Shanghai, with one of the largest urban populations on Earth (more than 19 million permanent residents), is divided by the Huangpu River into Pudong (east of the river) and Puxi (west of the river). For the traveler, the majority of Shanghai's sights are still concentrated downtown in Puxi, whose layout bears a distinct Western imprint. After the First Opium War in 1842 opened Shanghai to foreign powers, the British, French, Germans, Americans, and others moved in, carving for themselves their own "concessions" where they were subject not to the laws of the Chinese government but to those established by their own governing councils.
Today, the city is divided into districts (qu), according to which listings in this guide are organized. Today's districts hew fairly close to, but do not follow exactly, the original concession borders. For the traveler, the two most important geographical markers are the Bund (Waitan) and People's Square (Renmin Guangchang) about a mile to the west. Since the days of the International Settlement, established in 1863 with the melding of the British Concession and the American Concession, the Bund, with its signature colonial-era banks and trading houses, has been and still is the symbolic center of the city; from here, downtown Shanghai opens to the west like a fan. Today's practical and logistical center, however, is People's Square (Renmin Guangchang), about a mile to the west of the Bund. This is the meeting point of three important subway lines (1, 2, and 8), as well as the location of some major attractions, including the Shanghai Museum, Shanghai Art Museum, and Shanghai Grand Theatre. The Bund and People's Square are linked by several streets, none more famous than Nanjing Lu, historically China's number-one shopping street.
Southwest of the Bund is historic Nanshi, Shanghai's old Chinese city, which was the first part of Shanghai to be settled (and one of the last to be developed, though building is certainly proceeding apace these days). Nanshi used to have a city wall, which followed today's Renmin Lu and Zhonghua Lu circle. As its name suggests, the old Chinese city has retained the greatest number of typically Chinese sights, such as the quintessential Southern-Chinese Garden, Yu Yuan, the famous Huxinting Teahouse, several temples, and even part of the old city wall.
A mile or so west of the Bund and the old Chinese city, Shanghai's former French Concession, established in 1849 and straddling both today's Luwan and northern Xuhui districts, is still one of Shanghai's trendiest neighborhoods. Chock-full of colonial architecture and attractions, it is home to some of the city's priciest real estate and to its most glamorous shops and restaurants, as seen in the megadevelopment Xintiandi.
Farther west still, beyond the Inner Ring Road that wraps around downtown Shanghai and the French Concession, is the Hongqiao Development Zone, where modern commercial and industrial development was concentrated beginning in the 1980s.
While sightseeing is concentrated in downtown Shanghai and the French Concession, north Shanghai has a scattering of interesting sights, including the Jade Buddha Temple, the Lu Xun Museum, and the Ohel Moshe Synagogue; and south Shanghai has the Longhua Pagoda, Xujiahui Cathedral, and the Shanghai Botanical Garden.
In contrast to the colonial and historical sights of Puxi, the district of Pudong, lying east of the Huangpu River, is all about Shanghai's future. Mere farmland before 1990 when then-President Deng Xiaoping designated it as the engine of China's new economic growth, Pudong has sprouted in just a decade to become the city's financial center, and a high-tech and free-trade zone, home to Asia's largest shopping centers, longest bridges, tallest buildings, and the 2010 World Expo site. Modern skyscrapers like the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, the Jin Mao Building, and the Shanghai World Financial Center, which houses the world's highest hotel, the Park Hyatt, and a new slew of swanky international hotels, restaurants, and shopping malls, are attempts to attract the visitor over to the eastern shore of the Huangpu. With considerably less choice in the matter, many Shanghai residents were also displaced here in the last decade by the destruction of old neighborhoods in Puxi.
Main Streets -- In downtown Shanghai, the general rule is that east-west streets are named for Chinese cities, while north-south streets are named for provinces and regions. The main east-west street through downtown Shanghai is Nanjing Lu, historically China's top shopping street. The portion running west from the Bund, through the pedestrian mall, to People's Park (Renmin Gongyuan), is known officially as Nanjing Dong Lu; it continues west as Nanjing Xi Lu. Parallel to Nanjing Lu in the south is Yan'an Lu (originally a creek dividing the International Settlement from the French Concession to the south), which runs west through the downtown corridor all the way to the Hongqiao Airport (changing its name in the western segment to Hongqiao Lu). Running above Yan'an Lu is the elevated expressway Yan'an Gaojia, the quickest way to traverse downtown Shanghai; near the Bund, this leads to the underground tunnel Yan'an Dong Lu Suidao that resurfaces on the east side of the river in Pudong. It used to take an hour to drive from the Hongqiao District through downtown to Pudong, but the Yan'an Expressway has cut the travel time to 20 minutes without traffic. To the south, the Fuxing Lu Tunnel also runs from Puxi to the foot of the Nanpu Bridge in Pudong.
The major north-south thoroughfares include the Bund, on the west shore of the Huangpu River (the avenue along the Bund is known as Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu which becomes Zhongshan Nan Lu as it moves into the South Bund); and Xizang Lu, which divides Nanjing Lu into its east and west sectors, and Yan'an Lu and Huaihai Lu into their east and middle (zhong) sectors. Xizang Lu also borders People's Square (Renmin Guangchang), the site of the Shanghai Museum, the Grand Theatre, and the central subway station for both Metro lines.
In the French Concession, the two big avenues are Huaihai Zhong Lu (Shanghai's second-most-famous shopping street) and Fuxing Zhong Lu, both extensions of the east-west streets that begin downtown at the southern Bund (Zhongshan Dong Er Lu). Crossing them are a number of smaller scenic streets, the liveliest of which are Ruijin Lu and Maoming Lu near the historic Jin Jiang Hotel. At the western end of the French Concession, the graceful and trendy avenue of Hengshan Lu runs south toward the Xujiahui shopping area.
Downtown Shanghai, the French Concession, large portions of north and south Shanghai, as well as the Pudong New Area, are surrounded by the Inner Ring Road (Neihuan Gaojia), an elevated expressway that bears the road name Zhongshan along most of its route. This Inner Ring Road is bisected by the North-South Elevated Road (Nanbei Gaojia), which runs above Chengdu Bei Lu, the first major street west of People's Square, a rough dividing line between downtown Shanghai and the French Concession. A second, even larger ring road is under construction; it will join the airports of east and west Shanghai.
Making Sense of Shanghai Street Names
Shanghai's main streets, as well as some smaller streets that intersect them, are often mouthfuls to pronounce and difficult to remember at first, but after a few trips through the city, they begin to sort themselves out. One reason that the street names in pinyin seem so long is that they incorporate the characters for north or south, street or avenue, all running together in the street name. Zhongshan East First Road is written in pinyin as Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu. Common items in street names and their English translations are as follows:
Bei = North
Jie = Street
Yi = First
Nan = South
Da Dao = Avenue
Er = Second
Dong = East
Lu = Road
San = Third
Xi = West
Nong = Lane
Zhong = Central
Finding an Address
Nearly all of Shanghai's big streets have signs on poles near intersections that give the names in Chinese characters and in pinyin, which is the alphabetical rendering of those characters. Though street numbers are given, few locals pay any attention to them, as navigation is usually by street name, landmarks, and nearby intersections. The only exception is in the case of Shanghai's many smaller lanes (longtang, long for short) branching off the main streets and the smaller intersecting streets. An address sometimes given as Hengshan Lu 9, no. 3, means it's House no. 3 (sanhao) situated in Lane no. 9 (jiu nong) off Hengshan Lu; Lane no. 9 could well be found between House no. 7 and Lane no. 11; taxi drivers and locals are quite familiar with this system should you need to locate such an address.
It's highly recommended that you buy a map or get one from your hotel concierge. Between the Chinese characters provided in this guide's map keys and a second (preferably trilingual) map with English, pinyin, and characters, you should have no problems comparing the characters with the road signs as you make your way. It's always helpful to have your hotel staff mark your hotel and destination on your map before you set off so that you can show it to taxi drivers or passersby should you get lost. There is, however, no question of truly getting lost even if you wander off the main paths indicated on the maps. Given Shanghai's Western influence, it's not difficult these days to find even a marginal English speaker to help you, even if it's just to locate an address on the map and point you in the right direction. Though their daily attitudes may not reflect it, Shanghai residents can be quite friendly and helpful to beleaguered foreigners.
The Streets of Old Shanghai
Up until the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, many of Shanghai's streets bore foreign names, bequeathed to the city by colonial overlords. Here's a partial list of old and new:
Current street name . . . once known as
Fuxing Zhong Lu . . . Route Lafayette
Henan Lu . . . Homan Road
Hengshan Lu . . . Avenue Petain
Huaihai Zhong Lu . . . Avenue Joffre
Maoming Bei Lu . . . Moulmien Road
Maoming Nan Lu . . . Route Cardinal Mercier
Nanjing Xi Lu . . . Bubbling Well Road
Nanjing Dong Lu . . . Nanking Road
Renmin Lu . . . Boulevard des Deux Republiques
Ruijin Er Lu . . . Route Pere Robert
Ruijin Yi Lu . . . Route des Soeurs
Sinan Lu . . . Rue Masenet
Tianshan Lu . . . Lincoln Avenue
Xizang Nan Lu . . . Boulevard de Montiguy
Yan'an Dong Lu . . . Avenue Edward VII
Yan'an Xi Lu . . . Great Western Road
Yan'an Zhong Lu . . . Avenue Foch West
Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu . . . The Bund
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.