Seek the hustle and bustle outside of Beijing
China isn’t often on the top of recommended Asian travel destinations, but the inviting country offers a feast of cultural delights well worth a visit. While Beijing is home to the Great Wall and the infamous Tiananmen Square, it’s the global finance hub of Shanghai that springs to mind when discussing China’s highlights. A densely populated metropolis where East meets West, Shanghai offers a truly unique take on traditional China. With so much to see and do, here are some of Shanghai’s must-experience activities.
Explore old China on foot through Tianzifang
Shanghai is the country’s most modern city thanks to its bustling financial district, but there are certain areas that retain the historic China of old, such as Tianzifang. A maze of alleyways and traditional Shikumen architecture near the busy French quarter, Tianzifang is chock full of hip bars, craft shops, galleries, boutiques and cafes. Wander the tight corridors and pathways and discover another side of China not seen in the tourist brochures.
Visit the traditional Yu Garden
Sometimes you just want to relax and take in the scenery and there’s no better place than Yu Garden. Located adjacent to the impressive City God Temple in the northeast of Shanghai’s Old City, Yu Garden is a spectacular 460-year-old retreat built during the Ming Dynasty. Divided into six sections across a massive five acres, Yu Garden is a peaceful environment with a number of standout features, including the Ten Thousand Flower Pavilion, the Hall of Jade Magnificence and the historic centrepiece; the five-tonne Exquisite Jade Rock.
Chow down on the city’s unique cuisines
A foodie’s paradise, Shanghai is home to a smorgasbord of interesting local cuisines and delicacies. Whether you’re devouring steamed buns and rice cakes from street vendors in Chenghuangmiao or sitting down to a hearty meal of roast duck on Wujiang Road, there’s something for every tastebud. Be sure to try Shanghai’s signature dish Xiao Long Bao; delicious pork-filled soup dumplings that will blow your mind.
Get some culture at Longhua Temple
If you only visit one temple during your stay then make sure it’s the famous Longhua Temple. Written about in J. G. Ballard’s novel Empire Of The Sun and featured in Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation, this is the largest active Buddhist temple in the city. Longhua Temple includes five halls, two towers and a five-tonne, two-metre high copper bell that’s still rung every New Years Eve. Unfortunately, the centrepiece, a huge seven-storey, eight-sided pagoda is no longer open to the public due to its fragile condition (it was built in 977), but it’s still an impressive construction to take in at ground level.
Shop till you drop
Shanghai is a shopper’s dream. Multi-level malls, brand name department stores and local boutiques occupy Nanjing Road, a 5.5km stretch of shops regarded as China’s number one commercial district. There are more than 360 businesses located on the strip, and at night it’s full of people window shopping. Elsewhere, Xuijihui Shopping District is the place to head for electrical goods and Yuyuan Market offers a mixture of local eateries, small boutiques and souvenir stores.
Explore Zhujiajiao Water Town
If you have a day free, take a trip to Zhujiajiao and check out one of China’s most famous water towns. Just an hour out of Shanghai, Zhujiajiao is built over a large expanse of water, similar to Venice. While you’re there, take a stroll along the many bridges connecting the town or hop on a gondola and cruise through the twisting canals before enjoying a feast of freshly caught seafood at one of the many local waterside eateries.
Snap your best pic at the Bund
The Bund is one of the most photographed areas of Shanghai for good reason. Separating old and new China, one side of this waterfront boulevard is home to the city’s pre-1949 architecture while skyscrapers dominate the other side. No matter the time of day, there are always people strolling through The Bund and taking in the spectacular views. On a clear day you can get a great shot of this well-known landmark, while at night the area is lit up by neon lights reflecting off the Huangpu River. For those wanting a landscape shot, head to the top of the Oriental Pearl Tower for unparalleled views.
Looking for more Asian travel destinations? Check out Beat’s guide to Singapore.