Take The World’s Fastest Train into Town
There are two international airports in Shanghai, but chances are you’ll be flying into Pudong (PVG). It’s a world-class airport, but since it’s located far from the city centre, visitors will need to find a way of getting there. They can take a taxi or bus into town, but nothing quite typifies Shanghai like the Maglev train service, which runs daily until 9.30 pm from PVG to the Longyang Rd metro station at speeds up to 268 mph (431 kph). There’s nothing like the feeling of darting past goat farms and shanty suburbs on a giant levitation tube. It puts Shanghai’s rapid development into perspective and preps you for what to expect from the rest of the city.
Get The Best Views of The Bund
The Bund may be the humdrum for people who live in Shanghai, but for travellers, it’s one of the first things you must do when entering the city. On the left bank of the waterfront promenade are old European-style buildings from Shanghai’s colonial days, and on the right are the skyscrapers that have come to represent Shanghai on postcards and stamps around the world. If you want the best views of both, grab a drink from an upscale rooftop bar Flair on the Pudong side of the Huangpu River. Located at the top of the Ritz-Carlton Shanghai Pudong, Flair is so close to the Pearl Tower that patrons can nearly reach out and touch it.
Walk into The Heart Of The City
After you’ve taken all your pictures at Flair, hop on Shanghai Metro Line 2 to East Nanjing Rd. This pedestrian street was the heart of the city during Shanghai’s colonial days and is now a major shopping and dining area full of tourists and local people alike. It’s worth seeing for the neon lights alone, and the skyline from the ground up is spectacular in itself. For RMB5 (US$0.75), you can take a little train down the street, in case you want to snap some photos without a walking incident. Nanjing Road Pedestrian Street runs from the Bund to People’s Square, where you’ll want to end up for some quality museum hopping. However, be aware that this highly concentrated area has been known to have scammers and petty thieves.
Visit People’s Square
Throughout Shanghai’s history, People’s Square has been a nucleus of culture and activity. Due to its centrality and proximity to the Bund, the area draws tourists from all over the world to its hectic streets. People’s Square is packed with amazing and cheap local restaurants and street food stalls, parks, museums, and more.
For a quintessential People’s Square experience, check out the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center. This six-storey building located on People’s Avenue provides visitors with a detailed look at the evolution of one of the world’s most dynamic cities. It’s hard to predict what Shanghai will do next, but perhaps this museum will give you a clue.
Eat Like a Local
You can’t come to Shanghai without experiencing its culinary wonders. From penny-priced street food to budget-blowing Michelin-star restaurants, Shanghai is a foodie paradise. Conveniently, some of the city’s best local eats are scattered around People’s Square, so no need to go far to eat well.
Pop into Jia Jia Tang Bao for a taste of Shanghai’s signature dish, the xiao long bao. Perhaps the most famous purveyors of xiao long bao in Shanghai, Jia Jia Tang Bao is little more than a hole in the wall, but it is an institution in the city. Lines are long and closing times, arbitrary; however, the chefs here have mastered the traditional pork filling and even offer crab-roe-stuffed bao. If street food is more your thing, head over to the southern end of Yunnan Road, where there’s everything from halal kebabs to Shanghainese noodles.
See China’s Future in Action in Lujiazui
From Huanghe Road, walk back south to People’s Square Station and hop onto Subway Line 2 for the two-stop ride under the Huangpu River to Lujiazui. The centre of Shanghai’s financial industry, this vertically-gifted district in Pudong is where the city’s modern façade comes to the fore. Compared to much of Shanghai, Lujiazui feels a tad staler and less lively at street level—it is mostly a business district after all. Nonetheless, scoping out the feats of modern Chinese architecture that form one of the world’s most spectacular skylines up close is an experience that everyone should have—even if you’re only in Shanghai for a day!
Get a Taste of Shanghai’s Past in Old City
From Lujiazui, it’s about a 20-minute ride on the metro to Yuyuan Garden Station where the beautiful Old City of Shanghai starts to unfold. When you’re crafting your first China itinerary, the ageless graces of Shanghai’s Old City stimulate exactly as expected. Although it’s slowly transformed over the centuries from an ancient walled town into a hodgepodge of authentic old buildings and kitschy reconstructed ones (along with a few modern anomalies), Old City is the easiest place in the city to get a feel for Shanghai’s past.