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SHANGHAI: 5 best things to do in China’s greatest city

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SHANGHAI TRAVL GUIDE. The great city of Shanghai is one of few that rivals New York in terms of stunning skyscraper settings, a collection of buildings built on the Huangpu river’s once muddy banks that now stands as a magnificent monument of mankind’s engineering abilities and architectural achievements.

Prior to hosting the World Fair Expo of 2010, Shanghai was fixed up with several new subway lines, scenic walkways and other improvements that now, when the buzz is gone, makes a visit all the more worthwhile.

But not everything in Shanghai is new and shiny. It was here that the Communist Party held its first national conference in 1921, gearing up to overtake the whole nation, and a hundred years before that the city was in chaos from the British-Chinese Opium Wars, destroying much of Shanghai’s dignity and self respect. But the city’s history goes way beyond that – in fact, it spans over a thousand years, having been around since the Ming Dynasty. Until 1127, Shanghai was a small market town of 12,000 households, before international trade made the city boom.

Much of the good ol’ days are still there, though you have to search for it. This is a personal guide, written from my own experience from Shanghai, so I will not go on and on about the museums and restaurants that you can find anyway in the guidebook. Instead, here are my:

5 best things to do in Shanghai:

1.

To get a grip on this giant of a city, head to the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center (also called the City Planning Museum) and take in the scale model of Shanghai that covers a whole floor in the building. Lots of information is available about future construction projects, even higher skyscrapers and the fact that Shanghai, despite its size, has quite many parks.

2.

The Bund, Shanghai

Many visitors go for the expansive district Pudong, with its characteristic spacecraft-looking TV tower, but you should not forget The Bund on the other side of the Huangpu river. This is the historic district of Shanghai, with old European buildings lined up along the riverside. Before the era of the communists this was the city’s real financial center, but after Mao’s seizure of power the banks and other financial institutions gradually moved away and left the buildings to be used for other purposes. With Beijing’s turn towards capitalism in the 1970’s, the banks came back to Shanghai.

If you are in for architecture, there is a veritable buffé of styles available. The Bund houses over 50 buildings of various styles such as Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Neo-Classical and Art Deco. Among the famous buildings in the Bund is the Peace Hotel, which was closed for renovation in 2010.


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3.

The top of the shopping bag-lookalike skyscraper World Financial Center, at about 430 meters over ground, holds a viewing platform, providing formidable views over Shanghai. The skyscraper is, besides the TV tower, the best known landmark in the district of Pudong in Shanghai. The area around the collection of skyscrapers is worth a walk too. This neighborhood hosts China’s highest concentration of hightech construction engineering, and new buildings used to pop up like mushrooms. With a somewhat cooler economy, the pace has slowed down, but Pudong is still an impressive sight.

If you are shopping for electronics, Pudong is the place to head to. The district holds several huge electronics stores, with just about any gadget worth buying in stock. There are fakes around in China, so look carefully before you buy.

4.

A brisk walk southeast along the Century Boulevard in Pudong (or a ride on the number 2 subway line) will bring you to the Century Park, a large green area with an artificial lake, minigolf course and the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum nearby. This is a perfect spot for a picnic, or simply to get away from the bustle downtown. The Chinese themselves obviously like the Century Park too, and you will not have it by yourself on fine days.

The park also shows Shanghai’s quite serious attempt to put green areas in as the city extends. In fact, the city’s goal is that 40 percent of the area should consist of parks or trees to help improve air quality.

There are usually things going on in the park. If you arrive in February-March, you might catch the spring flower festival.

5.

In 2010, Shanghai hosted the largest World Expo ever, themed “Better City – Better Life”, with over 70 million visitors in the huge expo area that had been built on both sides of the Huangpu river. Some of the pavilions are left standing, but most of the area has been cleared for new construction work. The Traveling Reporter hasn’t been able to obtain any fresh info as to what the future plans are for the area. But the surrounding districts are interesting to walk through. On the whole, by the way, Shanghai is a surprisingly walkable city, despite its size. Shanghai is also China’s brightest star, rivaling Hong Kong and a masterpiece example of city planning that the communist party love to boast for the rest of the world. Unfortunately, old neighborhoods have to give way for all the new stuff. But walking through Shanghai, you can still find glimpses of an era that Shanghai officially has left behind.

It is not a bad idea to catch one of the tours (like this one) that specializes in showing sights off the beaten track in Shanghai. But doing that will mostly bring you to the Bund. A better idea is to go by the superb subway to the city’s outskirts and, armed with a map, walk yourself back towards the city center. That will surely bring you past one or two sights not covered in the Lonely Planet.

Lastly, one of the best books ever written about Shanghai and its messy past is Stella Dong’s “Rise and Fall of a Decadent City“, a title that nostalgically aims back towards past eras and a Shanghai long gone.

The editor of the Traveling Reporter works as a business news editor, and is a frequent traveler. When not doing any of that, he spends time on his boat and tries to figure out where to travel next. Two of his top destinations are the Philippines and San Francisco. Email Erik! Follow the Traveling Reporter at Stumbleupon, Tumblr, Chime In, Pinterest, Google+, Weibo, Storify, Facebook, Traveldudes, Myspace.