It might be the new kid on the block in China but Shanghai is no disappointment.
Commonly referred to as Asia’s New York, the city offers a mixture of shopping, relatively new history, attractive parklands and trendy neighborhoods.
The Bund is where the action starts and is the symbol of Shanghai. The sweeping waterfront area occupies some of the city’s best examples of Art Deco hotels, along with China’s ever growing high-end label outlets.
The name “bund” is derived from an Anglo-Indian term meaning “muddy embankment,” but after the 1920’s the area became a showcase for foreign enterprises, impressive Western-style banks, trading houses, hotels, consulates, and clubs. Nowadays thousands of tourists and locals flock to this superb waterfront to enjoy the view across the river to Pudong and its surrounds.
Before venturing into Shanghai’s neighborhoods we take a detour to the Urban Planning Museum. Inside the building is an exceptional model of the city, which allows you get your head around the vast sprawl of buildings. It is somewhat of an uncommon stop but a worthwhile one at that.
We begin the tour in the French Concession, one of the largest and most popular districts in Shanghai. This original European settlement area was established after the Treaty of Nanking (signed in 1842).
Driving through the streets there are still many fine examples of 19th and early 20th century architecture. Art deco, Neogothic, Teutonic, and even southern antebellum dot the streets of modern Shanghai, testament to the diversity which once earned the city the title of, “Paris of the East”.
Many of the old French houses are still run by the government as either houses or guesthouses. Vast majorities are in desperate need of a refurbishment; nevertheless they remain unique symbols of a city where East and West once merged. If you are going to make one stop in the concession, give the area of Tianzifang a go. It symbolizes typical Shanghai’s 30th Shikumen architecture. Make sure you get lost among the labyrinth of streets while exploring its chic bars and shops.
The Old Town of Shanghai is our next move. Once upon a time a defensive wall stood around this ancient area to protect the people from invading Japanese pirates. Today broad circular avenues have now replaced the ancient walls. Despite two Starbucks hidden amongst the historical buildings, notable features include the City God Temple in the centre of town and the Yuyuan Garden.
Don’t ask me to pronounce its name but ultimately my highlight of Shanghai is Zhujiajao. Approximately an hour’s drive from the Shanghai, this charming town can easily be labeled as China’s own Venice.
This ancient river town is built on top of crisscrossing waterways flowing from the Diashan Lake. Covering 47 square kilometres, the town has simple and elegant Ming and Qing Dynasty architecture. Walk or take a boat around the quiet streets, secluded alleyways and arched stone bridges to experience the real soul of this town.