144 hours in Shanghai

What can I say about Shanghai? The pictures in the guidebook showed an exciting fast-moving city with bright lights and an impressive cityscape. And it did not disappoint.

Shanghai felt fairly western so was not difficult to navigate. Signs were in English, and there was an abundance of western high street chains. This centred around Nanjing Lu (Nanjing Road) which is full of neon lights and large shops and shopping malls. You can find the likes of H&M, Forever 21 and the Apple shop here as well as Chinese brands, souvenirs, jewellery, electronics etc.

We strolled up the Nanjing Road to the Bund. The Bund is probably my favourite place in Shanghai; it is a wide pedestrian area next to the river, made for strolling and admiring the city-scape across the large Huangpu River.  The river is teaming with boats – industrial barges laden down with coal, tourist boats decked with lights, and everything in between. The city-scape is best seen at dusk so you see it in daylight and then as dusk turns to darkness, watch it light up.

In common with most major tourist attractions, we saw many couples doing wedding photos with this as a backdrop – and what a backdrop! (main photo).

We took the delightfully kitsch Sightseeing Tunnel to Pudong on the other side of the river – this is a glass gondola bubble that takes you through a tunnel under the river, but the tunnel is covered in coloured lights. I thoroughly enjoyed the tackiness of it! It is a convenient way of travelling across the river from the Bund, but it is quite expensive (about £5 to go about 50 metres).

We went up Jin Mao Tower to the lobby of the Hyatt hotel on the 50-something floor. This was free (you’re probably not supposed to!) and we had good views across Shanghai and of the modern twisted Shanghai Tower next door. We were intending to pay to go up one of the towers but the weather was so misty with poor visibility so we decided not to.

Moving inland to Shanghai city, we visited Xintiandi which is a fairly affluent set of western restaurants set in lovely old Shikumen houses, making for an atmospheric place.

Around the corner from this is the Shikumen Open House Museum, which is a preserved example of a Shikumen house – a style of terraced house popular in Beijing in the 1800s. This was interesting and worth a visit – it doesn’t take long to look round (allow around 30 mins but you can do it in 10 mins if you just pop your head into every room).

Then it was on to Tianzifang – which is boutique shops and cafes in small alleyways in old Shikumen houses. There were lots of trinkets and souvenirs sold here, and (rather bizarrely) ear cleaning (!) and this felt more gritty and hipstery than the posher Xintiandi.

We also visited the French Concession which was a pleasant area to walk around with plenty of trees and large houses. We watched a dance class taking place in a park under the boughs of the trees, and then walked to dinner in one of the many shiny shopping malls.

If you need an indoor activity to do, the “Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Centre” is well worth a visit – if only to see the amazing miniature model of Shanghai upstairs! Although I’d recommend allowing more time and looking around the whole museum – the exhibits are great and children will enjoy it too as it’s very interactive – for example riding a bike to generate clean electricity, or watching the traffic cameras to see how many cars are on various roads in Shanghai.

The Urban Planning Museum is set on Peoples Square. This sounded promising and I was expecting a large plaza with street performers or similar, but I found it somewhat disappointing – the square is really just a conglomeration or large government buildings which are all protected by security, so we didn’t spend much time here.

On the last day we visited Yuyuan Guarden area of town, which includes many many touristy stalls and shops, the Yu Garden and the Jiuqu Bridge. This was pretty but sooo touristy and I got a bit fed up with some people’s manners – eg. I was watching the lovely big white and orange fish swimming below, when a man leaned over and spat on them?!

We took the Maglev to the airport – a train which floats above the ground, hovering on 2 repelling magnets. This is one of the only places in the world you can ride a Maglev! It is incredibly fast – like when you’re on a plane taking off and it gets faster and faster. At one point in the journey there was a bang and I jumped away from the window – in a flash a train went the other way and the sound hit the window like a brick.

Overall we enjoyed our trip to Shanghai and were able to cram quite a lot into 3 days. Our visa-free travel was valid for 144 hours so we had to be out of the country by then. See my next blog for more details on this no-visa option.

Travel Tips:

  • Not all shopping malls have good toilets – some are fantastic (clean, with toilet roll and soap), but some are rubbish. If you need the loo at People Square, the Raffles City mall has lovely 5* clean toilets. However up the road the New World Tower – which looks like an opulent shopping centre – has no soap in the toilets (ie. not that they had run out; there were no soap dispensers) which I found very unhygienic. Which leads me to tip no 2:
  • Very important to wash / disinfect your hands before eating!! Anyone who has picked up norovirus won’t need telling twice!

next blog: Food in Shanghai

previous blog: Shanghai Transit Visa

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