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Shanghai, China: 15 things to see and do

By: Monica Pitrelli

Five areas best seen by foot

Depending on whom you ask, Xintiandi is either fabulous or overly fabricated, but there is no denying that this area of renovated shikumen houses is a popular after-hours spot for food and drinks. Views on the French Concession are more uniform; it’s spectacular, with its long tree-lined boulevards and small boho shops. The Bund is one of the biggest draws in Shanghai; the two-kilometre promenade features grandiose colonial era architecture on the Huangpu River’s western bank and Pudong’s futuristic skyline on the east. Lesser-known Suzhou Creek is right around the corner from the Bund; duck into this area’s old lanes for a slice of traditional Shanghai life. For a bigger eye-opener into the less glamorous – and more realistic – side of the city, explore the crowded markets and narrow alleys of Nanshi, Shanghai’s Old Town.

 

Four tourist attractions worth the effort

To truly understand the term “urban sprawl”, drop by the Shanghai Urban Planning Centre to see a large-scale model of the city; it’s the best place to size up the rapidly growing metropolis as it will look in 2020. At 474 metres, the Shanghai World Financial Center is currently the world’s tallest observation deck. Be sure to check visibility for the day at the building’s base, as air quality is – ahem – a bit problematic in China these days. Widely regarded as the city’s best museum, the Shanghai Museum houses vast collections of bronze, stone, jade, calligraphy and other Chinese historical treasures. And, the Maglev train – so named because the train levitates instead of riding on rails – is as much a mode of transportation to and from the airport as it is a 430kmph experience not to be missed.

Three places for people watching

Armed with long handwritten sheets of paper detailing their children’s best attributes and accomplishments, parents hoping to find suitable spouses for their offspring make up the People’s Square marriage market. Unless you can read Mandarin, you likely won’t be able to decipher much being offered but witnessing this modern-day matchmaking in person is worth a stroll through the park during a weekend afternoon. The French Concession’s Fuxing Park is a relaxing spot to catch locals practicing Tai Chi, playing mahjong and – for the more coordinated – waltzing their way through the park’s walkways. You’ll have to spruce up first, but the Waldorf Astoria’s Long Bar is one of the best places to rub elbows with the movers and shakers among Shanghai’s elite. A former British gentlemen’s club dating back to 1910, the opulent architecture of this hotel is reason enough to drop in for a tipple.

Two day trips outside the city

 
For a break from the bustle of Shanghai, catch an early morning train to Hangzhou. Take a boat ride around the city’s biggest attraction, West Lake, and visit the famous temples, pagodas and tea plantations in the area. One day in Suzhou is enough to see the classic gardens and canals of China’s “Venice of the East” – it’s just 80 kilometres from Shanghai and easily accessible by train or bus.

One place to rest your head


Located a stone’s throw from Xintiandi, the recently-opened Andaz Shanghai Hotel is the Hyatt’s luxury boutique line’s first foray into the Asian marketplace. The hotel is hip and ultra-modern – both in look and functionality – and aims to recreate a stay at your best friend’s home – wifi, all-day refreshments, mini-bar offerings and wine in the evenings are free of charge. The main restaurant, Hai Pai, is a mix of French and Shanghainese, as is breakfast every morning. In a nod to the nearby French Concession, the hotel has an onsite patisserie with homemade éclairs that are not to be missed.

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