There are a lot of people in China. That reality is no more apparent than in the most populous city in the country and in the world, Shanghai. With a population around 24 million, Shanghai boasts an eclectic group of people who have contributed to its rich history and newly cosmopolitan setting. To visit and feel fully immersed in the “Paris of the East,” there are a couple of must-see landmarks.
Shanghai’s most famous destination is undoubtedly The Bund, a waterfront area which separates the city with the Huangpu River into two distinct centers, Pudong and Puxi. The Bund overlooks Shanghai’s futuristic skyline on the Pudong side, which is composed of the famous Oriental Pearl Tower and record-holding skyscrapers. In the background, in Puxi, the Gothic and art deco buildings of Old Shanghai, still open for commercial operation, reflect the city’s former European influence.
Though subways connect Pudong and Puxi, the best way to experience the city is to take a short, scenic ferry ride to Pudong. Not far from the dock is the Oriental Pearl Tower, a place now shrimpy compared to its gigantic neighbors but perhaps Shanghai’s most beloved building. Around $30 gets a ticket to the skywalk portion of the tower, where the floors and walls are made of glass. At close to 850 feet up in the air, this destination may induce vertigo but makes for great pictures. Also of note is the basement of the television tower, which houses a museum detailing the history of Old Shanghai.
Taking the ferry back to Puxi, Nanjing Road, only a block from The Bund, is the next place to go. The Times Square of Shanghai, Nanjing Road is a pedestrian street and the epicenter of shopping in Shanghai. International brands— —including Apple, Gap and various fast food chains—mix with Chinese brands at this shopping mecca. As the street is a far stretch, those tired of walking can ride a trolley all the way to the People’s Square, which signals the end of the pedestrian street.
A couple blocks away from Nanjing Road is Yuyuan Garden, another tourist hotspot. In 1577, during the Ming Dynasty, a government official built this garden as a sign of respect for his elderly parents. After its initial inhabitants, the garden went through many cycles of destruction and restoration until 1956, when the government reconstructed the garden and opened it to the public. Now, Yuyuan is lined with Shanghai novelty stores selling souvenir trinkets and famous eats. A visit to Yuyuan would not be complete without a stop at Nanxiang Mantou Store, where Shanghai-style dim sum dishes are sold. A must-purchase from the menu and authentic only in Shanghai is the xiaolongbao, a type of soup dumpling made with crab meat. When the meal is finished, tour the former living quarters tucked away in the farthest corner of the garden.
For another taste of Chinese architecture, go to Tianzifang, an area consisting of maze-like alleys on Taikang Road. At the turn of the 19th century, parts of Shanghai were controlled by the French government. Thus, that part of history has left behind an architectural style combining European and Chinese elements exclusive to Shanghai — Shikumen. Unlike parts of Old Shanghai demolished to make room for large commercial establishments, Tianzifang has preserved its residential quarters dating back to the 1930s. Now, cafes, restaurants and other shops have taken over what were once family homes, becoming one of Shanghai’s biggest tourist attractions. With neat rows of houses reaching no taller than two stories high, it’s a nice disparity from the skyscrapers for which Shanghai is known.
Because Shanghai is a cacophonous symphony of congested traffic, construction and loud chatter, the Jing’an Temple can be a refuge and the perfect denouement to the trip. For less than $10, the temple, with its signature gold rooftops, provides visitors with more 780 years of history. Featuring gold rooftops and architecture even older than that of Yuyuan, the temple instills peace in visitors.
Ultimately, a visit Shanghai proves that it is a city that should not be left off the lists of cosmopolitan centers in the world, rivalling New York, Tokyo and, of course, Paris. The very fabric of the city unveils an extensive history influenced by different parts of the world. It’s a place that 24 million people are proud to call home.