Having lived in Shanghai for some time now I am convinced that it is not just a city, but an experience, and to that extent while talking about ‘places to visit’ might suffice for another city, it will not give someone even a glimpse of the real Shanghai. So rather than talk about city in terms of seeing certain landmarks, I would like to delve into the reasons that make the Shanghai experience so unique and unforgettable.
A gorgeous blend of the Ancient, Old and New:
Shanghai means ‘upon the sea’ and it was due to its geographical location that Shanghai initially became a popular city in China. The foundation of the old city was laid around the 13th century AD according to some records. After the Opium Wars of the mid-nineteenth century, the French Concession was set up and since then many Europeans have continued to live here. Shanghai has been quite receptive to change and through the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first, it also became a city of skyscrapers. Today, in Shanghai, that mid-era erstwhile French Concession and European style of buildings co-exists with the ancient Chinese relics of city god temple, Yuyuan gardens, Sipai lu, night market of Guangqi lu, Danfeng lu and the also a whole skyline of enormously tall buildings with all modern amenities in and beside them. From hand pulled carts, to super cars, from intercity commuting 16 lines of metro train and the world’s fastest magnetic levitating train, from a group of old people practicing tai-chi in park squares and streets to teenagers skirting on rollerblades and skateboards or prim-dressed business men riding a single wheel electric scooter to their office, this city gives you a glimpse into past as it does into future.
The taste of its sumptuous food:
Shanghai offers not only the major Chinese cuisines of Peking, Hunan, Sichuan, Shanghainese and Cantonese, but also a myriad blend of Italian, Japanese, Mexican, Thai, Indian, Malay, French, British and the good ol’ American staples in the restaurants. If you are tired of regular cafés and bars, or restaurants great enough to have Michelin stars, you can rent your own park barbeque or go to one of the bizarre eateries like ‘more than toilet’ which resembles a toilet right from seating to the cutlery and crockery. At ‘teddy café in Pudong, you can eat with a picnic of stuffed teddies, a Cat restaurant at Taikang Lu puts a feline right across your chair to give you company. There’s even a Sherlock Holmes themed eating-place. It’s all here in one city and though the food quality varies, it adds to the fun of being here. If your palate is experimental, there is always the platter of live shrimps, bees, grasshoppers, grubs or skewers of deep fried squids, starfishes with a side of loads of vegetables.
Feel the pulse of the city through its street walks:
You can really feel the rhythm of Shanghai through its street-walks – whether it be a jog around the massive Century park, a busy trot through the high-rises of Lujiajui, an afternoon stroll with some window shopping in Huaihailu, an evening walk in the blitzing neons of the Nanjing East walking street, or a fun filled evening pub-hop in the quaint lanes of the erstwhile French Concession where many villas have been converted into bars or cafés. And should one still get tired, the riverside promenades on the both the east and west side of the river are ideal for long strolls in the calming breeze, allowing one to see the skyline and the magnitude of development of this old city.
Enjoy its colorful nightlife:
It is not just the bars and the glorious parties, though they are plenty and varied, but also the night-markets of Linfen lu, Zhongyuan lu, Dongchang lu, Zhongshan park station market and or food streets of Tong bei lu, Changli lu that make Shanghai’s nightlife special. There are amazing stunts to be seen at the Chinese acrobatics shows at Shangcheng Theater and Shanghai Circus World and the glimpse of the city from the observation deck in the Shanghai Pearl TV tower is stunning. Combine that with a dinner on the river cruise in Huang Pu River and you are left spell bound in the lights of the night. And should you still want to be amazed and dazed, just go waltzing around in the streets of Xintiandi, Sinan mansions, Hengshan lu, the bund, Lujiajui, Nanjing dong lu or Huai hai zong lu and you will come across old women performing a choreographed dances on boom boxes in a market square or some man playing Frank Sinatra on a player mounted on his motorcycle somewhere nearby to make you want to accompany him.
Everyone is welcome:
Shanghai is an old Chinese city and like any other ancient city it has a strong hold of its historical tradition. The European trade influence in the early 19th century has made it more cosmopolitan than the rest of the country. Shanghai is essentially a Chinese city, but wherever you look around, there are people of varied nationalities, multi-cultural architecture and an acceptance of differences. You can name any nation and you will find its citizens making their home in Shanghai and making a place for Shanghai in their hearts. Though language can sometimes be a barrier for the locals, they make up for it with their graciousness and curiosity, which can be truly overwhelming.
The gateway to exploring China:
Shanghai is perhaps the best place to start your journey through China. It is the metaphorical center of the country despite being located in the Far East. It is well connected by road, fast trains and flights to the rest of the country and the world. Also, there are a number of towns and places to visit nearby Shanghai for those who do not have much time on their hands to explore China’s massive geography. After all, Shanghai is just the entre to the main course that is the rest of the Mainland China.
To learn more about the city check out our Shanghai page. You can also check out the events in Shanghai including the Formula 1 Chinese Grand Prix and Shanghai Rolex Masters.