to the best hotels in Shanghai:

The Ritz-Carlton Shanghai, Pudong

Getting around

Most visitors arriving from overseas land at Shanghai Pudong International Airport, located about 45 kilometres northeast of the city centre. Taxis are the most convenient way to reach downtown and navigate distances locally. The best way to soak in Shanghai's sights is on foot, while driving is best left to the locals.

Grab a cab .. or stretch your feet! searches hundreds of travel sites at once to help you find the best premium travel offers for both flights and accommodation in Shanghai.

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