The Bund , Shanghai’s historic waterfront, is home to some of the city’s most impressive and imposing buildings. Built during the colonial heyday, this stretch of neoclassical and art deco customs houses, bank headquarters, and luxury hotels faces the ultra-modern Lujiazui skyline in Pudong across the river. The pedestrian zone at East Nanjing Road comes alive with neon at night and is one of the city’s busiest commercial hubs. Home mainly to Chinese department stores and restaurants, it connects The Bund with People’s Square.
Though Shanghai does not have a true center, People’s Square can rightly be called its downtown, with 30-acre People’s Park , a former racetrack, as its anchor. Though known for the modern malls and skyscrapers scattered throughout its boundaries, People’s Square is also home to buildings designed by the famous Hungarian architect László Hudec, like the Moore Memorial Church.
Shanghai’s love of wealth comes face to face with older devotions in the Jing’an district. Despite religion being banned in the People’s Republic, Buddhism and folk religions are still widely practiced. Jing’an Temple is Shanghai’s oldest Buddhist place of worship. The huge shrine is located on West Nanjing Road, alongside the shopping malls, designer boutiques, and department stores that make this area a haven for consumerism. North of the temple, bars and cafés mingle with residential districts.
As its name belies, the Old French Concession (OFC) was once controlled by France. Because of this , the OFC has been imbued with a distinctly European atmosphere, with its slower pace, narrow tree-lined lanes, and upscale boutiques, like those on Changle Road and Xinle Road . The architecture, though, is distinctly Shanghainese, with the red-brick Cité Bourgogne and the shikumen (stone arch gate) terraces of the Xintiandi district lending a graceful touch to the area.
Old Shanghai is well preserved in the Old City, with its warren of streets, bustling bazaar, and historic gardens and temples, but development is afoot around the South Bund. Once home to docks and shipyards, this area has recently transformed into a trendy entertainment zone.
On the eastern side of the Huangpu River, things are brighter, brasher, bolder, and bigger: Pudong New District is everything you’d expect from the financial heart of China’s economic center. With improbably wide boulevards and modern shopping malls, Lujiazui is Pudong’s main artery. Nearby you’ll find Century Park , some excellent museums, and sprawling villa complexes that provide a relative calm against the otherwise constant rush.
Shanghai’s outlying districts have some hidden gems. Heading away from the main tourist spots takes you to parts of town that the push of progress has left behind: tangles of old streets, fruit for sale on the corner, and ramshackle homes sprawling upwards from old shikumen (stone arch gates). It’s a side of Shanghai that shouldn’t be missed in favor of the glitzier parts. Head a couple of metro stops out to Zhongshan Park . Life here is a world of its own, with tai chi, outdoor ballroom dancing, and kite-flying. The area around Zhongshan Park is a retail haven, with malls and shops galore.