Step out in Shanghai and you’ll feel as if you’re walking around in the future. This Chinese super city is the ultimate expression of this country’s relentless surge towards modernity. But away from Pudong’s glittering towers is a world steeped in Chinese tradition, with a colonial air unlike any other city in this fascinating country.
Shanghai’s public transport is among the best in the world. Its Metro serves 14 of the cities 17 districts, while the high speed Shanghai Maglev service zooms visitors from Pudong International Airport to Longing Road in just eight minutes. Trams and buses run regularly, while affordable taxis are easy to hail.
Drop your bags and head immediately to the banks of the Huangpu River. On one bank you’ll find the Bund, a beautifully preserved relic from Shanghai’s time as a colonial trading post, its Romanesque and Art Deco buildings a stark contrast to the modern skyscrapers across the water in Pudong.
That’s not to say these towers and glass blocks are not astonishing. Each one has its own spectacular design, making them easy to pick out. There’s the rocket like Oriental Pearl Tower, the bottle opener–style World Financial Centre, with a stunning observation deck and the Shanghai Tower, China’s tallest building, completed in early 2016.
Although it can often feel as if Shanghai marches to its own, futuristic beat, there’s a traditional, Chinese heart to the city too. Nowhere is this more in evidence than at the Jing’an Temple on West Nanjing Road. Dating back to 247AD, its tranquil halls and statues are a peaceful counterpoint to Shanghai’s more hectic streets. Inside the old walled city sits the City God Temple, a bustling shopping area and site of worship centred on pretty gardens and ponds.
For a further taste of colonial Shanghai, head into the former French Concession and wander along streets of old shophouses and impressive mansions.
Shanghai’s parks can get thronged, especially in summer. However, if you head to Lu Xun Park, you’ll get a more local feel, with locals working out on the exercise machines, taking part in dance classes or hanging out at the Te Li Ming teahouse.
If you like Lu Xun, Shanghai’s smaller parks and gardens are a must. Guilin Park and the amazing EcoG rooftop garden are the pick of the bunch.
For a cultural destination well off the beaten path, the fascinating Public Security Museum offers a fascinating insight into how this city was policed from its earliest days into the modern era.
Searching Shanghai’s backstreets for a life-changing Chinese meal is a treat in itself. The superb Southern Barbarian, hidden away in the Ju’roshine Life Arts Space serves excellent Yunnan cuisine. The fried honeybees are an unexpected delight.
Di Shui Dong, in the former French concession, has a massive dining room that’s always buzzing with a mix of locals and out-of-towners. The home-style Hunan food is first rate, with sour and spicy dishes aplenty. Try the bangbang chicken.
The pork slices in chilli oil from Shanghai Grandmother, just behind the Bund, are a must for anyone after authentic local dishes.