This "greatest hits" itinerary takes in Shanghai's top attractions — the best of East and West, past, present, and future — including a world-class museum; China's number-one shopping street; Shanghai's most famous colonial landmark, the Bund; one of the world's tallest buildings in Pudong; and a classical Chinese garden and temple complex. All of these landmarks can be traced in a loop around Puxi (west of the Huangpu River), with a quick detour into Pudong (if you have more than a day, save Pudong for the second day), but it can be strenuous, so do fortify yourself with a hearty breakfast before setting off in the morning. There are plenty of dining options along the way, so feel free to stop at restaurants other than those recommended here, especially if you've been delayed by shopping, sightseeing, or just people-watching. In the evening, we recommend taking in the Shanghai Acrobats, and ending with a nightcap or late supper amid the lights on the Bund.
Start: Metro to Renmin Guangchang (People's Square).
1. Shanghai Museum (Shanghai Bowuguan)
This modern, state-of-the-art museum, often cited by visitors as Shanghai's premier attraction, has as impressive a collection of historical artifacts as you'll see in any museum in China. It's possible to tour all 11 exhibition rooms, but if your time is limited, pick four or five of the most interesting to you. The bronze and stone sculpture galleries on the first floor, the painting gallery on the third, and the jade gallery on the fourth are generally considered the most impressive. The audio phone with narratives of the major exhibits is worth renting. Allow at least an hour, preferably two.
Emerge from the north exit of the museum onto:
2. Renmin Guangchang (People's Square)
Shanghai's central square was once part of colonial Shanghai's horse-racing track. To the northwest, the building with the curved crucible roof is the Shanghai Grand Theatre, the city's premier venue for international performances, dances, and concerts. Just behind it, though out of view, is the colonial clock tower marking today's Shanghai Art Museum (Shanghai Meishuguan). Directly to your north is Shanghai's City Hall.
Head northeast across Renmin Dadao to:
3. Shanghai Urban Planning Museum (Shanghai Chengshi Guihua Zhanshiguan)
Even if you've had your fill of museums, duck into this modern Microlite glass building and head straight for the third floor. Your jaw will drop at the huge scale model of urban Shanghai as it will look in 2020. It is usually at this moment that visitors begin to grasp the enormous physical and social engineering experiment that is Shanghai, and understand why Shanghai really will be the city of the future.
Cross Xizang Lu and head north until you reach:
4. Nanjing Lu Pedestrian Mall
This is China's "Number One Shopping Street," which needs to be seen and experienced, especially the sea of humanity that crowds the plaza on any given day. These days, the street is lined as much with modern shopping centers as with the old colonial holdovers, all covered in neon lights, of course. It takes about 20 to 30 minutes to walk to the end without stopping for any major breaks, and considerably more if you like to shop. Otherwise, hop on board the electric sightseeing trolley (¥2) that will take you to the end of the pedestrian mall at Henan Zhong Lu.
Continue east on Nanjing Dong Lu, passing along the way the Peace Hotel, one of Shanghai's most gorgeous Art Deco buildings. Soon you'll arrive at:
5. The Bund
The most famous street in Asia during the first half of the 20th century, this embankment was where the foreign powers who entered Shanghai after the Opium War of 1842 erected their Western-style banks and trading houses. Today it is a veritable museum of architecture featuring building styles from Art Deco and Gothic to late Renaissance and classic European. It's also home to some of the swankiest shops, restaurants, and bars in Shanghai.
6. Dining on the Bund
If the weather is nice, we suggest the ultimate of Shanghai dining experiences: rooftop dining on the Bund at either M on the Bund or New Heights at Three on the Bund. The former was the restaurant that put Shanghai on the world dining map, while the latter serves more casual bistro fare. From either rooftop, soak in the views of Pudong across the Huangpu River.
After lunch, if you are staying for a second day, walk to the southern end of Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu and head west on Yan'an Dong Lu. Take a left (south) onto Sichuan Nan Lu and head all the way down past Renmin Lu onto Lishui Lu and eventually Jiujiaochang Lu. You are now in Shanghai's Old Town (jump ahead to #8).
If you have only 1 day, head back up the Bund to Nanjing Lu, where you have a number of options for crossing the river to Pudong. You can walk west on Nanjing Lu to the Nanjing Road (E) subway station and take Metro Line 2 for one stop to Lujiazui; or you can cross via the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel (entrance at Beijing Lu), complete with tram cars and tacky flashing lights; or you can just hop a taxi through the Yan'an Lu Tunnel to Pudong and the:
7. Jin Mao Tower or Shanghai World Financial Center
The architecturally perfect Jin Mao Tower with its 88th-floor observatory is one of my favorite buildings to take visitors for a 360-degree view of Shanghai, but it was recently eclipsed in height by the neighboring Shanghai World Financial Center (SWFC). SWFC's vertiginous 100th-floor all-glass observation deck is stunning, but it's not for the faint-hearted.
Take a taxi back across the river to:
8. Old Town
This is the center of the old Chinese city, the first part of Shanghai to be settled, and where foreigners seldom ventured during the Concession days. These days, the mysterious and foreboding alleys have given way to a sprawling temple bazaar, anchored in the south by Shanghai Old Street (Shanghai Lao Jie), full of reconstructed Ming and Qing dynasty shop houses proffering a wide variety of souvenirs, antiques (mostly fake), and delightfully tacky tchotchkes. At the eastern end of the street is the Daoist Temple of the Town God (Chenghuang Miao). In the center of the Old Town complex is a main square with the Bridge of Nine Turnings (Jiuqu Qiao) and the classic mid-lake pavilion Huxinting Teahouse (Huxinting Chashe).
To the north of the teahouse is:
9. Yu Yuan (Yu Garden)
Billed as the most complete Chinese classical garden in urban Shanghai, Yu Yuan can be interesting for those who've never seen a Chinese garden up close before, even if you have to fight your way through the tourist throngs. It's full of rock gardens, ponds, bridges, and pavilions all laid out to simulate a microcosm of the universe. Allow at least an hour.
When you exit Yu Yuan, you can wander some more through the cluster of shops or head south to the aforementioned Shanghai Old Street for souvenir shopping. At the western end of the street at Henan Lu, you can catch a taxi back to your hotel so you can freshen up for:
10. A Night with the Shanghai Acrobats
Though this screams "tourist" in every way, few visitors are disappointed with their night spent watching the contortionist, juggling, unicycling, and plate-spinning acts of the justifiably world-famous Shanghai Acrobatic Troupe at the Shanghai Center Theatre (Shanghai Shangcheng Juyuan). Performances usually start at 7:30pm and last 90 minutes. Tip: Tell your hotel concierge to book tickets while you are out sightseeing, as shows are sometimes sold out at the last minute.
If you fancy a nightcap or even a late dinner, you have a multitude of options. You can head back to the Bund (night views are quite different and worth returning for) for a late supper at Mr & Mrs Bund at Bund 18 or go directly to the hottest bar in town, Bar Rouge, also at Bund 18, or any of the dining establishments at Three on the Bund. Alternatively, check out any of the bars and restaurants at Shanghai's other glamorous see-and-be-seen hot spot, Xintiandi in the former French Concession. Wherever you end up, sit back, relax, and promise yourself another visit to Shanghai in the near future.
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.