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Shanghai is a city of many, many things, including the second-highest city population in the world with 26+ million people, a thriving culinary scene and shopping like you can’t believe. Located on China's east coast, Shanghai is about 750 miles south of Beijing and 750 miles north of Hong Kong and set along an estuary of the Yangtze River. With such a large population, Shanghai supports two international airports: Shanghai Pudong International Airport, the main international airport; and Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport, used mainly for domestic flights.
This powerhouse city, which is an economic, financial and cultural center, is also home to the second-tallest tower in the world, Shanghai Tower, at 2,073 feet and 128 floors. Getting around the city, which encompasses approximately 2,500 square miles (roughly the size of West Virginia) with a relatively flat elevation, is easy and full of options like via taxi, bus and metro train.
A city the size of Shanghai undoubtedly has endless things for visitors to do, see, eat and experience. One place you cannot miss is the Bund, also called Waitan, a mile-long waterfront promenade with buildings featuring architectural styles from art deco to neoclassical. There are bars, restaurants, museums, boutiques and more at the Bund, which is quite a sight to see at night when the buildings are fully illuminated. Foodies will delight in the city’s long list of restaurants, offering authentic Benbang (or local) dishes to modern Chinese food as well as Western cuisine. Shoppers should head to Nanjing Road, one of the world’s busiest shopping streets with 3.5 miles of shopping, including many luxury brands. The street also has hotels, making it a one-stop dream for serious shoppers.
Valid passport needed for entry, 144-hour visa-free transit available for U.S. citizens
Mandarin, with the Shanghainese dialect spoken very widely
Renminbi (RMB or CNY) and the basic unit is the yuan (¥)
The name Shanghai still conjures images of romance, mystery and adventure, but for decades it was an austere backwater. After the success of Mao Zedong's communist revolution in 1949, the authorities clamped down hard on Shanghai, castigating China's second city for its prewar status as a playground of gangsters and colonial adventurers.
And so it was. In its heyday, the 1920s and '30s, cosmopolitan Shanghai was a dynamic melting pot for people, ideas and money from all over the planet. Business boomed, fortunes were made, and everything seemed possible. It was a time of breakneck industrial progress, swaggering confidence and smoky jazz venues.
Thanks to economic reforms implemented in the 1980s by Deng Xiaoping, Shanghai's commercial potential has reemerged and is flourishing again. Stand today on the historic Bund and look across the Huangpu River. The soaring 1,614-ft/492-m Shanghai World Financial Center tower looms over the ambitious skyline of the Pudong financial district. Alongside it are other key landmarks: the glittering, 88-story Jinmao Building; the rocket-shaped Oriental Pearl TV Tower; and the Shanghai Stock Exchange. The 128-story Shanghai Tower is the tallest building in China (and, after the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the second-tallest in the world).
Glass-and-steel skyscrapers reach for the clouds, Mercedes sedans cruise the neon-lit streets, luxury-brand boutiques stock all the stylish trappings available in New York, and the restaurant, bar and clubbing scene pulsates with an energy all its own. Perhaps more than any other city in Asia, Shanghai has the confidence and sheer determination to forge a glittering future as one of the world's most important commercial centers.
Sights—The Bund and the Fairmont Peace Hotel; Yu Garden for a visit to the Huxinting teahouse; Jade Buddha Temple and its namesake statue; People's Square for people-watching; the 100th-floor viewing deck of the Shanghai World Financial Center for a bird's-eye view of Shanghai.
Museums—The Shanghai Museum on People's Square for both its architecture and collections; the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Centre for an eye-opening look at one of the world's fastest-changing cities; the Propaganda Poster Art Center for insights into China's turbulent postrevolutionary years; Shanghai Science and Technology Museum.
Memorable Meals—Nanxiang Dumpling House in Yu Garden for the city's special xiaolongbao pork or crab-soup dumplings; fine dining at the Bund, especially at Jean Georges for its retro-meets-modern-Shanghai decor and French-Asian fusion menu; Mr & Mrs Bund, for its glamour, cocktails and inventive European cuisine; home-cooked Shanghainese fare at stylish Lynn; the popular dim sum weekend brunch at Crystal Jade.
Late Night—A Kunju opera performance; elegant cocktails at Glamour Bar or Sir Elly's; drinks and dancing at Mao, Livehouse or Muse; blues at Cotton Club; barhopping in Tianzifeng, Xintiandi or along Yongkang Road; a night cruise on the Huangpu River.
Walks—Admiring the buildings in the old French concession or International Settlement; taking in the view of the Huangpu River along the Bund; strolling through the quaint Old City; watching the crowds at pedestrianized Nanjing East Road.
Especially for Kids—Oriental Pearl Radio and TV Tower with its views from the top and Space City at the bottom; aquatic flora and fauna at Shanghai Ocean Aquarium; the Sketch Aquarium on the 94th floor of the World Financial Center; crossing the river on the Puxi-Pudong ferry.
Modern Shanghai is split into two distinct and vastly different districts by the Huangpu River. The west side is called Puxi (pronounced pu-SHEE), former home to the international settlements. Puxi still boasts the historic architecture for which Shanghai is famous. To the east of the river is Pudong—a modern economic-development area that Deng Xiaoping designated as China's future commercial heart. Though Pudong boasts the city's stock exchange, financial district and main international airport, Puxi is still considered the city center and is home to the revamped and enlarged Hongqiao International Airport (though most international flights touch down at the larger airport in Pudong). The Bund (Waitan) is Puxi's waterfront boulevard—it lines the west side of the Huangpu River and is considered to be Shanghai's main tourist attraction.
In its 1930s heyday, Shanghai was delineated by its foreign concessions, and the former borders still serve a purpose. The old Chinese city lies within the Zhonghua Road-Renmin Road circle. The former International Settlement (the British and the U.S. concessions merged in 1862) stretches north of the Old City. It's bordered by the Huangpu River to the east, Huashan Road to the west, Suzhou Creek to the north and Yanan Road to the south.
The busy and famous Nanjing Road and its pedestrian walkway lie in this part of town, just north of Yanan Road. The old French concession lies south of the Yanan Road overpass, north of Zhaojiabang Road, and stretches from Xujiahui in the west to the Bund in the east (with the exception of the northern half of the old Chinese city). Much of the city's sightseeing, dining and shopping lie in the former French concession, including Xintiandi, the popular pedestrian-friendly entertainment district that houses Western-style clubs, restaurants and shops in a visitor-friendly, if slightly touristic, ambience.
Shanghai's beginning was humble—little more than a small fishing village tucked beside a tributary of the Yangtze River, where China's longest and most important river completes its 3,906-mi/6,300-km journey to the East China Sea. In the late 1830s, however, the Chinese emperor's efforts to stem the trade in opium (largely conducted by British merchants) within the country's borders resulted in the First Opium War of 1839-42, which China lost. The victorious British forced the Chinese to open up a series of treaty ports along the nation's seaboard, thus allowing increased trade between China and foreign powers. Shanghai was one such port.
The small fishing village was soon divided into extraterritorial "concessions" administered by France, Britain and the U.S., who each brought their own particular cultures, architectural styles and sensibilities to the Chinese city. By the 1930s, 90,000 foreigners called Shanghai home, including British, Americans, French, Germans and Japanese, as well as Russians who had fled communism in their own country.
Although the burgeoning metropolis had its own walled Chinese city, many native residents also chose to live in the foreign settlements, where employment was more readily available and foreign police forces administered rule of law, affording a certain level of protection from warlords. In 1939, the city boasted a population of 4 million.
The eclectic mix of cultures and the city's increasing openness to Western influence had a profound effect on Shanghai, which quickly became internationally famous for its culture, arts, opulent buildings, chic hotels and ballrooms, and vibrant commerce. But the gap between the haves and the have-nots was wide—according to firsthand accounts, it was not uncommon for wealthy foreigners to nonchalantly step over starving, dying Chinese in the street without a pause.
This paradox of wealth and degradation gave rise to an increasing sense of anger and injustice among many Chinese, and in 1921, 13 delegates—including Mao Zedong—held the First National Congress of the Communist Party of China at a site that is now open to the public in the Xintiandi area of the city. The Congress started a movement that would change all of China.
The Red Army triumphed following fierce fighting against occupying Japanese forces from the late 1930s to 1945, and a civil war against the ruling Kuomintang, establishing the new People's Republic of China in 1949. Most foreigners had either fled Shanghai before the war or had been shipped home after being released from internment by the Japanese. With the founding of the People's Republic, the city was closed to the outside world behind what was known as "the bamboo curtain."
In the ensuing years, Shanghai was deliberately neglected by a Beijing-centric government scornful of the city's decadent past, and it was starved of investment and attention. A sign of its future renaissance, however, came during former U.S. President Richard Nixon's historic 1972 visit to China, when the Shanghai Communique, a series of formal agreements to re-establish Sino-U.S. diplomatic ties, was signed at the Jinjiang Hotel in Shanghai.
But the city's resurrection wasn't immediate. Shanghai was made to wait until after the launch, in the late 1980s, of Deng's economic reforms before it could hurriedly re-embrace the internationalism that defined its prerevolution identity. Today it's second only to Hong Kong as China's most globalized city—socially, culturally and economically. As Deng famously said, "If China is a dragon, Shanghai is its head."
Now, little more than two decades after Shanghai was officially given the go-ahead to embrace economic development, the city has comprehensively overhauled and revitalized its infrastructure. Shanghai also boasts mainland China's first free trade zone (FTZ), an 11-mi/ 29-km square testing ground in Pudong for China's ongoing experiments with market reform. Its success has led to the program being expanded in other cities.
Shanghai got its name from its location. Located at the mouth of the Yangtze River, where it empties into the East China Sea, the city name is loosely translated as "above or next to the sea."
Shanghai's local dialect is only 50% comprehensible to Mandarin speakers.
Despite chilly winter temperatures, the river that bisects Shanghai, the Huangpu, never freezes.
In Chinese, Xi and Dong mean "west" and "east." So downtown Shanghai, which is west of the Huangpu river is known as Puxi. The land on the east side of the river is called Pudong.
The vibrant Pudong commercial area was built on a field of former rice paddies.
The term "to shanghai" was coined in the 19th century when overseas laborers were kidnapped into indentured servitude as crew members for various ships.
Almost 10 million individual journeys are taken on the Shanghai metro each day, even though the city's subway system has only operated since 1995. With lines being perpetually added and extended, Shanghai's metro network has grown into one of the world's largest and fastest-growing underground rail networks.
There are three international cruise terminals in Shanghai: the Wusongkou International Cruise Terminal (1 Baoyang Road, Bao Shan District, Shanghai); the Shanghai Port International Cruise Terminal (500 Daming Road East, Hongkou District, Shanghai); and the Waigaoqiao International Cruise Terminal in Pudong where the gigantic cruise ships such as Diamond Princess dock.
During the city's decadent era of the 1920s and '30s, cruise ships sailed frequently into port along the Huangpu River. Although Shanghai remained a stopping-off point for some Asian cruises, there was less oceangoing passenger traffic in recent years. However, the Shanghai International Cruise Port changed that.
The 1.41-sq-mi/3.66-sq-km purpose-built passenger terminal is located on the North Bund development area. The berthing dock, at 2,887 ft/880 m, can accommodate three passenger liners of up to 80,000 tons and handle 1 million passengers annually. The surrounding North Bund area is experiencing ongoing redevelopment with new luxury hotels, shopping and dining options. It's also on Line 12 of the Shanghai metro.
Not all ships dock in North Bund, however. Those bound for Korea and Japan dock at Wusongkou International Cruise Terminal. The Baoshan International Cruiser Homeport, and more than 200 ships representing more than a dozen cruise lines dock there annually.
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