With its iconic, futuristic skyline and intriguing mix of traditional and modern architecture, Shanghai makes an unforgettable destination for a stay-and-cruise trip, says Oliver Hughes

An incredible blend of ancient Chinese culture, foreign influence and modern development, Shanghai is the crown jewel of China’s economic surge. Bordering the estuary of the Yangtze River, it’s also the most heavily populated city in the world – 25 million people live here, and the sheer number of high-rise apartments as you arrive can be a bit of a culture shock. But it is possible to find areas of tranquillity among the hustle and bustle.

Shanghai’s rise to prominence began in 1554 and, under the Qing dynasty, it expanded to become the most important trade centre of the region thanks to its strategic location by the Yangtze delta. Following Britain’s victory over China in the First Opium War in 1842, it took concessions and set up ports within the city. In this way, Shanghai became the strongest economic city in China.

Must-sees

The main centres of Shanghai are split between the Bund, the waterfront area in the old city, and Lujiazui (Lu’s mouth) in Pudong. The Bund has old buildings from the 19th century and the legacy of foreign occupation, while Lujiazui is the modern financial centre with skyscrapers on the peninsular off the Huangpu River. The Bund’s collection of Baroque, Neoclassical and Gothic façades along the river make for a beautiful walk while the modern skyscrapers glitter across the river, particularly at night, when the views are stunning.

To really immerse yourself in the twin cultures of the city, head to the People’s Park and Square – a monument to Communism, but sitting alongside it is the Shanghai Museum, with guides in English, French and Japanese. Moganshan Road houses the Shanghai Museum of Art – contemporary art is remarkable in China with the harsh censorship laws – but it is home to many ancient pieces that will take your breath away. Also worth exploring is the former French Concession, with its tree-lined avenues and old houses. Kitsch but very entertaining, the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel is a great way to get across to Pudong for a closer look at the Oriental Pearl Tower and skyscrapers including the Shanghai Tower.

For the best Chinese cuisine, you can find these at the street vendors and markets. Don’t be afraid to sample before you buy. You will be (not always pleasantly) surprised – things that look sweet might have meat in them, things that look cold and savoury will be hot and spicy, and the meat you just ate may not be pork, chicken or beef. But that’s all part of the fun. Xiaolongbao are delicious pork dumplings that are the staple of the region. If in doubt, ask for them. If the idea of street food surfing doesn’t appeal to you, you’ll find plenty of restaurants to choose from. One area that should be on a ‘definite’ list is the Tianshan Tea City – a monolithic, multi-floor underground labyrinth dedicated to, you guessed it, cha – Chinese traditional teas. Samples are widely available so take your pick of teas brewed from everything imaginable.

Shopping

Shanghai has four major shopping districts along with branches of Western chains on the Bund – Nanjing Road is the premier shopping district in the city with over jaw-dropping one million visitors a day. For bargain hunting, check out North Sichuan Road for locally produced souvenirs or Middle Tibet Road for great food. In Pudong you’ll find malls galore, designer boutiques and a massive Disney store (with an entry queue that stretches across a huge plaza). Many of the skyscrapers are commercial offices but do have restaurants and viewing platforms to take in the views of the sprawling megacity from up high – be prepared to pay quite steeply for the privilege, however.

Where to stay

With a fantastic location minutes from The Bund, the legendary Fairmont Peace Hotel is one of the most prestigious hotels in the world, offering luxurious, elegant accommodation with exotic Oriental design touches. Dating back to 1929 and an Art Deco masterpiece, this iconic hotel’s atrium is particularly spectacular, and bedrooms are beautifully appointed with supremely comfortable beds, a choice of pillows, stunning marble bathrooms and covetable Le Labo Rose 31 amenities. Stay in a Fairmont Gold room and you’ll have access to the splendid executive lounge with its sumptuous complimentary breakfast, afternoon tea and hors d’oeuvres offerings. Rooms from £297 per night (fairmont.com/peace-hotel-shanghai).

Getting there: Virgin Atlantic flies once a day to Shanghai from London Heathrow. Economy fares start from £637 including tax. For more information call 0844 2092770 or visit virgin-atlantic.com. Cruise lines that sail from Shanghai include Oceania Cruises, Silversea, Princess Cruises, P&O Cruises and Royal Caribbean.

Whether you’re looking for a cultural holiday or relaxing break, find your perfect cruise with our Cruise Finder.