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The Bund (which means the "Embankment") refers to Shanghai's famous waterfront running along the west shore of the Huangpu River, forming the eastern boundary of old downtown Shanghai. Once a muddy towpath for boats along the river, the Bund was where the foreign powers that entered Shanghai after the Opium War of 1842 erected their distinct Western-style banks and trading houses. From here, Shanghai grew into Asia's leading city in the 1920s and 1930s, a cosmopolitan and thriving commercial and financial center. Many of the awesome colonial structures you see today date from that prosperous time and have become an indelible part of Shanghai's cityscape. After 1949, the street came to symbolize Western dominance over China and was shuttered.

For the past 3 years, in preparation for the 2010 World Expo, the government spent around ¥5 billion on renovating the Bund, and today it has regained much of its previous glory. A four-lane avenue (cut down from 11) now fronts the old buildings, vehicular traffic having been diverted to an underground tunnel. The Bund buildings all received face-lifts and some even got new tenants. On the east side of the road, a significantly widened, 2.6km-long (1.6-mile) raised promenade, with new trees, vending machines, and 2,000 benches, affords visitors pleasant strolls along the river and marvelous views of both the Bund and Pudong across the river. Pudong's new skyscrapers and modern towers -- constituting Shanghai's "21st-Century Bund" -- may dominate today's skyline, but the city's core identity and history are strictly rooted in this unique strip on the western shore. For years, the Bund was the first sight of Shanghai for those arriving by boat; it should be your first stop as well.

Essentials

Stretching for 1.6km (1 mile) along the western edge of the Huangpu River, the original Bund runs from Suzhou Creek in the north to Jinling Lu in the south. On the west side of the main avenue (Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu) that runs along the Bund are the colonial edifices of yore, while the eastern side is taken by the Bund Promenade, a newly widened and lengthened, raised embankment that acts as a dike against the Huangpu River, because downtown itself, situated on a soggy delta, is slowly sinking below the river level. The strip south of Ji[1i]nling Lu used to be the Shiliupu Wharf area; today, it's increasingly referred to as the South Bund (Nan Waitan). The Bund is pleasant to stroll at any hour, but is often crowded with tourists and vendors selling snacks and souvenirs. Early mornings used to see tai chi practitioners and ballroom dancers out in force, but they have been scarcer since the renovations. Early to midmorning on weekdays is best for avoiding the crowds and for photography. If possible, try to return here at night when the Bund buildings are all aglow.

Exploring the Bund

The highlights of the Bund are undoubtedly the colonial-era buildings lining the west side of Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu, standouts of which include the former British Consulate, Customs House, former Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, former Shanghai Club (now the Waldorf Astoria Hotel), and the Peace Hotel. For more details on these buildings, many of which have been skillfully restored, and a more complete walking guide to this gallery of European architecture.

Besides its landmark colonial architecture, however, the Bund has a few other small attractions. On its north end, the rehabilitated Suzhou Creek enters the Huangpu River beneath the 18m-wide (59-ft.) iron Waibaidu Bridge, built in 1906 to replace the original wooden toll bridge constructed in 1856 by an English businessman. The bridge was most recently restored in 2009. On the river shore stands a granite obelisk, Monument to the People's Heroes, erected in 1993, and dedicated to Chinese patriots (as defined by the Communist Party) beginning in the 1840s. The Bund History Museum (9am-4:15pm; free admission), which contains a few artifacts and some interesting photographs of the Bund, stands at its base; however, at press time, the museum was closed for renovation. Just south of the monument used to be the park Huangpu Gongyuan, originally the British Public Gardens built in 1868. In the early days, only Chinese servants accompanying their foreign masters were allowed to enter the park. Dogs were also prohibited, leading in later years to the apocryphal NO CHINESE OR DOGS ALLOWED sign being attributed to the park. The park was eventually opened to Chinese in 1926, but today, has simply become part of the Bund promenade with the recent renovations. South of here, across from the Peace Hotel, is the entrance to the pedestrian Bund Sightseeing Tunnel (Waitan Guanguang Suidao) (daily 8am-10:30pm, 11pm Fri-Sun; admission ¥55 round-trip, ¥45 one-way) located under the Huangpu. Complete with tram cars and a light show, the tunnel connects downtown Shanghai to the Pudong New Area and the Oriental Pearl TV Tower. Also here is a statue of Chen Yi, Shanghai's first mayor after 1949 and a dead ringer for Mao Zedong, at least in bronze.

Farther south down the Bund Promenade are scores of vendors, a few restaurants, and excellent overlooks facing the river. At the intersection with Yan'an Dong Lu, you'll also notice a picturesque Signal Tower, a slender, round brick tower that served as a control tower for river traffic during colonial days. First built in 1884, the tower was rebuilt in 1907, and also relayed weather reports. In 1993 during the widening of Zhongshan Lu, it was moved 20m (66 ft.) to its current site. About a 20-minute walk farther down the promenade are the docks for the Huangpu River cruises.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.