The Bund

Start: Waibaidu Bridge, Suzhou Creek (Metro: Nanjing Rd. [E]).

Finish: Yan'an Dong Lu, south Bund.

Time: 2 hours.

Best Times: Weekday mornings or late afternoons; nighttime for the lights, not the sights.

Worst Times: Weekends bring out the crowds on the Bund Promenade. Evenings are pretty, with the lights on the Bund buildings and the river, but the architecture cannot be viewed well after dark.

Defining the eastern boundary of downtown Shanghai, the Bund (Wai Tan) refers to both sides of the wide avenue (Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu) that runs north and south along the western shore of the Huangpu River. After a 2-year, ¥5-billion expansion project in preparation for the World Expo of 2010, the Bund reopened to great fanfare with a wider and longer Bund Promenade on the east side of the street, affording terrific pedestrian-only walks along the river shore with unparalleled views of Pudong across the river. Our stroll concentrates on the colonial-era European-style architecture on the west side of the street, all of which received face-lifts in the most recent renovations.

The colonial era began in Shanghai after the Treaty of Nanjing ended the First Opium War in 1842. The British and other Western nations moved in, establishing foreign enclaves (concessions) and opening up the city to trade. Consisting of mud flats and streams that were drained, the Bund (which means embankment) became the chief shipping, trading, and financial district of the colonialists. Shanghai's foreign population grew from 10,000 in 1910 to 60,000 by 1940, and it was during this period that the great buildings that still line the Bund were built. Many of the more notable buildings were designed by the architectural firm Palmer and Turner, including the Customs House, the former Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, the Bank of China, and the Peace Hotel.

War with Japan signaled the end to the Bund's colonial heyday, the first bomb dropping on the Peace Hotel on August 14, 1937. In January 1943, the Japanese occupation of Shanghai put an end to the city's foreign concessions. Shortly after the Communist triumph of 1949, the last of the foreign trading houses abandoned the Bund. In the decades since, many of the buildings, occupied sporadically by local banks, organizations, and businesses, fell into disrepair, but since the late 1990s, there has been a concerted effort to restore the Bund's architectural grandeur, to refurbish the colonial interiors, and to open them to a curious public. With the renovations of the last 3 years establishing luxury hotels, and high-end shops and restaurants as new tenants on the street, the Bund has once again become the city's focal point, all of which makes for a fascinating walking tour. In addition, the route will also take in part of the area behind the Bund known as Waitanyuan ("headstream of the Bund"), which the Shanghai government is developing into a highly ambitious complex of shops and restaurants in historical buildings connected by courtyards and gardens, pedestrian-only streets, and aerial walkways.

Begin at the northern end of the Bund (Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu) on the southern shore of Suzhou Creek at:

1. Waibaidu Bridge

This steel span bridge was built in 1907 to replace the wooden Garden Bridge that once connected the American Settlement north of the Suzhou Creek to the British Concession. On the north side of the bridge, you can see a number of colonial holdovers: to the left (west), the former Broadway Mansions (now Shanghai Mansions), an Art Deco apartment building constructed in 1934, which later housed the Foreign Correspondents Club after World War II; and to the right on the north side of the street, the marvelous old Astor House Hotel, built in 1860 and reconstructed in 1906. The hotel was the first to use telephones and electric lights in China. Albert Einstein stayed here in 1921 and 1923 (and you can, too, in his former room, in today's Pujiang Hotel). South of the Pujiang is the former and again current Russian Consulate, built in 1917, which served as a seamen's hotel in intervening years.

From the southeastern end of the bridge, looking south, you will find yourself at the beginning of the refurbished:

2. Waitan Guanjing Dadao (Bund Sightseeing Avenue)

The patches of greenery that you see here used to be part of the famous (or infamous) Huangpu Gongyuan (Huangpu Park). Today, very little remains of the notorious park, originally built by the British in 1868, which in colonial days was reputed to have a sign posted forbidding entrance by dogs and Chinese. Actually, they were just 2 out of 10 park prohibitions, but the underlying attitude toward the Chinese was clear. Today's sightseeing avenue is dominated at the northern end by an obelisk, the Monument to the People's Heroes. This is a great spot to take in views of Pudong across the river, as well as of the Bund buildings you'll soon be seeing up close.

Cross to the west side of the Bund at Nan Suzhou Lu. Straight ahead is the:

3. Former British Consulate (Nos. 33-53)

This large, sprawling compound with the two stately gray and tan granite buildings was the former British Consulate, first established here in 1852 after the British victory in the Opium War of 1842, and rebuilt in 1873. From this perch at the top of the Bund, the British oversaw the growth and development of Shanghai into an economic powerhouse in the first half of the 20th century. There were other consulate buildings here, but none remain. Today's compound, also enclosing the early English Gothic-style former Union Church (originally built in 1886, and given a complete face-lift in 2010) and neighboring hall, are currently managed by the Peninsula Hotel just to the south, itself newly built and opened in 2010. At press time, the former British Consulate buildings were being used to receive official guests for the World Expo, with future plans for it yet uncertain.

Follow the curve of Nan Suzhou Lu north, noting across the street on the south shore of Suzhou Creek the only remaining building of the Shanghai Rowing Club, built in 1904. Take a left (south) at:

4. Yuanmingyuan Lu

Behind the Bund, this street is part of what is known as Waitanyuan (including the parallel Huqiu Lu to the west, which was known as Museum Road in the 1930s), an area that was home to many cultural and religious institutions in the 1930s. It has been slated by the Shanghai government for long-term redevelopment, while preserving a number of heritage buildings. (When complete, Waitanyuan will be bordered by Nan Suzhou Lu in the north, Sichuan Lu in the west, the Bund on the east, and Dianchi Lu in the south.) The initial phase included making this a pedestrian-only street at the center of Waitanyuan Plaza, and restoring the buildings along the western side. Starting at the top at no. 209, the former China Baptist Publication Society Building is a superb red and brown brick structure by Ladislav Hudec, completed in 1930. Running south, in a row of gorgeous buildings (pick your favorite) are the 1927 Lyceum Building, the 1923 Associated Mission Building, the 1927 Somekh Mansion, the 1933 YWCA (the YWCA's primary mission was to educate, not proselytize, and was the only foreign organization allowed to continue operating after 1949), the 1904 Yuanming Yuan Apartments, and the stately 1908 Ampire Building. To the east is the Peninsula Hotel with its gallery of luxury shops.

Turn right (west) at Beijing Dong Lu, passing the 1897 Andrews and George Building, and the 1929 National Industrial Bank of China, and take a right (north) onto Huqiu Lu where you'll find:

5. Rockbund Art Museum

The museum is housed in the Palmer and Turner-designed former Royal Asiatic Society (RAS) building (completed 1932), an Art Deco structure with Chinese motifs like the balcony and octagonal bagua designs in front. When the building was home to the RAS, it once housed a collection of around 15,000 volumes, which miraculously survived World War II and the Cultural Revolution, and can be consulted at the Shanghai Library Bibliotheca Zi-Ka-Wei. Take a peek inside even if you're not interested in the art.

Head back south to Beijing Dong Lu and take a left (going east), past the Peninsula Hotel all the way back to the Bund. The two buildings north of Beijing Dong Lu are the former Banque de L'Indo-Chine (no. 29), a French classic structure built in 1911, and the Glen Line Building (no. 28), built in 1922, both now occupied by the Everbright Bank. The Glen Line Building was the American Consulate for a brief spell after World War II. South of Beijing Dong Lu on the Bund, you'll find:

6. Jardine Matheson Building (No. 27, now the Shanghai Foreign Trade Building)

Completed in 1922, this was one of the first and most powerful foreign trading companies to take root in Shanghai. Its founders, Scotsmen William Jardine and James Matheson, had been some of the earliest profiteers from the opium trade. Next door is the former Yangtze Insurance Building (no. 26, now the Agricultural Bank of China), built in 1916. The building at no. 24 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu is now the Industrial & Commercial Bank of China (formerly the Yokohama Specie Bank), possessed of a nicely restored lobby and worth a quick peek to whet your appetite for the splendors that lie ahead.

The last building on this block is the:

7. Bank of China (No. 23)

Built in 1937 by the Chiang Kai-shek Nationalist government, this Art Deco building with a Chinese roof has always been and still is the Bank of China. During its construction, there was a competition between the bank director H. H. Kung (Chiang Kai-shek's brother-in-law) and Victor Sassoon, the owner of the Peace Hotel next door, for the claim to the tallest building on the Bund. Sassoon won, barely, with the addition of a small tower on top of the Peace Hotel. Take a look inside the bank for its grand interior.

Next door, on the corner of Nanjing Lu, is a Bund landmark, the:

8. Peace Hotel (No. 20)

Built in 1929 as both the private residence of the Sassoon family and as a grand hotel, the Cathay, this is a living museum of Art Deco, capped by its famous pyramid roof. Noël Coward wrote his play Private Lives at the Peace Hotel in 1930, W. Somerset Maugham was a guest, and Steven Spielberg later filmed part of Empire of the Sun (based on J. G. Ballard's memoir of growing up as an expatriate during the Japanese occupation) here. Step in for a spot of tea, if you need a break or simply check out the restored Art Deco lobby of the hotel which reopened in July 2010 after a 2-year restoration.

Immediately across Nanjing Lu is the:

9. Swatch Art Peace Hotel (formerly Palace Hotel, No. 19)

Built between 1904 and 1909 by the Sassoons, this white-and-red-brick hotel started as the Palace Hotel, was later the South Building of the Peace Hotel, but has most recently been restored by the Swiss Swatch Group into a swanky hotel cum artists' studios, with exhibition space dedicated to contemporary art. Even if the various Swatch-brand watches (including one marked "Opium Commission" in reference to the hotel hosting the first meeting of the International Opium Commission in 1909) in the ground floor boutiques don't tempt you, take a gander at the grand interiors of the building, which have been lovingly restored.

10. Take a Break 

Stop for a coffee or a refresher either on the roof terrace of the Swatch Art Peace Hotel or head for the Sibilla Boutique Cafe on the ground floor of Bund 18, the next building to the south. The cafe serves Italian coffee, panini, and a range of desserts amid the glittering chandeliers and marble.

11. Bund 18 (formerly Chartered Bank of India, Australia, and China, No. 18)

Built in 1923, this striking building with the two Ionic stone columns was completely redeveloped into a high-end commercial and restaurant complex in 2004. Occupants include the popular French eatery Mr & Mrs Bund, a raft of high-end boutiques, and the hippest bar in town on the roof.

Next door to the south, the former North China Daily News Building (no. 17, now the AIA Building), completed in 1921 in a late-Renaissance style, was originally home to the oldest English-language newspaper in China, the North China Daily News, where American writer Emily Hahn once worked. It now houses the American International Assurance Company (AIA). At the end of the block, the former Bank of Taiwan Building (no. 16, now the China Merchants Bank), with its simple classical lines, was built in 1924 and was actually a Japanese bank (Taiwan was occupied by Japan in 1895), despite its name.

In the next block of the Bund, across Jiujiang Lu, is the:

12. Russo-Chinese Bank Building (No. 15, now the China Foreign Exchange Trade System Building)

Built in 1901, this was the first tile-face construction in Shanghai, a wide and squat edifice. Next door is the modernistic former Bank of Communications Building (no. 14, now the Bank of Shanghai/Shanghai Federation of Trade Unions), built in 1940, its large entrance framed in copper sheets.

Cross Hankou Lu to a venerable landmark, the:

13. Shanghai Customs House (No. 13)

Built in 1927, the classical-style Customs House is fronted by four massive granite Roman columns and topped by a rising bell tower (known as "Big Ching"). The repainted lobby has beautiful mosaics of Chinese junks, but the rest of the building consists mostly of crowded offices that are not open to the public.

Next door is the even more spectacular:

14. Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank (No. 12, now the Shanghai Pudong Development Bank)

This gorgeous classic European building with grand columns and archways, and capped by a huge dome, was built in 1923 (G. L. Wilson of Palmer and Turner was the chief architect). Inside the massive revolving doors, the restored dome and lobby are the most magnificent on the Bund. The foyer, supported by marble columns, is decorated with eight gold-trimmed mosaic panels, each a salute to one of the world's financial capitals at that time (Bangkok, Hong Kong, Tokyo, New York, London, Paris, Calcutta, and of course Shanghai). The bank's lobby is also stunning, restored in alabaster and polished wood. The English hailed it as the most spectacular building ever erected between the Suez Canal and the Bering Strait. Between 1955 and 1995, this building served as Shanghai's city hall.

Head back out to the Bund and take a detour right (west) onto Fuzhou Lu past a Tudor-style house (no. 44, Fuzhou Lu), formerly the Caldbeck, MacGregor & Company wine importers. Head to the:

15. Intersection of Fuzhou Lu & Jiangxi Lu

This intersection has four somewhat dilapidated but still grand colonial buildings. Notice the two identical Art Deco structures on the northeast (today's Metropole Hotel) and southeast (formerly the Hamilton House, an apartment complex that has a newly renovated restaurant on the ground floor) corners, both built by Palmer and Turner. The building at the northwest corner lodged the Shanghai Municipal Council, the governing body of the International Settlement. Just a bit farther west at Fuzhou Lu 209 is the former American Club, a classic red-brick American Georgian-style building with marble columns. Today, it's the Shanghai People's Court. In the old days, Fuzhou Lu was both the red-light district and the location of Shanghai's publishing houses and bookstores, with many of the latter still located at the western end of the street.

Head back up (east) Fuzhou Lu to the Bund and turn right. The building at no. 9 is currently the China Merchant Holdings Company with its ground floor now developed into yet another luxury boutique; next to it stands the former:

16. Hospital of the Shanghai Navigation Company (No. 7, now the Bangkok Bank)

This handsome late French Renaissance building is one of the oldest buildings on the Bund, built in 1906. It was the site of China's first telephone switchboard. Next door is the former Commercial Bank of China (no. 6), an English Gothic structure. It was built in 1906, but what you see today, though still intriguing, is a stripped-down version of the original, which had many more pillars, cornices, and chimneys. In the continuation of the trend to develop the Bund buildings, no. 6 is now home to several swanky dining and shopping establishments. Next door on the north corner of Guangdong Lu is the former headquarters of the Nishin Navigation Company (no. 5, now the Huaxia Bank Building). Another modernistic, Western-style building, it was constructed in 1925 by its Japanese owners. Today, it's home to a slew of restaurants, but is best known for its seventh-floor inhabitants, the restaurant and bar M on the Bund.

On the south side of Gungdong Lu is:

17. Three on the Bund (formerly the Union Insurance Company Building, No. 3)

One of the toniest addresses in town, this newly restored Renaissance-style building from 1922 is the first of the traditional Bund buildings to be developed into a high-end retail and restaurant complex. Besides hosting world-renowned chefs like Jean-Georges Vongerichten and David Laris, the building is home to the Evian Spa, luxury shops including Giorgio Armani's flagship store, and an art gallery showing the works of contemporary Chinese artists. Entrance is on Guangdong Lu.

Next door to the south is one of the most famous buildings on the Bund, the former:

18. Shanghai Club (No. 2)

Built in 1910, this was once the city's most extravagant private club, an English Renaissance structure with elaborate white columns and baroque attic windows. It housed the famous black-and-white granite Long Bar, at more than 30m (98 ft.), reputedly the longest bar in the world; this was the watering hole for the "old boys' club" that ruled colonial Shanghai. For much of the late-20th century, this was the Dong Feng Hotel. Today, it has been transformed into part of the tony Waldorf Astoria Hotel. The last building on the block, at the corner of Yan'an Dong Lu, is the former Asiatic Petroleum Building, also known as the McBain Building (no. 1, now the China Pacific Insurance Company). Built in 1916, it's a substantial structure employing the ubiquitous baroque pillars, Roman stone archway, and Greek columns.

You can conclude your walk at this point, or cross Zhongshan Dong Lu, take a quick look inside the tiny Bund Repository inside the Signal Tower, and head north on the new Bund promenade for more views of the Bund skyline and Pudong. Or you can take a much-deserved break in one of the cafes or restaurants on the west side of the street.

19 Winding Down

Head to the north side of Guangdong Lu for the elevator to M on the Bund (seventh floor). M offers a splendid lounge, world-class Mediterranean cuisine, and a spacious balcony overlooking the Bund and the Huangpu River. Alternatively, Three on the Bund (south side of Guangdong Lu opposite M) features top-notch French cuisine at Jean Georges (fourth floor), inventive Shanghainese dining at the Whampoa Club (sixth floor), creative "new world" cuisine at Laris (sixth floor), and inexpensive cafe food at New Heights (seventh-floor terrace). All are open for lunch and dinner.

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.