To be honest, Shanghai does not have as many historical sights to see, unlike Beijing. But the city does have its fair share of attractions:
Shanghai Museum (上海博物馆）
Built to look like a ancient Chinese cooking vessel called a ding, it has a square bottom and round top, which represents the ancient Chinese view that the earth is square and the sky is round (this is also the reason why ancient Chinese coins were circular with a hollow square center, to signify the earth and the heavens).
There are eleven galleries to see, with collections ranging from ancient coins to jade to minority costumes. The last time I was there, the museum also had a temporary exhibit of European paintings. You can finish seeing all the galleries in about 2 1/2 hours, and when you’re done you can walk outside to see People’s Square (人民广场）
Shanghai Urban Planning and Exhibition Hall （上海城市规划展览馆）
This building is located right across from the Shanghai Museum on the other side of People’s Square. If you want to learn more about the history of Shanghai, this would be an excellent place to start. The center gives a history of the city, from its beginnings as a small fishing village to its 1920s reputation as the “Paris of Asia” to its current place in the global economy. You’ll also find plans for Shanghai’s future: prospective building designs are laid out for the viewer to see.
Nanjing Road （南京路）
If you head east from People’s Square, you’ll hit Nanjing Road, Shanghai’s premier shopping arcade (Like I said, pretty much everything Shanghai has to offer is located around People’s Square). Nanjing Road is actually separated into two sections: West Nanjing Road and East Nanjing Road. The western section is mostly cheap clothing stores and souvenir shops, although if you take the metro to the West Nanjing Road exit you’re greeted with a small pedestrian street filled with cafes and restaurants. East Nanjing Road is where most people head to: it’s pedestrian only and has block after block of large department stores, name brand luxury goods stores, and souvenir stores. This place is always busy, especially during the weekends, as not only tourists from other countries visit the area but also tourists from other parts of China. Also, there is a cute little train that you can take (for a price) that takes you along the 3.4 mile long road of shopping paradise.
The Bund （外滩）
This is probably China’s most famous waterfront. Located on the Huangpu River, the Bund used to be the center for foreign business. Thus, the architecture along this waterfront reflects the western influences on the city during the early 20th century. The buildings are mostly banks, HSBC as well as other international banks have their offices here. The UK consulate building is also located here, as is the Palace Hotel.
Most people like the HSBC building (it’s the one with the domed top); I don’t really have a favorite building (although I do enjoy Neo-Classical architecture), as I like to look across the river to see they Pudong cityscape…
Pudong used to be a barren wasteland. No joke. For the Shanghainese, living in Pudong meant that you were too broke to live in Puxi. Nowadays, it has become the new financial center of Shanghai, home to a number of skyscrapers and Asia’s tallest broadcasting tower (the Oriental Pearl, it’s the one with pink spheres on the left). You can go up the tower for an impressive view of Shanghai, but I recommend skipping this tower and going to the Shanghai World Financial Center. This is the tallest building in Shanghai, the third tallest building in the world, and has the tallest observation deck in the world. The center actually has three decks: 94th, 97th and 101st floors. The one on the 101st floor also sports a glass floor, so you feel like you’re floating unsuspended in the air. Admission to the observation decks is 100 RMB (for just the 94th floor), 110 RMB (only to the 94-97th decks) and 150 RMB for all floors. That’s around $14, $16 and $21 respectively. These are the prices for adults.
The center also has a shopping arcade, along with a Park Hyatt hotel that is the highest hotel in the world, as it is on the 79th to 81st floor. The rooms all have large windows; for some people they might enjoy waking up to see the world below them. I on the other hand, would more than likely “freak out.”
If you want to see the future of Shanghai, then Pudong is where you want to be. I’d suggest taking some time to wander around the area: there aren’t many “real” attractions, but the architecture on some of the buildings make these attractions themselves. Also, the Shanghai World Expo‘s main pavilions are all located on Pudong. They’re turning the area into a “memorial park” afterwards, so if you want to see the Chinese Pavilion without having to brave the masses of tourists, go after the Expo ends on October 15th.
By now you must have realized (I mentioned it enough) that the previous attractions are all a stone’s throw from each other. Now it’s time for an attraction that is well, far from everything else. Xintiandi, or “New Heaven and Earth,” is a pedestrian only “lifestyle center.” Basically it’s two blocks of preserved shikumen (stone gate houses built in the mid to late 19th century) that have been converted into cafes, restaurants, and bars. I wouldn’t recommend eating here, as the restaurants cater to wealthy expats and tourists, so food is overpriced (I paid $6 for a coffee at the area’s Coffee Bean). But go there to see what it would have been like to live in Shanghai a hundred years ago.
If you exit Xintiandi and head south you’ll hit Huahai Lu, which has a lot of department stores and luxury brand stores. Don’t buy designer brands in China; it’s way too overpriced.
City God Temple/Yuyuan （城隍庙/豫园）
The City God Temple and Yuyuan are right next to each other and form Shanghai’s “Old Town.” City God Temple is actually a complex of restaurants, shops, pavilions, and teahouses. You can pick up a lot of knickknacks to take home, as well as try out xiao long bao. If you can find your way to the pond in the center of the complex, you’ll find people lining up at this restaurant to your left. That place has amazing xiao long bao.
For those who don’t know what xiao long bao is, it is Shanghai’s most famous delicacy. It’s basically a dumpling with either pork or crab meat and soup in the center.
It’s one of my favorite foods. Even my friend, who mainly maintains a vegetarian diet, loves these.
Next door to City God Temple is Yuyuan Gardens. It has the only subway exit (Line 10) for this area, so if you took the metro, you’ll more than likely go to this place first. Yuyuan Gardens is a lovely example of a Chinese garden; it dates back to 1559 and is based off of nearby Suzhou’s gardens.
I’d just spend some time wandering around there. It’s a nice place to just get away from all the hustle and bustle in Shanghai.
Art Complexes, Museums, and Gallaries
I am an art lover, so I spent a lot of my time going to various galleries and museums in Shanghai. While there are the museum giants such as the Shanghai Museum and the Shanghai Art Museum (the two are practically right next to each other), there is also smaller venues like MOCA Shanghai (the modern art museum) and converted factories such as Shanghai Sculpture Space and Shanghai 1933 (which used to be a slaughterhouse).