Is Shanghai worth visiting
Dos and don'ts: 7 sightseeing tips for Shanghai
“Crazy Shanghai”, I think just a few minutes after leaving Pudong Airport behind us. We have two days to explore the huge metropolis and I don't even know where to start. Desperate overstrain! Shanghai is one of China's largest and most modern cities. First of all, we examine a lot of gray smog and loveless suburban skyscrapers through the taxi window. Beautiful is definitely different. Fortunately, in the following two days we got to know more than the traffic chaos of Shanghai. In this post I show which spots I liked and which sights I simply find overrated.
First of all, a brief explanation of our Shanghai detour for anyone interested: Anyone who has read my South Korea travel report may remember the visa history. My original travel plan was that after a month in Japan we would fly to Beijing and from there follow the Silk Road to Central Asia. The hurdle was that entry into China for a normal tourist visa had to take place up to a maximum of three months after the visa was issued. Since our trip already started in December, but China was not on the program until May, we had to bypass this deadline. For organizational reasons, we wanted to apply for a visa before leaving. To do this from abroad is no less complicated. The solution was a “double entry visa”. With proof of two-time entry to China, a “double entry visa” can be applied for, which allows entry up to six months after the date of issue. And so we supplemented our travel route with a three-day detour to Shanghai.
I found Shanghai to be the ideal entry point into China. Apart from the fact that Google & Co are blocked and surveillance cameras follow every step, Shanghai is a western-style city. Accordingly, communication in English also worked well here.
Thu: Take a morning walk on the Bund
Shanghai's famous waterfront promenade "The Bund" is one of the top attractions. And so we headed for the Bund on the first morning shortly after 8 a.m. We start our walk at Bund 18, marvel at the skyline, mystically enveloped in a layer of smog, and stroll to Gucheng Park. There are only a few people around and the atmosphere is relaxed. A group of women dances to lively music and occasionally joggers overtake us. If you want to explore this part of Shanghai at your leisure, I recommend stopping by in the morning as well. A good 12 hours later, we experienced the covenant completely differently, as you can read below.
Don’t: Think that the Yu Gardens are empty in the morning
Another tourist attraction in Shanghai is the Yu Gardens, built during the Ming Dinasty, not far from The Bund. I had timed our walk from The Bund so that we reached Yu Gardens on time for opening time at 9:00 a.m. and thought that was a great idea. False alarm! I assumed that the entire complex, consisting of historical buildings and a garden, would only be accessible after 9 a.m. It is not so. The area around the garden is accessible all day and if you want to take photos, you should stop by before nine in the morning. I have to push my way through the crowds with the slightest use of elbows to get to the ticket office for the gardens.
Numerous groups have gathered in front of the entrance gate to the garden and a long queue has formed in front of the ticket booth. Contrary to the information I found online, the cash desk and garden do not open their doors until 9:15 a.m. I lose my desire for the garden at the sight of all the people who also want to get in. I overcome myself, pay 80 yuan for two admissions and then trip after the groups. Thanks to the winding gardens, the flow of visitors is surprisingly well distributed. And yes, the garden has some very nice corners, but don't think that you have them to yourself.
Thu: visit museums
After the experience in the Yu Gardens, we discarded the idea of visiting one of the nearby historical water towns such as Qibao or Zhujiajiao. According to the information on China Highlights, they are about as clogged with tourists as the area around the Yu Gardens. Instead, we turned to museums. On the one hand, Shanghai offers a really interesting selection of museums for every interest and, on the other hand, the museums we visited were pleasantly “empty”.
One of the most popular museums is the Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center on People’s Square. The museum gives a comprehensive insight into the urban development of Shanghai and shows the spatial planning challenges. Admission is 30 yuan and the exhibition is closed on Monday. Just a stone's throw from the Urban Planning Exhibition Center is the Museum of Contemporary Art, which is also well worth a visit.
I also recommend a detour to the West Bund for those interested in art. The West Bund Artistic Center and the Yuz Museum are located there. With over 9,000 m2 The Yuz offers gallery space for exciting, contemporary changing exhibitions. I was particularly impressed by the exhibition by Random International with the Rain Room (runs until October 14, 2018).
Thu: Explore the French Concession
For me, one of the most charming corners of downtown Shanghai is the French Concession. After the first opium war in the first half of the 19th century, China was forced to surrender districts to the victorious powers as concession areas. The name of the French concession area has survived to this day. There is also a touch of French flair and, above all, numerous magnificent tree-lined avenues that I would not have expected in such a metropolis. I felt very comfortable in this part of the city. Our «urban oasis» - the Urbn Boutique Shanghai (partner link) also contributed to this. The location of the hotel is perfect for exploring the French Concession on foot or taking the metro to People’s Square. A highlight within walking distance of our hotel is the Propaganda Poster Art Center, which is inconspicuously located in the basement of a residential building. An interesting insight into China under Mao Zedong.
Don’t: Think Tianzifang is authentic
In the French Concession, a lot of historical building fabric has been preserved by Chinese standards. During my research I read in many places that the Tianzifang district with its narrow streets and nice shops is one of the most authentic. Of course we wanted to get an impression of it. Unfortunately, our experience here was similar to the Yu Gardens: too many people and junk shops. The winding streets - with fewer shops - would actually be very nice. But I simply had too many onlookers here.
I find it exciting that I liked the area around Xintiandi better, contrary to the online descriptions. Quiet residential streets could be maintained here in the middle of the big city. For a coffee break, it is worth stopping at Essence Coffee on the ground floor of a shopping center in Huangpu Square.
The Moganshan Road Art District (M50) in the north of the historic city center is also casual. Here you will find several art galleries that can be visited free of charge.
Do: Have a fine meal
When in Shanghai ... eat dumplings! The Taiwanese restaurant chain Din Tai Fung offers a good selection of dumplings. Located near People’s Square, Jia Jia Tang Bao attracts numerous dumpling fans with good ratings. The queue in front of the small restaurant was a good 50m long and didn't seem to move forward. Directly opposite is Yang’s Fry Dumpling, which in my opinion also has very tasty fried dumplings.
In addition to good street food, Shanghai offers an equally wide range of veritable fine dining options. If you focus on Chinese cuisine, you are in the right place at Hakkasan, right on the Bund. We have reserved a table here online and ordered a selection of Cantonese specialties à la carte. Conclusion: nice service, good food and an okay price-performance ratio (the two of us paid 170 CHF for dinner).
Don’t: Schedule blue hour photos on the waistband
I don't know about you, but when I visit a city, I usually have one or two fixed photo opportunities in my head. This included a blue hour picture in Shanghai from the Bund towards the illuminated Pudong skyline. However, as we marched towards the Bund at dusk from the Nanjing East Road metro station with a tripod, we quickly realized that we are not the only ones with this idea. Almost unbelievable crowds are pouring in the direction of the Bund. The streets are closed to traffic and police officers loudly show us the way. Quickly crossing the street somewhere: No result! There is a strict one-way system on the sidewalks and the closer we get to the Bund, the more unreal the situation seems to me. "Is there any special occasion today," I try to explain the crowd to myself. In Zurich there are at most that many people around the lake basin at the same time during the New Year's fireworks. Later I find out that this spectacle (by that I mean the crowd) actually goes on every day; Almost more fascinating than the illuminated skyline (you can forget about setting up a tripod anyway). On the other hand, it is much more relaxed on the roof terrace of the Bar Rouge. Here we sip a cocktail and take a quiet look at the spectacle from a bird's eye view.
Practical travel tips for Shanghai
- We took a taxi from Shanghai Pudong Airport to the city center. We paid 240 yuan (around 35 CHF) for the one hour drive. The taxis usually have a meter.
- It is much cheaper to take the metro to the city center. For this you have to change once at the station Guanglan Road (Line 2 East Extension Line). The journey by metro takes a good 1.5 hours.
- It is best to buy single tickets for metro journeys. To do this, simply select the starting point and destination (regardless of whether the line changes or not) at the machine. A single trip costs between 3 and 9 yuan, depending on the distance.
- Metal detectors are used to check everything at the entrances to the metros. Simply place the bag on the belt and run through.
- For three nights in the Urbn Boutique Hotel (partner link) we paid CHF 600 for a double room without breakfast. I found the hotel very casual.
The most important questions about your trip to Shanghai:
Shanghai is one of the most important cities in the People's Republic of China and is located where the Yangtze River flows into the East China Sea.
Around 15 million people live in downtown Shanghai. Another 9 to 10 million people live in the neighboring city districts. Shanghai has a total of over 24 million inhabitants, making it one of the world's largest metropolises.
The official language of Shanghai is Mandarin (standard Chinese). Around half of the local population also use the Shanghai dialect to communicate with one another - the dialect is part of a language family that is widespread in south-east China. With a combination of Madarin and English you should be able to find your way around Shanghai.
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