Its shimmering skyline and intoxicating fusion of old and new make the Chinese metropolis of Shanghai a captivating location for a stay-and-cruise, says Liz Jarvis.
With its location on the estuary of the Yangtze River, and the elegance of the colonial architecture along the Bund contrasting with the futuristic skyline of Pudong, Shanghai is unquestionably one of the world’s most iconic cities.
Originally a small fishing village, Shanghai rose to prominence after China lost the Opium War of 1842 and it became a treaty port, although it was only officially declared a city in 1927. During this period, parts of the city were concessions – areas which were administered by foreign powers, including Britain, France and the US – and their influence on the architecture can still be seen today.
The most heavily populated city in China, it is also the wealthiest, as reflected by the designer boutiques and glitzy shopping malls in Pudong; but you can still find ‘old’ Shanghai – the narrowest of streets crammed with traditional shikumen (lane houses) tree-lined avenues and tea houses (there are over 3,000 of them and they are the place to go to experience a traditional slice of Chinese culture).
From the bustling cultural hub of the People’s Square to futuristic Pudong, Shanghai is one of the most architecturally intriguing cities in the world.
On the west embankment of the Huangpu River, the Bund is the focal point of the distinctive skyline. Its elevated riverside boardwalk features Gothic, Baroque, Romanesque and Neo-Classical buildings.
Located next to the City God Temple, and first built during the Ming dynasty, the Yuyuan Garden is a perfect example of a classical Chinese garden, with lotus ponds, bridges, winding paths and pavilions. Another brilliant area to stroll around is the enchanting French Concession, with its leafy boulevards and stuccoed villas.
Designed by architect Xing Tonghe to mimic the shape of an ancient bronze cooking vessel, the Shanghai Museum boasts an impressive collection of calligraphy, coins dating back to the Silk Road, bronze statues and ceramics, including jade.
At night the Bund really comes alive as people crowd all the way along to marvel at the spectacular views of the Pudong skyline, which is illuminated in different colours; there’s also endless people watching as a succession of brides-to-be, often in red dresses for luck, pose for photos with their fiancés to create special albums to give to their families. It’s also where you can see the Monument to the People’s Heroes, which looks particularly impressive at night when it is also bathed in red.
Hilariously kitsch but also great fun, the Bund Sightseeing Tunnel will transport you across the river to Pudong for a closer look at the Oriental Pearl Tower, skyscrapers and malls.
There’s a thriving culinary scene too – from food stalls and markets to restaurants serving innovative cuisine, and foodies will be in their element; the Xiaolongbao, small Chinese steamed buns served hot often in bamboo baskets, are an absolute must-try. And local people are fond of Yuanyang, a milky tea-coffee combination that is best drunk cold and without sugar (it tastes better than it sounds).
China’s style capital is a shopper’s paradise. Along Nanjing Road and Huaihai Road – known as the Champs-Élysée of Shanghai, there are glittering new malls stocked with every boutique luxury brand you can think of, from Victoria Beckham to Prada; but you can also find smaller shops and markets selling jewellery and accessories.
For something a little different, head to arts and crafts enclave Tian Zifang in the Huangpu District in the former French Concession. Here you’ll find speciality shops selling silver jewellery, handbags and crafts. There are some really lovely boutiques in Puxi Central, too.
Where to stay
Boasting arguably the best position on the Bund, and offering views across the Huangpu River to the Pudong skyline, the glamorous Art Deco-inspired Peninsula Shanghai is a masterpiece of interior design, perfectly harmonising traditional luxury with a contemporary twist, and extraordinary attention to detail (our suite even had its own nail-dryer).
Renowned for its afternoon tea, it also has restaurants including the Michelin-starred St Elly’s, which serves modern European cuisine with breathtaking views and impeccable service (well worth reserving a table even if you’re not staying here). The hotel also has its own customised car fleet, including four bespoke Rolls-Royce Phantoms, and there’s complimentary wifi throughout, plus an elegant spa (rooms from £280 a night. To book visit peninsula.com/en/shanghai).