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CityTips Guide to Shanghai

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Previously known as the Paris of the East, Shanghai was the most vibrant and cosmopolitan city in China. Today, this international metropolis is undergoing an urban revival, quickly regaining its status as a sophisticated and fashionable cultural center.

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Local Overview

Shanghai's relatively small city center makes it easy to navigate. It consists of two basic districts, Pu Xi (western town) and Pu Dong (eastern town), facing one another across the Huang Pu River. As a general rule, Pu Xi embodies "Old Shanghai" and Pu Dong represents "New Shanghai." Excellent examples of this dichotomy are characterized in the architecture, with the early 20th century facades of the Bund on the Pu Xi side such as the Peace Hotel and the conspicuously modern architecture of the Oriental Pearl TV Tower and the Grand Hyatt Shanghai on the Pu Dong side.

Pu Dong

In the early 1990s, Pu Dong consisted of little but farmland. In a plan to elevate Shanghai to the level of a major Asian commercial center, the Chinese government created the Pudong New Area Open Economic Development Zone, with a fast rising skyline and loads of investment money. After 1992 the rapid economic development of the area changed the demographics of Pu Dong, creating a growing cosmopolitan flavor with a more modern and technical sophistication than the older, traditional heart of the city in Pu Xi.

Chiefly a financial district but also a growing community, Pu Dong offers increasingly more to do and see east of the Huangpu River. The shops and eateries along Century Boulevard, a 21st Century main street to match the ultra-modern sky scrapers and business culture, is designed with the 2010 Shanghai World Expo in mind. The Oriental Pearl TV Tower, the largest tower in Asia and symbol of Shanghai's prosperity, is an integral part of Shanghai's skyline. The tower houses the Shanghai History Museum and an observation deck open to the public. Nearby Jin Mao Tower caps the Pearl's view and is free to the public.

Pu Xi

Pu Xi is a warren of city districts that together make up the cosmopolitan flavor of Shanghai. Unlike Beijing's city center, which emanates from the Forbidden City in outward rings, Shanghai's districts each offer a different flavor and diffuse the “center” of the city into well connected neighborhoods: densely populated Huangpu; historic French Concession, which spans the Luwan and Xuhui districts; park-like Changning district; expat-friendly Jing'An district; crowded Putuo district; Zhabei district, home to the Shanghai Railway Station; Hongkou district, where 20th Century writer Lu Xun made his home; and Yangpu district, home to Shanghai's distinguished Fudan and Tongji Universities. Most of the places of interest to the traveler are in Huangpu and Luwan districts, and the grid-like city plan makes it easy to find your way around Shanghai. The city has areas that range from the traditionally Chinese Yu Yuan Gardens to the modern urban bustle of Huai Hai Road. The following areas of Pu Xi and should not be missed.

Huangpu

Huangpu District houses several of the top sites of Shanghai, including the Bund, Nan Shi, Nanjing Road, and People's Square, where the incredible Shanghai Museum sits.

The Bund

Definitely one of Shanghai's major highlights, the Bund offers an impressive showcase of Shanghai's colonial past. Beautifully preserved art deco and neoclassical buildings line the waterfront that faces the developing Pu Dong skyline. In the early morning one can join in on Tai Chi practice. In the evening one can stroll along the water to watch the skyline light up with the night. For a taste of nostalgia, visit the Peace Hotel, once Shanghai's premier hotel, it was the place to stay during Shanghai's colonial heyday.

Nan Jing Road

Shanghai's historical shopping street became an exclusive pedestrian thoroughfare in 2000. On the western side stands the massive Shanghai Center, a multi-complex that houses the Portman Ritz-Carlton Hotel, commercial businesses, consulates, a shopping mall and Shanghai Center Theater. The open area of the walking street gives it a carnival atmosphere. At night the shops create a neon frenzy of color and glitter that has a long and famous tradition. Nan Jing Road is 6 km (3.7 miles) from east to west, starting at the Bund and ending at People's Park. It has the reputation for being the busiest shopping street in the world, catering to over 1 million visitors a day.

Nan Shi

Set in the district that was formerly the Chinese-governed Old City outside colonial jurisdiction, Yu Yuan Gardens is a traditional Jiang Nan (south of the river) style garden. A popular destination every day of the week, it offers a rare visit to peace and tranquility from an older time to balance the quick pulse of most of the Shanghai experience.

People's Square

In colonial days People's Square Park, was a horse racing track. After 1949 when gambling was banned it became a public square and parade ground. With the rapid development of the 1990s, People's Square became the residence of Shanghai City Hall. The Shanghai Museum now stands where the race track clubhouse once stood. The Shanghai Grand Theater and Shanghai Art Museum also line the square, as does the JW Marriot Shanghai.

Jing An District

Jing An is a popular residential district for the city's large expat community. Western-oriented shops full of curios are in ample supply. Jing An is also a popular leisure district and as such the fitting home of the historic Great World Entertainment Center, featuring acrobatics and Peking opera, among other amusements. If you find you need someplace to relax and mediate after all the stimulation that Shanghai offers, head to the Jing An Temple, a fairly new structure sitting on an ancient site (first erected in 247 CE) this temple complex soothes the soul amidst the energetic and sometimes overwhelming city.

Old French Concession Area

The French Concession was where French law prevailed before the revolution. It was here that the Communist Party of China was started in 1921 and revolutionaries found refuge from the local Chinese police. The shikumen townhouses, architecture unique to Shanghai, have been preserved, several sport plaques detailing their long lives. The tumultuous history of the French Concession can be explored at Dr. Sun Yat-sen's Former Residence & Memorial Hall. Beautifully preserved, his home furnishes a place for visitors to walk the grounds. Now, the French Concession is no longer a hotbed of political activity but a charming shopping district, with super stylish boutiques found along tree lines streets, especially Changle Lu and Xinle Lu and throughout Xintiandi. Huai Hai Road is by far one of the most popular shopping districts in Shanghai. It is a bit cheaper than Nanjing Road, less crowded, and has more of an emphasis on European fashion.

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