With almost 20 million people, metropolitan Shanghai is a veritable city state. As the crown jewel economic engine of the People’s Republic of China, the Yangtze River city’s gross domestic product ranks above more than 100 nations. A remarkable statistic when you consider where Shanghai was a generation ago. Over recent decades the skyline and urban swath of the city has undergone a furious transformation, stimulated into hyperdrive by China’s warm embrace of capitalism and free market enterprise.
As a result, Shanghai is a wondrous city to visit, with a vibrant expat community eager to grab a share of the country’s new wealth. The city’s diverse attractions, from historical architecture to ultra-modern skyscrapers, traditional markets to top luxury brand boutiques, combine to make Shanghai a unique hive of frenetic activity. Here are 10 that are most definitely must-see.
The supertall skyscraper was king of the mountain in China until 2007. Nevertheless, the Jin Mao Tower is a marvel and what structural engineers dream about at night. The view of Shanghai from the 88th floor Skywalk observation deck is superb.
The new skyscraper king of the sky in China and indeed, save for Dubai, the world, is a beast at 101 floors. Open since 2007 next to Jin Mao Tower, the design of Shanghai World Financial Center has already become a premier icon of the city. Other than office space, the tower has malls, hotels and of course, a brilliant observation deck.
With all the modern development of Shanghai, one almost forgets the romantic colonial era of the city before it became a symbol of New China. The Peace Hotel, or Heping Fandian, takes you back to the 1930s, when opium and real estate magnate Victor Sassoon made the city his personal playground, all from the confines of the Art Deco masterpiece in the Bund.
The Children’s Municipal Palace, or Shi Shaonian Gong, like the Peace Hotel, is a colonial landmark built by Jews of Middle Eastern origin in the early part of the 20th century. A foremost academic institution for gifted children, the Palace is availabe for private tours if you call in advance, preferably via your hotel concierge.
The ultra-modern Shanghai Grand Theatre is impossible to miss from a dramatic perch on People’s Square in the Huangpu District of the city. A wonderful fusion of East and West design aesthetics, the Theatre has been the pre-eminent home of orchestral, dance and operatic performances in Shanghai since 1998.
Though the shrewd construction of lifestyle centres in the new urban China signals little more than a blatant attempt to lure upscale consumers to high-end retail shops and leisure attractions, Xintiandi or “New Heaven and Earth”, is worth the trouble and spectacle. In truth, the pedestrian area boasts a fine repertoire of restaurants and nightclubs, though prices are steep.
A trip to a genuine teahouse is cultural experience one must try in China. For Shanghai, Huxingting Teahouse is the place and still floats on a lake in the Old Town as it has since 1784.
If you can score a tour of the Shanghai Stock Exchange through your hotel concierge, grab the opportunity. The facility is the financial heart of mainland China and indeed, one could debate, of the new world economy. The Stock Exchange is in Shanghai’s extraordinary financial district in Pudong.
A strong argument can be made that Shanghai Museum is the best in China. Here’s the pitch: 120,000 ancient artifacts spread out over 11 state-of-the-art exhibition halls in a magnificent facility in People’s Square.
As the first architectural wonder of New China, the Oriental Pearl TV Tower, built in 1994, was a foremost symbol of the country’s potential as it began to flirt with free enterprise ideals. The undeniable tower soars above the Pudong skyline and features fifteen observation levels, a small hotel, shops, a museum and a restaurant that of course, revolves. Over 3 million people visit the Oriental Pearl every year.
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