rriving in Shanghai at the end of our 14 week trip through China was a respite from the chaos and a fantastic end to our China adventure. Having battled spitting swarms of Chinese people throughout the country, arriving in the modern, state of the art train station was like being beamed on to another planet. Looking around I felt the same way Dorothy must have felt when she first arrived in the Land of Oz, wide-eyed and amazed. Public transport was simple and the people were as helpful as the munchkins, which made getting around almost as easy as following the yellow brick road.
Where do I begin with the praise for Shanghai? It is the largest city in China and the largest metro area in the world, yet remains shockingly clean. This may not sound like a huge feat, but if you have ever seen crowds of Chinese people you would understand why it is so hard to keep the streets spotless. All the spitting, indiscriminate throwing out of trash and the complete disregard for any kind of cleanliness leads to clogged sewers and horrible smells throughout the rest of China. But not in Shanghai, the streets are buffed to a shine and I didn’t experience any vomit inducing smells walking down the streets.
Shanghai is also the most westernized city in China. Shanghai’s basketball team produced NBA sensation Yao Ming, the Grand Theater gets musicals such as Cats and you can buy cheese. We even went to an Italian buffet in Shanghai, what a treat! Beyond the creature comforts of Western ways we enjoyed conveniences such as faster internet, better signage and more English speakers. The influence of the West also brought larger shopping malls, taller buildings and excellent public transport (well, I can’t necessarily attribute all those things to the west, they were appreciated nonetheless).
Besides being clean and westernized, which I cannot emphasize enough how much we appreciated these two things, Shanghai is also a fabulous city. Many travelers told us that it wasn’t worth spending more than three days maximum and offered only a short list of attractions. However, we found ourselves very comfortable in Shanghai and were happy to stay for a week and had no trouble filling our time. If you only have three days for Shanghai, below is what I would recommend.
50 Moganshan Arts District
I really enjoyed the art scene in Shanghai, we visited 50 Moganshan Arts District, which featured cutting edge Chinese artists expressing themselves in a variety of mediums. There were unique paintings, excellent photographs and all the artists were happy to chat about their work.
The French Concession features many boutique shops and art galleries as well as trendy cafes. My favorite area is Taikang Lu, which is an arts and crafts enclave that has developed from a renovated residential area in the French Concession.The tree lined streets and the cafes in this area provide a great place to refresh and put your feet up as you peak into the many stores and alleyways.
The street and storefronts themselves provide for great photos, but you will also find plenty of places to bring home a souvenir. If it is shopping you are looking for Shanghai is your city and Nanjing Road East is your best bet. You can get everything from Gucci to ethnic garb. Nanjing Road will satisfy your needs for any major label you might be seeking as well as plenty of offers for the knockoffs.If you are seeking more than boutiques and Bulgari there are plenty of more historic places and museums to spend your time.
Considered the most complete Chinese classical garden in Shanghai, Yu Yuan is interesting for those who’ve never seen a Chinese garden or enjoy zen style gardens. It’s full of rock gardens, ponds, bridges, and pavilions you will want to allow at least an hour. From here you can also easily take a stroll through the Shanghai Old Street.
You should end your first day in Shanghai at one of the most famous tourist destinations in the city and night is the best time to take in the views of Pudong. Building heights are restricted in this area making the buildings even more picturesque.
After taking in most of the major sights in Shanghai, spend day two enjoying Shanghai’s many museums. Start with the big three: Shanghai Museum, Shanghai Art Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art The Shanghai Museum is free and if you choose only one museum it should be this one.
Jin Mao Tower or Shanghai World Financial Center
Two of the architectural icons of China include the Jin Mao Tower with its 88th-floor observatory, which offers visitors a 360-degree view of Shanghai, and the neighboring Shanghai World Financial Center (SWFC). SWFC’s 100th-floor all-glass observation deck is stunning, but it’s not for everyone especially considering the price tag.
This hip pedestrian mall of bars, cafes and boutiques in restored shikumen (stone frame gate) houses is good for a stroll. Similar to the French Concession area this is where the moneyed go to spend their extra yuan. It’s also a great place for a nice dinner to wind down your second day in Shanghai.
While in Shanghai you must try the famous xiaolong bao dumplings, they are easy to find and everyone has an opinion on which are the best. We found a great street stall that sold mouth watering dumplings for a fraction of any of the places touted in the tour guides as the “best”.
Huangpu River Cruise
This is a great option for another view of the city as it floats along the city’s main shipping artery and will give you a quick look at Shanghai’s working wharves. Boats depart hourly from 10am to 4pm.
Shanghai Urban Planning Museum (Shanghai Chengshi Guihua Zhanshiguan)
Even if you’ve had your fill of museums, this museum is worth a peek, head straight for the third floor to view the large scale model of urban Shanghai as it will look in 2020.
Though we did not see the famous Shanghai acrobats it comes highly recommended. How can you argue with a night spent watching the contortionist, juggling, unicycling, and plate-spinning acts of the world-famous Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe at the Shanghai Center Theatre (Shanghai Shangcheng Juyuan)? Performances usually start at 7:30pm and last 90 minutes, the price is a little steep, which is why we gave it a pass. It can sell out, so you’ll want to book ahead.
Whether you are eating, shopping or sight seeing Shanghai will impress you and leave you wondering when you can return, so do yourself a favor and enjoy this modern city and plan more than three days.
WHEN YOU GO:
Use public transport, it is fast and convenient as well as cheap. Taxis will cost you much more and take you longer considering the horrendous traffic in Shanghai. You may also want to consider the hop-on-hop-off bus as it is a great value to get you to all of the major sights.
Plan more than three days, you will want time to take in all of Shanghai and not be rushed. It has some beautiful neighborhoods and wonderful museums that take time to enjoy.