Central China Travel Guide


  • Shanghai
  • Jiangsu & Anhui
  • Zhejiang & Jiangxi
  • Hunan & Hubei
  • Greater Shanghai
    Greater Shanghai

    Exploring Shanghai
    Of Shanghai's three main areas, the Old City to the south is typically Chinese, with alleys, markets, and temples. It is also the site of the Yu Gardens (Yu Yuan), Shanghai's finest traditional garden. The former concession areas comprise the French Concession to the Old City's west and the British and American Concessions – collectively known as the International Settlement – to its north. Here are the Bund, the riverside promenade lined with grand colonial buildings, including the Fairmont Peace Hotel and the Shanghai Club, and the city's two main shopping streets, Nanjing Road and Huaihai Road. Pudong, Shanghai's newest district, on the Huangpu's east bank, has some of the highest buildings in the world.

    Sights at a glance

    Historic Buildings, sites & neighborhoods
    Historic Buildings, sites & neighborhoods

    Historic Buildings, sites & neighborhoods

    Temples & Churches

    Parks & Gardens

    Museum 4


    Shops & Markets

    Areas of Natural Beauty

    Greater Shanghai
    Greater Shanghai


    Street-by-Street area:

    Tourist information

    Getting around
    The city metro is the best way of getting around Shanghai. Its network is rapidly expanding, with new lines under construction (see Local Transport in Cities). Taxis are also convenient, cheap, and plentiful. There are plenty of buses, but these tend to be extremely crowded and slow due to the traffic congestion, especially during the morning and evening rush hours. Each bus has its own schedule, but these are slightly complicated for visitors to follow.

    Old Shanghai
    Until 1842 Shanghai was a minor Chinese river port, worthy of a protective rampart but otherwise undistinguished. In that year the Chinese government capitulated to western demands for trade concessions resulting in a number of ports along China's eastern seaboard, including Shanghai, becoming essentially European outposts. Their key feature was that of extra-territoriality – foreign residents were answerable only to the laws of their own country. Thus the Americans, British, and French had their own "concessions" – exclusive areas within the city with their own police forces and judiciary – a situation that attracted not only entrepreneurs, but refugees, criminals, and revolutionaries. This mix was a potent one and Shanghai's reputation for glamor and excess derives from the politically combustible period between the two world wars. It all came to an end in the 1940s when foreigners gave up their rights in the face of growing Chinese opposition.

    The Bund, also known as Zhongshan Dong Yu Road, was the wide thoroughfare running along Huangpu River. This was where all the major players in Shanghai commerce built their offices and created the distinctively grandiose skyline that still greets the river-going traveler today. Nanking Road was, and still is, Shanghai's retail hub. Divided in two parts (the western end is Bubbling Well Road), it was home to China's first department stores, where Chinese and expatriates mixed on an equal footing. Opium, trafficked commercially with claims for free-trade by British companies like Jardine Matheson, was the foundation of Shanghai's prosperity and dens dotted the city. When the mercantile veneer was jettisoned, opium became the currency of Shanghai's gangster underworld.
    Mao Memorabilia, Dongtai Road Market
    Mao Memorabilia, Dongtai Road Market

    Shopping & Entertainment in Shanghai
    Shanghai has always been China's premier shopping destination. Before World War II, the city's glamorous foreign community demanded the finest goods, and Shanghai's reputation for novelty and quality continues today, with stores that cater to all tastes and budgets. This is also a culturally vibrant city, with regular performances of opera, theater, acrobatics, Western classical music, and jazz. The city's nightlife is buzzing with plenty of fashionable bars and restaurants, as well as cinemas and nightclubs.

    Shops & markets
    Shanghai's best-known shopping street is Nanjing Road, which is lined with stores (see Nanjing Road). The Friendship Store is worth visiting for Chinese wares, while the most interesting local market is just off Nanjing Road, on Jiangyin Road. Huaihai Road in the former French Concession is the other well-known street, packed with upscale fashion boutiques and stores.

    Clothes & textiles
    All the major brand names from Europe, the US, and Japan are represented here, along with some Hong Kong chain stores, though the latter often don't have sizes that fit foreign visitors. The main streets are Nanjing Road, Shaanxi Nan Road, Huaihai Road, and Maoming Road. For cheap clothing, visit the Xiangyang Road Clothes Market, located in a large mall on the corner of Nanjing Road and Chengdu Road. For reasonably priced silk, try the No. 1 Department Store (see Nanjing Road), but the best quality is sold at stores such as Isetan. For fashion boutiques, there are a number of independent stores clustered at Taikang Road. The city has also revived its tradition of fine tailoring, and W.W. Chan & Sons Tailor Ltd is quality at good prices.

    Although Shanghai offers a range of antiques, there are two potential hazards in buying them. First, the market is flooded with fakes which visitors might mistake for the real thing, and second, it is illegal to export antiques that do not bear a government-approved seal. Bargains are hard to come by and the best quality items are not likely to be much cheaper than at home. The main markets are near the Old City on Dongtai Road, Fuyou Road (open Sunday only), and Fangbang Road. Fangbang Road's (see Yu Gardens and Bazaar) Hubao Building Basement Market is the largest indoor antique market in Shanghai, while Hongkou district's Duolun Road has a row of restored shops selling antiques, books, and art.

    Arts & crafts
    All traditional Chinese arts and crafts are widely available in Shanghai. The Yu Gardens Bazaar is great for items such as tea, teapots, teaware, and other souvenirs, but remember to always bargain hard. For porcelain, the best buys are the fine reproductions of classical porcelain, available at the Shanghai Museum, which although expensive, are far better than anything else in the market. Handicrafts made by China's ethnic minorities such as Tibetans, as well as by people of neighboring countries such as Nepal, are available at specialist shops on Nanjing Road. Jewelry shops abound all over the city, and jade, although available, is difficult to classify. Cultured pearls however, are a safer bet, and are available in stores such as Shanghai Pearl City. For Chinese art, there are several galleries around Moganshan Road near Suzhou Creek.

    Entertainment guides & tickets
    There are a number of English language publications, such as the bi-weekly City Weekend and monthly that's Shanghai, which carry details of current events, as well as restaurant reviews. Mainstream events are listed in local Chinese newspapers. Tickets can be arranged through the tourist office, directly at the venue or even through your hotel. Booking in advance, wherever possible, is recommended.

    Performing arts & music
    Shanghai can boast a wide variety of performing arts. There are several international-standard venues such as the Shanghai Grand Theater (see People's Park & Square) and Shanghai Oriental Art Theater that stage national and international opera performances, music, dance, and theater. Another very popular cultural venue is the Shanghai Center (see Nanjing Road), which also puts on classical Western music and opera, as well as nightly performances of the city's most famous acrobatic troupe. Traditional Chinese opera can be seen at the Tianchan Yifu Theater and occasionally at the old Lyceum Theater (Lan Xin), where some of the famous names of British music hall played before World War II. The Majestic Theater also has a programme of regular performances of ballet and local opera, while modern Chinese theater is performed at the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Center.

    There are also concerts every Sunday evening at the Shanghai Music Conservatory Auditorium. Jazz, which is most famously available at the House of Blues & Jazz, can also be heard at the JZ Club on Fuxing Road.

    Apart from Chinese and Hong Kong films, films from Europe and the US are also screened in cinemas and bars. Halls such as UME International Cineplex, Shanghai Film Art Center, and Studio City show foreign films (often censored), either in their original language with Chinese subtitles or dubbed into Chinese with English subtitles.

    Bars & nightclubs
    Shanghai's nightlife is lively, as befits this former "Paradise for Adventurers". Bars come and go, and what's "in" one month may close down the next. Bars tend towards the avant-garde, and are heavily influenced by what is fashionable in Tokyo, New York, and London. Prices for drinks can be high, and many bars have dancing, live music, film nights, and comedy spots. The best areas are on Huaihai Road around Tongren Road, the Bund, Xintiandi, and Yongsia Road. The Blue Frog on Tongren Road has happy hour drinks and dance music. Further north on the same road is Malone's, an American style bar, and close by is the Big Bamboo, a Canadian bar and one of the city's most popular late night hangouts. Popular cocktail lounges include Mesa/Manifesto and Sin Lounge, while Club Bonbon attracts international DJs if you want to dance. For live music and an underground vibe head to Shelter. The upscale Xintiandi district has an good selection of pubs, and Lounge 18 on the Bund is glamorous and elegant, with couches, VIP rooms, and a cigar lounge. The Glamour Bar at the corner of Guangdong Lu is decorated like a 1930s Hollywood film set. Current reviews, including details of which clubs have DJs from London and New York, are to be found in that's Shanghai.

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