The largest city on Earth and the gateway to modern China, the metropolis of Shanghai is an enticing mix of East and West. You would think that such a gargantuan city would be crushed under its own weight, but great strides have been taken to maintain the architecture of older districts while other areas have forged ever forward with skyward cathedrals that reflect human might and ingenuity. Between it all is everything that makes China what it is: market streets filled with locals, ancient temples and gardens, avenues of hip cafes and tea houses, and museums of high standing. Although considered a premiere economic player on the world stage, Shanghai has the cultural clout to make any traveler buy a plane ticket and start making plans.
The two most intriguing areas of Shanghai, and in themselves a microcosm of the city as a whole, are the Bund and Pudong. Split by the Huangpu River, the Bund is representative of romantic Shanghai, with its European-style colonial structures and its promenade overlooking the water. Although there aren't many attractions to interact with, a stroll through this district is a must for the incredible atmosphere. Across the way is the neighborhood of Lujiazui, the most prominent part of Pudong's upward development. Then again, the word “neighborhood” tends to belie a certain homeliness, while the proliferation of massive steel structures in this area (which includes the Oriental Pearl Tower, the Jin Mao Building, and the Shanghai World Financial Center) shout of corporate profiteering. Still, a handful of lofty observation decks provide superlative views and a stroll through the area may provide some much needed perspective.
While Pudong is west of the Huangpu, the area that encompasses the east is called Puxi. This area has ten districts, including the Bund, and is where many travelers will find themselves when looking for shopping areas, quaint, tree-lined streets, or many of more important sites in the city. The Old Town is a small, but picturesque area south of the Bund, known for the majestic Yuyuan Garden, the small piece of the original Shanghai city wall, and a number of attractive temples. This area is surrounded by the larger Hungpu district, which is highly frequented for Peoples Square (home to the Shanghai Museum, City Hall, and much more) and Nanjing Dong Lu, the most famous pedestrian shopping street in the city. This street extends into the Jing'an district, which is one of the better areas to catch performance art like opera (Shanghai Grand Opera Palace) or the acrobatics show at the Ritz-Carlton. Further west is Changning, which is a developing area known for shopping malls and the excellent Shanghai Zoo, while the French Concession to its south is most popular for the trendy shops and cafes along the tree-lined avenues of Xintiandi and Tian Zi Fang.
There is a lot more to see in and around the neighborhoods we've mentioned, but we writers only get paid up to five hundred words. It doesn't matter if we're covering a Pennsylvania mining town or the total hugeness that is Shanghai; the rest of this is pro bono. Embark is lucky that our Samaritan duty to our users (barely) outweighs our capitalist greed.
For lovers of religious structures, there are plenty throughout Shanghai, although the Jinshan Donglin Temple (Jinshan district) stands out for its record-sized Buddha. Short day trips can also be had to the myriad water towns near Shanghai, a frequent venture for tourists, although we suggest Zhujiajiao and Jinxi as great destinations without the high-level tourist hype. For further information on what to do culturally while exploring Shanghai, take a look at our activity listings or interact with our community; you may be surprised by what awaits you.