Not packed in a bus. Not herded with a group. Self guided walk is the SAFEST way to sightsee while observing SOCIAL DISTANCING!

Shanghai Introduction Walk I (Self Guided), Shanghai

Perhaps more than any other Chinese city, Shanghai deserves to be called the “face of modern China.” Despite modern look, the city emerged on a map as far back as 751 AD. Shanghai County was established under the Yuan Dynasty in the 13th century, although the city character, as we know it today, began to take shape in the aftermath of the first Opium War in 1842. The post-war treaty opened Shanghai to international trade, bringing the influx of cosmopolitan adventurers from around the world searching for easy fortune. And they sure found it in Shanghai, prompting the city's rapid development to the glamorous shine still visible today in the opulent facades along the famous Bund and the downtown area.

That flow of migrants entailed a construction boom, leaving mark on Shanghai's architectural scape. The eclectic, vibrant mix of colonial, Art Deco, and postmodern influences has made Shanghai an architectural wonder equally appreciated by both idle wanderers and cultured professionals.

Over the years, Shanghai has evoked many associations and labels, such as “Paris of the East”, “Paradise of Adventurers”, “Queen of Eastern Settlements”, “New York of the Far East”, “City of Palaces”, and “Yellow Babylon of the Far East”, to mention but a few. Each nickname has some truth to it, reflecting the city's outstanding trading location at the mouth of the Yangtze River.

Centuries on, trade remains as important to Shanghai as ever, particularly now that the city undertakes one of the most daring development programs the world has ever known. The economic rise of China since the mid-1990s, echoing the construction boom of the 1930s, has refreshed the city skyline with thousands of brand-new high-risers and some of the world’s tallest skyscrapers, such as the Shanghai Tower, the World Financial Center, and the Jinmao Tower. Shanghai's fondness of high-rising projects doesn't stop here and has thousands more in the planning.

This self-guided tour takes you to some of the glitziest spots of Shanghai, starting with the People's Square and culminating with the famous Bund promenade – the city's major go-to area. To obtain directions to the sights in question, tap the sight's name below this introduction and then tap it on the map at the bottom of the sight's information screen. The GPS navigation function will guide you to the chosen destination.
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Shanghai Introduction Walk I Map

Guide Name: Shanghai Introduction Walk I
Guide Location: China » Shanghai (See other walking tours in Shanghai)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 6
Tour Duration: 1 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.6 Km or 1.6 Miles
Author: emma
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • People's Square and Park
  • Shanghai Museum
  • Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall
  • Nanjing Lu (Nanjing Road)
  • Peace Hotel
  • The Bund (Waitan)
People's Square and Park

1) People's Square and Park (must see)

People’s Square lies at the very heart of Shanghai and is the city's exact center and showcase spot, home to the world-class museums, Grand Theater, five-star hotels, and a large water fountain, not to mention the imposing Shanghai City Hall. All these buildings were raised in the late 1990s, each being a significant architectural statement of Shanghai's economic and cultural progress.

Few places in China can boast such a congregation of great sights and equally beautiful skyline, all of which makes it a tremendously popular meeting point and location for numerous celebrations. Nowadays, there is little in People’s Square's appearance to remind of its past as the finest racecourse in Asia, where millionaires used to see their steeds run for glory. The wartime Japanese administration used that racetrack as a holding camp, while the post-war Chinese nationalist government turned it into a sports arena.

By 1952, the new Communist regime had banned racing and gambling altogether and proceeded to convert part of the racetrack into a recreational area, now known as the People’s Park. Both, the square and the park are impeccably tidy and have plenty of benches to sit on. The park is nicely landscaped, with plenty of tree-lined paths and ponds much liked by the locals who often come here for a walk or to exercise or to fly kites, while the kids engage in various fun activities at a playground.

Underneath the park there's a fantastic underground labyrinth of galleries with colorful stores, subway station, and a food court. A definite must-visit!
Sight description based on wikipedia
Shanghai Museum

2) Shanghai Museum (must see)

For a close and comprehensive look at many of the world's best-preserved exquisite Chinese artifacts, head over to the Shanghai Museum. Open since 1952, it holds one of the best displays of the ancient Chinese art comprising nearly one million exhibits spanning over 5,000 years – from China’s neolithic period to the Qing dynasty.

The building itself reminds of an ancient Chinese “ding” pot, and its layout has been inspired by traditional Chinese cosmogony wherein a square base represents earth and a rounded roof represents heaven. Inside there are ten permanent and three rotating international exhibitions with the items so well displayed that one can snap a photo without even using a flashlight.

After about 15-minute wait to pass the security, you are free to explore the museum at will, although, because of a tight schedule, the actual visit time may be limited. The museum runs guided tours, as well as offers audio guides to those preferring to walk independently.

According to the museum brochure: "There are nearly 130,000 pieces of national treasures covering 21 categories: bronze, ceramics, calligraphy, paintings, jade and ivory works, bamboo and lacquer wares, oracle bones, seals, coins, and artifacts of ethnic minorities."

One of the museum's highlights is, undoubtedly, the ground-floor gallery of bronze with some of the artifacts dating back to 2200 BC. Very few visitors are familiar with this early period of Chinese art and therefore such exhibits may appear somewhat less appealing to the eye than the others. However, the diversity of shapes and versatility is striking and the intricacy of the metalwork attests to the sophisticated technology available to the ancient Chinese.

The ceramics gallery, on the first floor, proudly displays pieces from practically every period of Chinese history, while the gallery of paintings, on the 2nd floor, features amazingly naturalistic images of animals – especially birds.

The top floor contains the most striking and colorful gallery, dedicated to the many Chinese ethnic minorities, which may appear somewhat shocking to those perceiving China as a monoculture. Next door, on the same floor, is the display of the Ming- and Qing-period furniture which is more interesting than it sounds.

Clean bathrooms on each floor, a tea house on the 2nd floor, and before leaving the museum, don't forget to check out the on-site bookstore for a wide choice of beautiful books on China, in case you're interested in any!

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 9am-5pm (last entry: 4pm); free admission
Sight description based on wikipedia
Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall

3) Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Hall (must see)

To get a sense of urban Shanghai and to trace its development over the years, make beeline for the Urban Planning Exhibition Hall. Shaped as a white magnolia – Shanghai's official flower – this building sports four inverted tents for a roof and is quite advanced in terms of both design and contents, offering insight into the grand ambitions of Shanghai city planners. It is actually a good idea to visit here early on your trip to Shanghai, as it gives plenty of information on the history and future of the city, from geology to transportation, with lots of useful facts and tips to benefit from.

The Yangtze River delta, whereat the city is located, is currently the world’s fastest-growing urban area, which is something well reflected in Shanghai’s largest scale model on the 3rd floor, outlining the city's not-too-distant future (if all goes to plan, that is) sprawled over 100 sq meters. Not surprisingly, it takes the form of a parade of skyscrapers and apartment blocks, including those yet unbuilt, plus all the urban transportation systems, detailed at a scale of 1:2,000.

In a video room next door you can take a virtual 3D trip around this plan, called the “Journey of Wonder in Shanghai”. Another excellent thing to observe is the bird's eye view over the People’s Square opening from the top-floor cafe and gift shop.

Other floors feature maps of upcoming construction projects and collection of old-time images of colonial-era Shanghai, which is most interesting if you're already somewhat familiar with the new look of the streets. If you're still fresh to the city, not to worry – once you've browsed Shanghai in this Exhibition Hall, you'll be ready to go into detail by actually walking the streets, so make sure to carry a notebook and take notes of the places you might want to visit.

Opening Hours:
Tue-Sun: 9am-5pm (last admission: 4 pm)
Sight description based on wikipedia
Nanjing Lu (Nanjing Road)

4) Nanjing Lu (Nanjing Road) (must see)

Nanjing Road has been traditionally Shanghai’s premier shopping destination, replete with all kinds of stores, drawing daily over one million visitors. The street is split into two distinct halves – the East Road and West Road. Together, the two measure almost 10 km (6 miles), making it the world’s longest and busiest pedestrian thoroughfare.

Nanjing East Road has been the “shopper’s paradise” since before the 1950s. Its main highlight is Shanghai No. 1 Department Store renowned for its exotic window displays. Some say, it's good for a look but not so much for bargains.

After sunset, Nanjing East Road is particularly fun to be in, as the line-up of malls try to grab shoppers' attention with the intricate lighting and countless advertising screens, proliferated here as if electricity bills are no object whatsoever. Amid the scammers and hordes of touts endlessly buzzing around on their nifty skate shoes, one might as well go into Zen mode and ignore all these minor nuisances for the sake of embracing a broader picture.

Some of the buildings here stand more than one hundred years and represent a rare blend of Eastern and Western architectural styles, whose collision first peaked here in the 1930s rendering Shanghai the foremost trade agent between the two civilizations. The newer malls reflect the side of modern China with its millennials in hot pursuit of luxury.

Unlike the other parts of Shanghai, you won't see any stalls or street markets in Nanjing. Pretty much everything here is big, even Starbucks. The Starbucks Reserve Roastery, the world’s largest outlet, covers three floors and serves up to 7,000 customers per day, seating up to 1,000 at a time!!!

For the ease of travel, there are mini-trains running up and down half the length of Nanjing Road during day hours – convenient for those wanting to see the area, especially if tired of walking or with kids in tow.
On a foodie note, try the food court in the New World City Plaza. Huge, pretty, clean, numerous stores, good prices. And the LEGO shop on its ground floor is a haven for LEGO lovers.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Peace Hotel

5) Peace Hotel (must see)

Dominating the east end of Nanjing Road is the most legendary edifice on the Bund – the landmark Fairmont Peace Hotel. Opened in 1929 as the luxurious Cathay Hotel, this building has a striking Art Deco façade and iconic green copper dome, both recently restored to their former glory.

Nicknamed “The Claridges of the Far East”, this was the place to be seen at in pre-war Shanghai with the likes of Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin, and George Bernard Shaw among the celebrity guests, and where Noel Coward said to have penned “Private Lives” in just four days, while sick with a flu. Owned by property tycoon Sir Victor Sassoon, whose business empire was built on opium trade, this place also hosted many dignitaries and foreign envoys, boasting innovations, such as room telephones, ahead of any European hotel. With six floors and 120 guest rooms, it was the first hotel in Shanghai to have two elevators. Among other luxuries here were private plumbing system, marble baths with silver taps, as well as enamel-coated lavatories imported from Britain.

Today, apart from high-end guests, the hotel attracts just as many history and architecture buffs with its Art Deco lobby, on-site Peace Museum, and the Old Shanghai reading room filled with eclectic memorabilia including Qing-period porcelain and bronze, black and white photos of the days gone by, silver settings, as well as books.

The ground floor cafe offers great people-watching opportunities with seats by the windows, while the rooftop bar on the 9th floor is good for evening drinks with a nice view of the Bund and Pudong ablaze with night illumination. Also, if you're in the mood for some slow-paced classical jazz with a chance to swirl or sip a cocktail to the nostalgic tunes played by a group of lively 80-year-olds, then head for to the hotel's Jazz Bar, reminiscent of those bars in the 1920s and 30s, featuring the Old Jazz Band. Quality time guaranteed!

Those who want to take a guided tour can book it either at the hotel's museum or online. Some tours are offered in English and come at a charge.
Sight description based on wikipedia
The Bund (Waitan)

6) The Bund (Waitan) (must see)

If you wish to trace the history of Shanghai as the financial powerhouse of modern China, The Bund is the place. Originally a towpath for dragging barges loaded with rice, it was the site of the first foreign settlement in Shanghai, gradually turning into a business district where major banks and trading companies set up their presence to reap benefits from the newly emerged trading opportunities.

Back in the day, The Bund was also the location of the Russian and British consulates, along with the English club and the Masonic lodge. Before the communist victory in the Chinese Civil War, there were many statues of prominent colonial and European statesmen here, currently replaced with a bronze statue of Chen Yi (the first mayor of Shanghai after the communist takeover) and a Monument to the People’s Heroes at the North end.

Sparking with its newly-found glitz, the Bund area was restored in the 1990s, featuring a waterfront lined with an array of buildings representing styles of the nations that once sought to have their finger in the Shanghai pie.

The Western part of The Bund is older and has impressive colonial-style architecture dominated by the neo-classical Hong-Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation and the Signal Tower once maintained by the Jesuits for the benefit of local shipping. For many locals, however, this area is a reminder of the century of foreign domination, which now - in a new golden age - has become a hub of prime dining, entertainment and shopping.

Set against the backdrop of the now-famous Shanghai skyline with its iconic skyscrapers of different shapes, heights and colors, The Bund is particularly impressive after sunset when all the lights are on, but make sure to visit here before 10pm when some of the lights go down.

If you're out taking a stroll along The Bund, make way to the high-ground part beside the river for a better look at the two sides of the promenade. Otherwise, climb to the observation deck of one of the high towers to the east of the Huangpu River and see the whole stretch of the riverfront from up there. A sight not to be missed!
Sight description based on wikipedia

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Shanghai Introduction Walk II

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