How to make the most of a trip to Shanghai

Shanghai has an exciting blend of contemporary architecture, a smattering of historic sites, plus many spots to enjoy outstanding food and drink. China's most populous city has lots to do and see beyond well-known attractions such as the impressive Jade Buddha Temple and Shanghai Museum, and you could be there for less than you might expect when you fly direct from London Heathrow with Virgin Atlantic.

How to make the most of a trip to Shanghai, China © Ipadimages - Dreamstime.com
How to make the most of a trip to Shanghai, China © Ipadimages - Dreamstime.com

Places to go in Shanghai

The Old Town

The Yu Garden, restored to convey the order and quietude of its Ming dynasty heyday, is one of Shanghai's most popular attractions. With water features, weeping willows and circular gates leading to pavilions topped with terracotta tiles, it's a great place to embrace Chinese heritage and snap photos.

The nearby bazaar, whose lattice-fronted shops bear lanterns and have pagoda-style roofs, is undoubtedly touristy but a good place to form an idea of how Chinese cities looked in bygone times.

The French Concession

In a city famed for skyscrapers, the French Concession is notable for low-rise buildings and tree-lined boulevards. As the name suggests, this fashionable area of Shanghai was established by the French, who left behind their mansions on departure during World War Two. Step inside one while visiting the Shanghai Museum of Arts and Crafts, where you can watch people work jade and make traditional items, such as lanterns.

Tree-lined street in the French Concession, Shanghai © Daniel Altewegier - Alamy Stock Photo
Tree-lined street in the French Concession, Shanghai © Daniel Altewegier - Alamy Stock Photo

Smart boutiques and cafés convey a sense of the district's colonial elegance. Footpaths cut through Fuxing Park, where people gather each morning to practice tai chi under a sculpture depicting Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. To find out more about the depiction of Communist ideals visit the Shanghai Propaganda Poster Art Centre.

Pudong

The riverside skyscrapers of Pudong highlight China's modern dynamism. You don't need to be an architecture aficionado to appreciate the designs and enormity of the district's buildings.

One of the most eye-catching is the Oriental Pearl Tower, whose three columns rise through 11 spheres to a height of 468 metres. The tower's observation decks provide fine city views. So too does that of the Shanghai World Financial Center, on the 100th floor of the vast structure. At 474 metres above the ground it is one of the highest observation platforms in the world.

The Bund

Western banks and commercial entities established their regional headquarters in buildings in the Bund during the first half of the last century. The Customs House and HSBC Building are two of the most distinctive edifices from that era, while the crown-topped Bund Center was opened in 2002. Walking along the broad riverside promenade is one way of soaking up Shanghai's ambiance.

Things to do in Shanghai

Cruise on the Huangpu River

Treat yourself to a cruise on the Huangpu River to view waterfront architecture and to see how the thrusting modernity of Pudong contrasts with the grand buildings of the Bund. Evening sailings offer the chance to share romantic moments on deck, viewing the city at night under colourful lights.

Enjoy a stroll past Customs House along the Bund © Jackmalipan - Dreamstime.com
Enjoy a stroll past Customs House along the Bund © Jackmalipan - Dreamstime.com

Cruises take between 30 minutes and three hours. Depending on which one you choose, you might get to see the mouth of the mighty Yangtze River. Most cruises ply the section of river between the Yangpu and Nanpu bridges - impressive feats of civil engineering and urban landmarks.

Visit a Chinese teahouse

Fancy the idea of relaxing with a nice cup of tea while tucking into traditional Chinese delicacies? Then take a look inside one of Shanghai's teahouses. More than 3,000 are scattered throughout this vast city. The Old Shanghai Teahouse (385 Fangbang Shong Lu) is a charming place to unwind, thanks in part to its retro music and decor - a tip of the hat to Shanghai's halcyon days as 'the Paris of the East' during the 1920s and 1930s.

The old Huxinting Teahouse, Shanghai © Dan Lundberg - Flickr Creative Commons
The old Huxinting Teahouse, Shanghai © Dan Lundberg - Flickr Creative Commons

The most iconic is undoubtedly Huxinting Chalou, also known as the Mid-Lake Pavilion Teahouse (257 Yuyuan Road). Built on stilts, this traditional teahouse stands over the lake by the Yu Garden and has been operational since 1855, making it the oldest in Shanghai. Queen Elizabeth II is among the many world leaders and celebs to have sipped tea here.

Sink a beer or two

The craft beer movement has reached China, meaning you can enjoy ale in Shanghai's brewpubs. The Boxing Cat Brewery has three hip bars and an array of international brewing awards. Try a glass of the powerful Sucker Punch Pale Ale or Donkey Punch Porter. Step inside the brewery's Liquid Laundry gastropub to choose from 15 draught beers. If you're keen to view screenings of live international sport, stop by one of the Shanghai Brewery's two bars - the award-winning brewery regularly brews six types of beer.

A walk in a park

The vast Century Park, features a paved boulevard plus a central lake, where you can hire a boat and take to the water. It's worth setting aside a couple of hours to explore this popular park.

Escape urban Shanghai with a visit to Gongqing Forest Park, in the city's north. Waterfront trees and swathes of woodland provide serene backdrops for a stroll. Watch people practice calligraphy - using wet brushes and drawing on the ground - in Zhongshan Park, where locals play mahjong at tables beneath the trees. Why not ease yourself into the day by joining a mass participation tai chi session?

Day trips from Shanghai

If you want to see a more traditional Chinese town, head to Nanxiang, less than an hour northwest of central Shanghai. Shops with carved wooden facades, waterfront houses plus a temple with ornate twin pagodas make this long-established town a rewarding excursion. If you're into food, don't miss out on the opportunity to savour steamed Xiao Long Bao dumplings at Xiaolong Mantou, where the delicacy is reputed to have been created.

Crowded street in the old town of Nanxiang, Shanghai © Tempestz - Dreamstime.com
Crowded street in the old town of Nanxiang, Shanghai © Tempestz - Dreamstime.com

To view birdlife, take a trip to Shanghai Jiuduansha Wetland National Nature Reserve in the Yangtze River estuary, where more than 200 species have been spotted, including hooded cranes. Hairy crabs scuttle around on the mud of the shoreline, from where you may see finless porpoises and dolphins arcing through the water.

Whether you go for the dumplings or the panoramic cityscape, you will want to find the best fares on flights: don't miss the latest offers from Virgin Atlantic to Shanghai, which flies daily and direct from London Heathrow in 11 hours. Remember, you can also see what the weather in Shanghai is doing, as well as see when we think is the best time to go for a warm and sunny city escape.

Stuart Forster

Stuart Forster
Posted on Thursday 12th January 2017 in: Asia City Culture

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