Ask anyone who has either traveled to New York City or is planning to travel there and I’m guessing they can rattle off 10 “must-see” sites instantaneously.  For such a big city, I find Shanghai interesting in that it really doesn’t have a laundry list of attractions like NYC (or London or Rome for that matter).  That said, if you find yourself heading to Shanghai, here are five things I highly recommend checking out:

1) The Views

Running through the center of Shanghai, the Huangpu River divides the city into two regions: Pudong to the east and Puxi to the west.  The Pudong skyline from the Bund (a section along the Puxi side) is the iconic image of Shanghai and must be seen at night to be thoroughly appreciated.

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Currently under construction, Shanghai Tower will be the world’s 2nd tallest building when it’s completed in 2014.  It joins other mammoth structures including the Shanghai Financial Center (world’s 5th tallest building) and Jin Mao Tower (12th tallest).

I’ll tackle in my next post the best views in Shanghai (where you can also have a cocktails) but suffice it to say, walking along the Bund/Huangpo River at night should be at the top of your list when in Shanghai. A river cruise is also a particularly good option in the evening as you’ll have great views on both sides.   

2) Observation deck in Shanghai World Financial Center

At 101 floors, the observation deck in the Shanghai Financial Center is the world’s highest at 1,555 feet above ground.  You’ll be surrounded by a dizzying array of tall buildings as well as clouds drifting below you on the observation deck. 

 Several floor tiles on the observation deck use mirrors to make it seem like you’re looking straight down 101 floors to street level!  This picture doesn’t do it justice…..

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…..but suffice it to say, it’s a pretty neat trick and having a touch of acrophobia (fear of heights), I actually have a hard time walking on the “see-through” floor tiles as my stomach lurches every time!  Even on a hazy day (of which there are a lot in Shanghai), it feels like you’re on top of the world! 

 

3) Shanghai Museum

The Museum houses an impressive array of Chinese artistic treasures including jade and bronze collections and classical furniture.  Well worth a couple of hours if you’re in to museums or Chinese history.

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4) Yuyuan Garden

The gardens are quite stunning, especially when you realize it was completed in 1577 during the Ming Dynasty (1368 – 1644).  To get to the gardens, you unfortunately have to “walk the gauntlet” through cheap trinket shops.  That said, the intricacy of the surrounding buildings and the lovely respite from the pounding intensity of Shanghai heighten the splendor of this national monument.  Similar to the Bund, this area has an old world feel to it that typically matches the China we have pictured in our mind.  I would actually consider the garden the “Central Park” of Shanghai. 

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5) The Vibe

Although perhaps lacking in tourist attractions, what Shanghai does have is a “vibe” that needs to be experienced first-hand. Not to be missed: 

  • Experience the massive crush of people (32 million) by walking along the loop at the bottom of the Oriental Pearl Tower during lunchtime or the Bund at night.  Times Square in NYC pales by comparison. 
  • Try to avoid closing your eyes when in a taxi so you can experience firsthand the insane traffic including driving on the wrong side, stopping and backing up in the middle of one-way streets, right turns not stopping at traffic lights (and they have the right of way when merging into traffic).  It’s like Kings Island bumper cars on crack. 
  • Check out the incredible live music scene with performers from around the world playing every night of the week (more on this in my next blog).

From my perspective, Shanghai is the symbol of all that is China today – morbid excess and lots of flash, just don’t look behind the curtain.