A modern metropolis with history around every corner, China’s second city is a cosmopolitan place, with some of the best shopping and culture in the country
A fusion of east and west, Shanghai is at the vanguard of China’s march towards the future. It has retained much of its history, from the traditional department stores in the shopping hub of Nanjing Road to the historic buildings on the Bund waterfront — once banks and insurance buildings, now reinvented as restaurants and bars. This fusion culture makes Shanghai an ideal introduction to China. The city will be buzzing over the next few months, with Chinese New Year festivities in February as well as a lantern festival and biennial flower show in March.
Shanghai History Museum: This museum in the basement of Pudong’s iconic Oriental Pearl Tower focuses on the period between the opening of Shanghai’s port in 1843 and the communist takeover in 1949. historymuseum.sh.cn
Huangpu Park: The oldest and smallest park in the city is where elderly locals practice tai chi and qi gong on the bank of the Bund at daybreak.
Former Residence of Mao Zedong: Strangely under-visited, Chairman Mao’s former home in Shanghai’s downtown Jing’an district (he moved here in 1924) combines history and memorabilia with dubious waxworks and classic shikumen architecture.
The Bund is Shanghai’s most famous sight, a mile-long stretch of florid architecture in which Beaux-Arts, Neo-Gothic, Romanesque, Classical and Baroque buildings square off against Pudong’s modern skyscrapers. The Monument to the People’s Heroes and the statue of Chen Yi, Shanghai’s first mayor, are unmissable.
Pudong’s array of futuristic skyscrapers are best appreciated from the inside. There are viewing platforms at the Oriental Pearl Tower and Jin Mao Tower, and cocktails with a view at Flair, the Ritz-Carlton hotel bar on the 58th floor.
People’s Park is the city’s green lung, created in 1952. Visitors can wander past the flower displays and fitness stations, watch people practicing qigong to a soundtrack from their ghetto blasters, and visit the Shanghai Museum and Museum of Contemporary Art.
Where to sleep
Fairmont Peace Hotel: Shanghai’s most historic hotel is a plush Art Deco gem. T: +1 800 257 7544. fairmont.com
Hotel Indigo: Huangpu views and funky Chinese interiors. T: +86 21 3302 9999. shanghai.hotelindigo.com
Grand Mercure Shanghai Zhongya: Well-priced, stylish rooms above a subway station, with possibly Shanghai’s most comfortable beds. T: +86 21 6353 5555. accorhotels.com
Where to eat
M on the Bund: This restaurant with its roof terrace is housed in a handsome colonial building on the Huangpu River. T: +86 21 6350 9988.
Lost Heaven: Impeccable tribal food from Yunnan province in beautiful surroundings on the Bund. T: +86 21 6433 5126. lostheaven.com.cn
Secret Garden: Fantastic Chinese food in a French-style villa filled with antiques. There’s even a pretty garden. T: +86 21 5405 0789.
Shanghai Museum: One of the world’s finest museums, this modern building in the People’s Park houses a collection of ancient art from the Neolithic period onwards — displayed by media type, from works in bronze and jade to painting and calligraphy. shanghaimuseum.net
Propaganda Poster Art Centre: A fascinating but sobering throwback to Mao’s times in the basement of an apartment block in residential Shanghai, this small gallery presents propaganda posters from the communist era, from agricultural exhortations to bellicose wartime announcements. shanghaipropagandaart.com
Rockbund Art Museum: A modern gallery in an art deco skyscraper on the Bund, this is a superb place to gain an insight into the contemporary Chinese art scene. There’s no permanent collection, with rotating exhibitions concentrating on home-grown talent. rockbundartmuseum.org
Chinese New Year: Although Chinese New Year is very much a family event, it’s still a great time to visit Shanghai, to witness special celebrations at temples and firework displays. It falls on February 8 in 2016.
Lantern Festival: Held on the 15th day of the first lunar month, the Lantern Festival, on March 3, will see Shanghai’s streets lit by thousands of lanterns, with fireworks, music and dance displays in the moonlight.
Shanghai International Flower Festival: The biennial Shanghai International Flower Festival takes over Changfen Park from March 29 to April 27, filling the area with flowers from China and beyond.
Where to shop
Nanjing Road: Effectively a pedestrianized mall, Nanjing Road is the world’s longest shopping street and has a mini train shuttle running along its near three-and-a-half-mile length.
Xintiandi: A chic, understated restoration project in the French Concession, with upscale stores and restaurants in reconstructed shikumen houses. The pedestrian zone includes labels such as Shanghai Tang, Chopard and Wang De Chuan, a traditional Chinese tea store.
Yuyuan Market: A web of 10 shopping streets and alleys selling souvenirs, traditional arts and crafts in old-style shop-houses. As one of China’s four ‘national cultural markets’, it’s also home to popular street food stalls. Getting custom-made clothes is a highlight of a trip to China, and while there are tailors all over Shanghai, the best place to start is the tri-level South Bund Fabric Market.
When to go: Spring and fall are the best times to avoid the humid summers and bruisingly cold winters. April and May are beautiful, with flowers and blossoms out in the city parks. Avoid early October, when domestic tourists crowd in for China’s national day.
Time: GMT +8.
Dial code: +86 21
Tourist board contact: China National Tourist Board. cnto.org