Shanghai at night is, perhaps, the most beautiful city in the world.
There are several skyscraper observation towers in the city, the tallest being in the Shanghai Tower, the third tallest building in the world. They all offer expensive but impressive viewing decks. But pass them all during the day — the lighted night skyline is much nicer. And the best view is from the ground. A great vantage point is Waibaidu Bridge, itself lit up at night.
Shanghai is China’s largest city and one of the world’s largest with a population of more than 26 million. Still, somehow, the Chinese have managed development so well that there is relatively little traffic, compared to other large cities and even some much smaller cities in the U.S.
Shanghai is so spread out that relying on the extensive subway system is a good way to get around. It’s clean and fast, but it’s also very crowded, as are almost all of China’s cities. Look to be pushed into the car at rush hour by attendants. Many riders wear face masks.
Somehow Shanghai is huge without a big feel. Its tree-lined streets have a distinctly European flair. Nicer parts of Shanghai have single family homes lining streets, something that was rare in other Chinese cities. Still, there are the 10-lane highways to help people get from one end of the city to the other, which normally takes about an hour.
You can find anything you want in Shanghai, but the tourist areas are mainly focused around the Huangpu River, which flows through the center of the city. Skyscrapers create a magnificent skyline on the east side of the river in an area called Pudong. Its originally cheaper land attracted new development there, and it’s where the main international airport is located, although another is under construction. However, except to do business or go up to one of the observation towers in a Pudong skyscraper, there isn’t much drawing tourists to Pudong.
Most people view Pudong from the west side of the river, with its stately old buildings and a sculpture of a bull, as on Wall Street, but only much larger — everything is larger in China. This main tourist area of Shanghai is known by its historical name, the Bund.
Standing out is the vast number of high-end shopping centers and their massive size. To support its huge, prosperous and apparently brand-driven population and clientele, you find all the familiar American and European brands generously represented in the malls, many using English, not Chinese, in their lettering. You feel as if you are in the West.
Still, one of the must-see areas for shopping in Shanghai isn’t in a mall. It’s a combination Chinese garden and old-fashioned style outdoor shopping area known as Yu Yuan Classical Street and Yu Garden. It’s within walking distance of the Bund but not on the river. Here you can experience the tranquility of a famous garden from the Ming Dynasty contrasted with the surrounding mass consumerism.
Another favorite place of respite is the Jade Buddha Temple. The beauty of this ancient religion is contrasted jarringly by surrounding modern skyscrapers.
Shanghai is by far China’s most open city, save for Hong Kong, which the Chinese don’t regard as “real” China because it has its own set of rules, referred to as “One Country, Two Systems,” a relic of British control there. For more on this see here.
Street and subway signs in both Chinese and English, make it is easier to find things in Shanghai. An English language subway help line exists to assist. Various hop on-hop off tourist buses operate. Use these as a good way to orient yourself to the city by riding an entire circular route to get your bearings.
If you have the strength to walk a lot, you can do a lot of wandering and exploring. The so-called French Connection section, once heavily populated by the French, is both pretty and interesting. Look for the first cinema in Shanghai, still in operation and showing Western as well as Chinese movies.
Hint: when in Shanghai, don’t overlook going to nearby Suzhou.