Distinctly Chinese but with effervescent multicultural flair, Shanghai is the dragon’s head of modern China. It’s all in the numbers. This 24-million-strong city has more than double the skyscrapers of New York City and plays home to nearly a quarter of the world’s construction cranes. More open, creative and culturally diverse than any other of China’s colossal metropolises, whilst forging its way into the future from the ground up Shanghai maintains its charming traditional roots. Nicknamed the Paris of the Orient, here travellers can discover everything from a treasure trove of architectural styles to a flourishing contemporary art scene. Don’t miss these top five things to do in Shanghai.
Shanghai World Financial Center
The point of going here is to get to the top. Taking into account an elevator speed of about 10 metres per second, that takes around one minute. From the 100th floor viewing platform, with its 55-metre-long glass bridge, sprawling views out over Shanghai will leave you dizzy with more than just euphoria at the sight. Spot iconic landmarks on the horizon, including one brand sparkling new addition to the city skyline that’s impossible to miss: Shanghai Tower. Set to officially open within months, it now holds the title as China’s tallest building and the second-tallest in the world.
Jade Buddha Temple
The beauty of Jade Buddha Temple is that it’s still an active monastery today, with around 70 resident monks performing traditional rituals here day in day out and locals regularly coming to pay their respects. Built at the beginning of the 20th century, the real attractions however are the two sparkling white jade Buddhas, each intricately carved from a single slab of Burmese jade. Rare cultural relics, they’re housed amongst beautiful jewels and stones whilst red lanterns, paintings and ancient carvings add to the peaceful and transcendent atmosphere.
This is the place to go for a relaxed yet atmospheric stroll along Shanghai’s most famous promenade. While the Huangpu River views are impressive and provide scenic respite from the concrete jungle, it’s the architecture that’s truly to be admired. A symbol of the real Shanghai through time, The Bund has been the centre of the city since the mid-1800s. Grand old colonial buildings and a handful of important historical landmarks provide stark contrast to the towering skyscrapers of the future across the water. Once darkness falls, the strip springs to life in a show of beautiful illuminated colours.
Nestled in an area once designated for the French, Xintiandi is a fashionable pedestrian-only hub for all things food, shopping and entertainment. On the exterior, the 1920s-era Shikumen-style housing offers a glimpse into old world Shanghai, while on the inside, modern 21st century life plays out in the gleaming modern galleries, boutiques, bars and restaurants spilling out onto the narrow alleyways. Oozing a relaxed and stylish vibe, Xintiandi touts nightlife throughout the week but doesn’t verge on rowdy. The tree-lined streets of the wider French Concession area also make for fascinating wandering.
Yuyuan Gardens and Bazaar
In the heart of Shanghai’s Old City awaits this peaceful pocket of green: a centuries-old Chinese garden first built during the fabled Ming dynasty. The lush meeting of gardens, meandering dragon walls, elaborate rockeries, swaying bamboo, mystical sculptures and shimmering ponds churning with fish are easily navigated by the maze of winding paths and beautiful arched bridges. Yuyuan Gardens isn’t all serenity and nature though. Traditional halls and pavilions add character in triumphant displays of Chinese architecture, while the bustling bazaar next door is brimming with local buys and tasty delicacies.
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