Shanghai has precious few sights on the scale of the Forbidden City or the Great Wall, but the treasures it does have -- its colonial neighborhoods, historic homes, museums, parks, and shopping avenues, not to mention Asia's most famous street -- speak to a unique legacy all its own. This section describes Shanghai's treasures, with a special focus on the city's four top attractions: the Bund, Yu Yuan (and Old Town), the Shanghai Museum, and the Huangpu River Cruise.
The average tourist usually blows through town in about 2 days, but 3 days is a minimum to do any real sightseeing, as attractions are scattered all over the city. Even then, Shanghai is about more than just its buildings. The city, one of the most exciting in the world, demands time to soak in its energy, appreciate its complexity, and sample its many attractions, which may not be apparent on the surface. Bear in mind that sights outside Shanghai, such as Suzhou, Hangzhou, or the water villages of Nanxun, and Tongli require day trips.
How to See Shanghai
The best way to see Shanghai is on your own, armed with a good map and this guide, and using a combination of taxis, subways, and your own two feet. Most attractions, including museums, mansions, places of worship, parks, and gardens, are open daily, unless otherwise noted. Allow an hour or two to visit each of these sights. Transportation facilities and many of the sights described here are very user-friendly, even for the non-Chinese-speaking, first-time visitor. Because Shanghai's traffic is getting worse by the day, if you are traveling long distances between attractions, consider taking the subway, where available, to the Metro stop nearest the attraction, then hopping a taxi the rest of the way.
Of course, if you are severely pressed for time and only have a day, an organized tour in the company of an English-speaking guide can be a hassle-free if superficial way to cover the major sights. Your hotel travel desk or a travel agency can arrange this.
The last and least advised option is to hire a car for the day through your hotel, an expensive option that will easily cost you upwards of ¥800 a day for a car and driver. It's cheaper if you hire a taxi for the day yourself on the streets.
Shanghai's turn on the world stage in the form of the 2010 World Expo (May 1-Oct 31, 2010) has come and gone. At the outset of the Expo, 70 million visitors (95% Chinese citizens) and 200 countries and international organizations were expected to participate, and while final attendance figures were not available at press time, the Expo can largely be considered a success vis-a-vis legitimizing Shanghai as a bona fide international city. The Expo's theme, "Better City, Better Life," with its focus on science, technology, business, and sustainable urban development, not only signaled China's continuing rise as a world power concerned about future development, but also provided the Chinese government with an opportunity to remind Chinese citizens of the progress they had made ("better life") under the Party's leadership in the last 20 years. For the Expo, the government is said to have spent ¥300 billion to ¥400 billion in direct and indirect investment: building pavilions and walkways for the fair (covering 5.28 sq. km/2 sq. miles of land on both sides of the Huangpu River in the south of the city), and significantly upgrading public infrastructure. The success of the Expo in rousing patriotic fever, and what effects this greater national pride will have, remain to be seen. For the Shanghainese, at least, the result of suffering through years of upheaval and construction has been a much-improved city infrastructure that now includes two new airport terminals, 12 subway lines, and a host of tunnels that make traffic and commuting much more manageable. As well, revitalized districts such as the Bund (north and south) have made the city more attractive.
Those who didn't make it to the Expo missed a fascinating collection of eye-catching architecture. At press time, the majority of pavilions were expected to be torn down after the Expo, with the exception of five landmarks (all environmentally friendly buildings clustered together on the Pudong side around Shangnan Lu [Metro: Yaohua Lu]) which will be turned into permanent exhibitions. Most prominent among them is the towering 69m-high (226-ft.) bright-red China Pavilion (called the Oriental Crown) with six floors expanding out and up. It is estimated to have cost upwards of ¥1.4 billion to build, can hold up to 50,000 visitors a day, and was the scene of up to 3-hour waits during the Expo. The roof is built with 56 wooden brackets, representing the 56 ethnic groups in China, and also harvests rainwater. The building is due to be turned into a national history museum after the Expo. North of the China Pavilion is the spaceshiplike Expo Performance Center. West of these two structures is the Expo Axis, a 1km-long (2/3-mile) walkway along Shangnan Lu, with two levels underground and two aboveground; it is designated for commercial outlets after the Expo. The two remaining permanent structures lying west of the Axis are the Expo Center (an impressive glass structure that's largely a conference center) and the Theme Pavilion (designated as an exhibition center, and highly energy-efficient with rooftop solar panels). Post-Expo access to these sites had not been determined, so please check with your hotel concierge for the latest information.
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.