Despite its immense and dense population, Shanghai is one of China's great cities for walking. Much of the street-level fascination comes from the European architecture left over from colonial days (1842-1949), when Shanghai was sliced up by the Western powers into foreign concessions. Shanghai's present cityscape is an amalgam of Art Deco mansions from that colonial period, longtang (walled brick town house rows) with distinctive shikumen (stone frame gates) from the local Chinese tradition, and malls and towers of glass and steel from international modernism.
Walking Shanghai is not without its obstacles. Sidewalks are often crowded not only with other pedestrians, but with bicycle parking lots, construction sites, vendors and their carts, card players, laundry strung between doors and trees, cars brazenly parked on walkways, and motorcycles and bicycles zooming along as if the sidewalks were extensions of the streets. You'll also have to contend with the pollution and dust, occasional raw odors, and jarring sounds, so much so that a half-day's walk can sometimes leave you exhausted. But it is really only in walking that you'll get a chance to discover aspects of Shanghai you would otherwise miss from a speeding taxi or a tour bus: that faded colonial mansion hidden under years of grime, or that vegetable market teeming with local housewives -- scenes that are themselves rapidly disappearing from today's Shanghai.
Walking just about anywhere in Shanghai requires vigilance. The basic rule of survival is that cars have the right of way even when they shouldn't. Cars always have the right of way, even when pedestrians have a green light, so look both ways and always be prepared to yield. At least at major roads and intersections, brown-clad, whistle-blowing traffic assistants now help direct pedestrian traffic. On smaller streets, simply follow the lead of locals. Above all, slow down and savor a walk through China's biggest, most densely packed city, where past and future, East and West, meet at every corner. The best way to see Shanghai, despite its hazards, is on foot.
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.