72 Hours in Shanghai, China

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How to spend three days in Shanghai, China—the “Oriental Paris.” From where to stay, when to visit and where to eat, to getting around on gondola rides, we’ve got you covered. Swap the business district of the Bund and Pudong to meander among enchanting Shikumen architecture…

How to spend three days in Shanghai, China—the "Oriental Paris." From where to stay, when to visit and where to eat, to getting around on gondola rides, we've got you covered.

A Little History

Just like the short history of Shanghai itself, it’s impossible to pack in a ton of sightseeing in 72 hours in the city. Shanghai in Mandarin means, “upon the sea”. Less than 200 years ago, Shanghai was just a small fishing port. It emerged as a city as a result of international commerce after the end of the first Opium War in 1842. Shanghai is now home to nearly 25 million people.

Shanghai is a city on steroids and beneath its shiny skyscraping surface there are moments in which aggressive urban development melts away into the fabric of everyday life.

Swap the business district of the Bund and Pudong to meander among enchanting Shikumen architecture—a style of 1920s housing that combines Eastern elegance with Western design.

Explore leafy tree lined avenues of the French Concession home to art deco buildings which were once the opium-fuelled playgrounds of gangsters and gamblers. Brush past laundry, billowing from bamboo poles and just try to resist the sweet smell of sesame oil as woks steam on stoves.

Trip Details

When I went: I’ve been going twice a year since 2004 both for business and for pleasure. Visit between April and June or October and December. It’s too hot otherwise.

Getting There

I don’t typically fly directly to Shanghai because I like to transit on my favoUrite airline, Cathay Pacific, through Hong Kong and do a stopover overnight to adjust to the time change . From Hong Kong to Shanghai Cathay Pacific and its affiliate airline, Cathay Dragon, run almost hourly shuttles between Hong Kong and Shanghai, either to the Hongqiao Domestic Airport or the International Airport at Pudong.

I try to take flights on Cathay Dragon to Hongqiao because it’s closer to People’s Square and to my favourite hotel, Le Royal Meridien Shanghai Hotel.

You can take the metro from the airport to People’s Square, cross the street and you’re at the hotel. However, there are more frequent schedules into Pudong, and if you choose to fly there, it’ll take just 40 minutes by taxi to get to the hotel.

How to Get Around

The metro: It’s cheap and easy on the metro, and I use it a lot. The trains and ticket machines display and announce in Mandarin and English so listen carefully for your stop. And it’s safe, just try to avoid the rush hour.

Taxis: They’re abundant and inexpensive. Make sure you have the name of your destination written down in Chinese, to avoid any confusion as not all taxi drivers speak English.

Walk: As much as possible. It’s a great way to sightsee. Be careful, the unspoken rule of Shanghai roads is, the bigger you are, the bigger your right of way, and vehicles stopping at traffic lights is not always guaranteed.

Where to Stay

Since my first trip to Shanghai, I’ve stayed at Le Royal Meridien Shanghai Hotel.

It’s located in the heart of Shanghai along the popular Nanjing pedestrian road and is surrounded by the city’s most popular bars, restaurants and shops. It’s strikingly modern design embraces award winning views of the city and the nearby Bund.

Nanjing Road

Whether exploring a medley of innovative cuisines and signature drinks at the hotels, restaurants and bars, or taking an urban escape in the hotel spa, every minute of your stay is infused with a new level of mindful service.

Le Royal Meridien Shanghai Hotel

The hotel has 761 guest rooms that feature floor to ceiling windows that frame dazzling views of The Bund, the city skyline or overlook People’s Square Park. On the 44th floor and above the Royal Club floors cater to the more worldly travellers with exclusive privileges and convenience.

The Bund

The hotel is currently undergoing a facelift, as it’s nearly two decades old. It’s impressive artwork lobby and very friendly service make it my go to place for staying in Shanghai. It’s also across the street from People’s Square metro station and surrounded by Nanjing pedestrian road.

Day One in Shanghai

Start your day by exiting the hotel from the main lobby, then turn left. You’ll be a short distance from the Nanjing pedestrian road. If you haven’t got a map, ask the concierge for one.

Nanjing pedestrian road tram

Turn right once you reach the pedestrian street and slowly stroll towards the direction of The Bund, or in Mandarin, Wàitān, which means “outer beach.”

The area centres on a section of Zhongshan road within the former Shanghai international settlement. It runs along the eastern bank of the Huangpu River in the eastern part of Huangpu District, which is where the hotel is. The area along the river faces the modern skyscrapers of the Pudong District, which until 10 years ago was literally a swamp, and is now the impressive financial district of Shanghai.

The view of Pudong from The Bund

Another view of Pudong from The Bund

The Bund usually refers to the buildings and wharfs on the section of the road as well as the adjacent areas. From the 1860s to 1930s, it was the rich and powerful center of the foreign establishment in Shanghai operating as a legally protected treaty port.

On the way down, you’ll pass a park on the right and a myriad of old and modern shops. Watch out for the bell ringing tram and be sure to move out of the way to prevent being bumped. You will likely be approached by steer peddlers just ignore them and keep walking.

You’ll know you’ve arrived at The Bund because there’ll be lots of crowds and the Fairmont Peace Hotel will be on your left hand side. More about that hotel later—specifically its famous jazz bar.

As you head further away from the Peace Hotel, and away from the Customs House on The Bund’s right hand side, you’ll start to see signs for Yuyuan Garden, or Yu Garden, the garden of happiness. The extensive Chinese garden is located beside The City God temple in the northeast of the old city of Shanghai at Huangpu Qu. It borders the Yuyuan Tourist Mart, Huxinting Tea House and Yu Garden Bazaar.

Customs House

The garden’s focal piece is a 3.3 metre, 5-ton boulder of jade. It’s said to have been for the Huizong Emperor, but never made it to him. It was salvaged from the Huangpu River after the boat carrying it had sunk.

Around the Tea House is a zigzag bridge over the pond. It’s a must do, especially if you believe in feng shui. There’s a Chinese belief that if you walk the zigzag bridge, bad chi or karma can’t follow you because of the many corners of the bridge. Being superstitious I’ve walked it several times in my life, solo and while hosting business visitors.

My advice, avoid the many tourist shops. They’re hugely overpriced by Shanghai’s standards and a waste of your limited time.

Getting to the Yuyuan Garden

If you don’t want to walk, the garden is accessible from the Shanghai metro line 10 Yuyuan Garden station.

Day Two in Shanghai

Fake market shopping ranks high on most tourist’s lists. Stores rotate, coming and going out of business, but one remains, and I suggest you visit. It’s the market under the Shanghai Science and Technology Museum.

The market is great for custom tailoring, ladies handbags and casual clothing and for finding items such as watches, electronics and toys. Even if you’re not into cloned goods, the market is worth a wander just for the excitement and people watching.

Prepare to be hassled, and don’t let it deter you. Ignoring shop vendors isn’t considered rude and if you do find something you like, don’t be afraid to barter—it’s tradition. If you go too low, the shopkeeper will let you know and leave you be. My advice on bartering: don’t hesitate and be polite.

For years now I’ve used the services of a lady known as Nancy in English—she’s sourced a number of items for me. She’s fluent in English and extremely honest, but she’s still a business person, and you’ll have to barter with her. Her shop is located at A2-36, on level two. To get there, take the metro exit 1 towards the market.

In the afternoon, take the metro towards Tianzifang, located in one of the most expensive areas in Shanghai. It’s become a major tourist attraction, and has more than 200 diverse small businesses. Spend time visiting cafes, bars, restaurants, art galleries, craft stores, design houses and studios. You’ll even find authentic French bistros.

It’s adjacent to the SML Center, which is one of Shanghai’s largest shopping malls and near the metro line 9 Dapuqiao station.

Day Three in Shanghai

You’ve done a lot of walking, so on day three ask your hotel for a metro map and take a day trip to Zhujiajiao Water Town, known as the Venice of Shanghai.

There are loads of water villages around Shanghai, but when it comes to escaping the hustle and bustle of the big city, I can only recommend taking a day tour of Zhujiajiao. Water Town is about an hour and 20 minutes by metro line 2 from People’s Square metro station to Hong Qiao station, then metro line 17 to Zhujiajiao.

The history of Zhujiajiao definitely adds to the charm factor with sites like Fangsheng Bridge, Kezhi Garden and town god temple. I particularly like wandering through the narrow laneways and soaking in the Qing Dynasty atmosphere.

One night, take the metro line 1 from People’s Square to Xintiandi, which means new world. It’s on the same side of the Huangpu River as your hotel, and it’ll cost you about a dollar to get there in two minutes.

Once you’re in Xintiandi, meander around. There are plenty of shopping centers and for great Western fare, visit The Fountain restaurant. It’s right behind Xintiandi fountain, and offers fine bar food in a cosmopolitan setting.

If you’re up for more, go to Din Tai Fung for dumplings. It’s a Taiwanese restaurant chain that serves delectable meals, but you’ll need reservations.

Where to Dine in Shanghai

Hot pot experience: There are many outlets, but my favourite is HaiDiLao Hot Pot. You can order half and half. Half spicy like szechuan with red peppers, and the other half with just chicken broth. It’s a fun experience and the service is impeccable. Have the pasta maker swing pasta at your table.

The menus in Shanghai all have pictures so ordering is easy. The closest HaiDiLao Hot Pot to Le Royal Meridien is kitty corner to the New World Shopping Center.

Low cost: Low cost, simple homestyle meals are done right on the small street across from Le Royal Meridien. There’s a lot of variety. My go to spot for a light dinner bite is Jamaica Blue.

A bite at Jamaica Blue

Fine dining: Reserve a table at the spectacular M on The Bund. The prices may be a bit eye-watering, yet the views of Shanghai are breathtaking and the cuisine is out of this world.

Nightlife: Peace Hotel Jazz Bar

Jazz fan or not, you’ve got to visit the iconic jazz bar at the Peace Hotel.

The hotel’s been around since the 1920s and back then, was the destination of hard drinking and hard partying. Since the early days, it’s gotten a deep retrofit, and now draws in tourists over flappers and dapper gents.

The drinks are on the expensive side and the nostalgia is well worth it. Speaking of nostalgia, before your trip, pick up Shanghai by David Rotenberg. Rotenburg, the author of the book, was a Canadian who spent a large part of his life living in Shanghai. In his pennings you’ll follow a fictional story of life in Shanghai in the ’20s. I love modern Shanghai—oh what a place it must have been to live in in the roaring 1920s.

Shanghai, Summarized

  • Nanjing pedestrian road
  • Explore The Bund on foot
  • Take in Huangpu River and the modern skyscrapers of the Pudong District
  • Visit Yuyuan Garden
  • Go fake market shopping
  • Take a day trip to Zhujiajiao Water Town
  • For meals: The Fountain, Din Tai Fung, HaiDiLao Hot Pot, Jamaica Blue and M on The Bund
  • Enjoy jazz music at the renowned Peace Hotel

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