Shanghai is easy enough to get around by yourself, but if you’ve got limited time it’s worth booking a tour to make sure you see all the sights.
Most hotels have tour booking facilities; otherwise, Gray Line, on the fifth floor at 1399 Beijing West Road (www.graylineshanghai.com), runs group (¥370) and private (¥800-1,000) tours of the city. They also do some interesting private insight trips where you can visit and eat in a local home or be taken to a Traditional Chinese Medicine clinic, as well as group tours to nearby towns and cities including Suzhou (¥580), the Water Towns and not-so-near Hangzhou (¥860). Prices include meals, transport and entry fees; tickets can be booked online.
A cheaper alternative is to head to the Shanghai Sightseeing Bus Station (tel. 021-6426-5555) at Shanghai Stadium (subway line #1 or buses #15, #42, #43 and #73), which operates bus tours both around the city and to surrounding attractions. Although you’ll have to endure the ramblings of a Chinese tour guide on the bus, it’s an easy and inexpensive way to see the Water Towns.
♥♥♥ The Bund
Often compared to Liverpool’s Merseyside, the Bund (waitan in Chinese) is a showcase of bold, colonial architecture dating back to the 1920s when this area was the British Concession. The Bund’s very un-Chinese sounding name is also part of the colonial legacy and originates from India, where the word means a raised bank.
Its sense of history is only exacerbated by the ever-growing number of bigger, brighter and taller buildings across the water in Pudong.
Although almost every building on the Bund is of historic significance, there are some you should be sure to check out, including the Peace Hotel, the Customs House and the former Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank. There are also some great restaurants that have recently established themselves here – a few pretensions and high prices are worth enduring for the fine food and views.
Even if you don’t dine, it’s worth coming to the Bund in the evenings – as if the lights of the Pearl Oriental TV Tower weren’t enough, there are nightly lightshows (from ) that dramatically illuminate both Pudong and the Bund.
If you want to get across to Pudong in a novel fashion, then the Sightseeing Tunnel (daily ; ¥30 single, ¥40 round-trip) which runs from the northern end of the Bund opposite the junction with bustling Nanjing Dong Lu, might be just the thing. The tunnel whizzes you under the Huangpu in glass contraptions as brightly colored lights flash by.
Henan Zhong Lu on line #2 is the most convenient subway stop for the Bund. There are also plenty of cruise operators ready to take you out onto the water along the Bund.
♥ Huangpu Park, 1 Zhongshan Dong Er Lu
(Apr-Nov daily , Nov-Apr daily ; free).
At the northern end of the Bund, this park is a pleasant place for a stroll and gives views of both the Bund and Pudong. The park was constructed by the British and allegedly used to have a sign reading “No dogs or Chinese,” which is paid tribute to in the Bruce Lee movie Fist of Fury. Although the story probably isn’t true, the Chinese certainly weren’t allowed in (unless they worked for a foreigner) until 1928, 60 years after the park was first opened.
These days it’s a popular spot for morning tai chi and inside the park you’ll find an obelisk-like monument to the “Heroes of the People,” beneath which lies the tiny Bund Historical Museum (daily ; free). The museum traces the history of the Bund as a commercial center and is worth a quick stop before you visit the buildings themselves. South of the park you’ll see a large statue, which vaguely resembles Chairman Mao, but is actually Chen Yi, the first mayor of Shanghai.
♥ Customs House, 13 Zhongshan Dongyi Lu
(Henan Zhong Lu subway).
This architectural masterpiece is one of the most photographed buildings along the Bund, and is easily spotted due to its large bell tower. It still serves as Shanghai’s Customs House and the public is prohibited from entering, although it is worth a walk past the main entrance, since you can see a number of shipping mosaics in the entrance hall.
During the Cultural Revolution, the building’s bell (nicknamed Big Qing) was dismantled and replaced by loud speakers, blaring out a recorded version of the party anthem. In 1986, the bell was returned and the clock has chimed ever since, although it’s often drowned out by the streams of traffic flowing through downtown Shanghai.
♥♥ Former Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank, 12 Zhongshan Dongyi Lu.
For many, this is the finest piece of architecture along the Bund and is well worth a closer look. The building currently houses the Pudong Development Bank, but was originally built by the British in 1921 as the Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank.
The architects (Palmer & Turner) were given a singular directive for their design – to dominate the skyline of the Bund. But little did they know that less than 100 years later Pudong would get to dominate the skyline from the Bund!
In 1949 the bank was closed and the building was used as Communist party offices. Its dome was painted over in thick white paint to conceal the ‘inappropriate’ mosaics. They remained covered throughout the Cultural Revolution and were consequently ignored by the Red Guards and forgotten in later years, only being rediscovered in 1997.
You can visit the inside of the building during office hours and see these Italian mosaics dating back to the 1920s and depicting scenes from all cities around the globe that housed a Hong Kong & Shanghai Bank at that time. Bangkok, Calcutta, Hong Kong, London, New York, Paris, Shanghai and Tokyo are all represented, with the Roman goddess of abundance, Ceres, set in the center of them all.
Bund Museum, Zhongshan Dongyi Lu
(daily ; free).
You can’t miss this small tower, uncomfortably surrounded by traffic, at the southern end of the Bund, which has been used to track typhoons and meteorological activities around the Huangpu River since 1884. Downstairs, you’ll find a museum about the Bund’s most famous buildings and there are a number of old photographs and maps of the area.
(Renmim Square subway). Today, Renmin (People’s) Square is in the heart of Shanghai, with the municipal offices, the Urban Planning Center, the Shanghai Museum, the Grand Theater, the Shanghai Art Museum and the new Museum of Contemporary Art all located in or around it.
First built in 1862, the square was originally used as a racetrack by the Shanghai Jockey Club and was a central focus of colonial life. Known as the Ascot of the East, it was the place to be seen, and when the racing season was over, it was used for training and polo matches. In 1941, Japanese occupation brought the closure of the race track and the square was used to detain Allied nationals.
When the Communists ascended to power in 1949 the racetrack was obliterated and during the Cultural Revolution the square was used as a propaganda point and for the humiliating self-criticism of anyone who didn’t conform. In the 1990s, the municipal government buildings were moved here and the square underwent reconstruction, to emerge as the focal point of the city.
♥♥♥ Shanghai Museum, Renmin Square
(www.shanghaimuseum.net; daily , last entry one hour before closing; ¥20).
The Shanghai Museum sits on the southern side of Renmin Square and is another of Shanghai’s architectural masterpieces.
Designed by one of Shanghai’s leading architects, Xing Tonghe, and completed in 1996, the shape of this US$50 million structure is based on a traditional bronze vessel. With four floors and over 120,000 exhibits, the museum houses some of the finest artefacts in China, meaning you’ll need plenty of time to explore.
Bronzes are the museum’s pride and joy, but there are also exquisite examples of ancient calligraphy,
ceramics, sculpture, jade, coins, furniture and minority handicrafts on show. It’s well laid-out and all the exhibits are clearly labeled in English, but if you require more information there are audio guides available (¥40 plus ¥400 or your passport as deposit).
The museum also has three temporary exhibition halls, a tearoom and an excellent bookshop and provides free bag storage if you want to take the weight off your shoulders.
♥♥ Shanghai Urban Planning Center, 100 Renmin Dadao, Renmin Square
(Mon-Thurs , Fri-Sun ; last entry one hour before closing; ¥30).
Town planning museums don’t usually rank high on visitors’ itineraries, but you should make an exception for this fine display. The eye-catching futuristic building contains an exhibition that traces the skyline of Shanghai throughout the centuries.
The highlight is an enormous model depicting central Shanghai in 2020. At 6,400 square feet, it’s said to be the largest of its kind in the world. The model presents existing architectural favorites such as the Oriental Pearl Tower and the Customs House on the Bund, as well as planned additions to the city’s already spectacular skyline. Don’t miss the clock that sits above the entrance to the center, counting down the days until the Shanghai World Expo in 2010. If you want a drink or snack, there are a few cafés in a mock 1930s street below the museum.
Although Nanjing Xi Lu in the northwest of Shanghai is more about offices, shopping and upscale hotels than sightseeing, there are a few bits and pieces worth seeking out here. A mile north of Nanjing Xi Lu, the Jade Buddha Temple is one of Shanghai’s most visited sights and definitely worth a taxi ride.
♥♥♥ Jade Buddha Temple, 170 Anfu Lu
(daily, , ¥10).
Built as a monastery in 1882 using a Song dynasty style of architecture, this large and attractive temple features symmetrical halls and courtyards with sweeping eaves. The temple was closed from 1949 to 1980 and managed to survive the terror of the Cultural Revolution by pasting portraits of Mao on the wall, an image that the Red Guards would not remove or destroy.
The temple gets its name from the two jade Buddhas brought from Myanmar and housed in its halls. On the ground floor you’ll see the larger of the two Buddhas in reclining position, but the seated Buddha upstairs shows finer craftsmanship. If you think of jade as always being green, think again – both statues here are carved from white jade.
Often thronging with tour groups, the temple is nevertheless an active one and, if you hang around long enough, you should get to witness the monks’ evocative chanting. The temple also has an excellent vegetarian restaurant.
The Former Residence of Mao Zedong ( 5-9, Lane 583, Weihai Lu - daily, 9:30 am-4:45 pm; ¥5; Shimen Yi Lu subway), the Jing’an Temple (1686 Nanjing Xi Li - daily 7:30 am-5 pm, ¥10; Jing’an Temple subway, and the Jing’an Park (opposite Jing’an Temple, Nanjing Xi Lu -daily 6 am-6 pm; free) are other interesting places in the northwest of Shanghai.
Getting to Shanghai, Getting around