Shanghai Introduction Walking Tour (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 hundreds more in the planning.

This self-guided introductory walking tour of Shanghai takes you to some of the glitziest as well as traditional spots in the city, starting with The People's Square, passing by the famous Bund promenade, the lovely traditional Yuyuan Garden, and culminating with the timeless Shanghai Confucian Temple.
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Shanghai Introduction Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: Shanghai Introduction Walking Tour
Guide Location: China » Shanghai (See other walking tours in Shanghai)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 8
Tour Duration: 3 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 6.2 Km or 3.9 Miles
Author: emma
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • People's Square and Park
  • Nanjing Lu (Nanjing Road)
  • Peace Hotel
  • The Bund (Waitan)
  • Yuyuan Garden
  • Yuyuan Bazaar
  • Shanghai Town God's Temple
  • Shanghai Confucian Temple
1
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.

Tip:
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
2
Nanjing Lu (Nanjing Road)

2) 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.

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!!!

Tip:
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
3
Peace Hotel

3) 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!

Tip:
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
4
The Bund (Waitan)

4) 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.

Tip:
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
5
Yuyuan Garden

5) Yuyuan Garden (must see)

This lovely classical Chinese garden was built in 1577, under the Ming Dynasty, by a high-ranking imperial court official who dedicated it to his elderly father, and quite fittingly so, as ‘yu’ means peace and comfort in Chinese. Probably because of this name or good luck, despite changing fortunes, the garden had miraculously survived the passage of centuries and was reopened to the public in 1961.

For those unfamiliar with Chinese gardening, this would be a great introduction to its elegance manifested, among other things, in the hidden bat and dragon features and, in this particular case, a huge authentic rockery dating back to the Ming period. Overall, the garden has less emphasis on flora and more on water and the harmonious position of elements.

It may well look small, but you will be amazed at how much actually fits in here. The corridors, archways and zigzag bridges all are carefully placed with a great deal of meaning. Of special interest is the Ming-style rosewood furniture in three halls within the garden, one of which is historically famous as the headquarters of the anti-imperialist “Little Sword” society during the Taiping uprising in the 1850s-60s. The roofs and tops of the walls here are decorated with incredible carvings of dragons, horses, and warriors.

Among other highlights is the famous Jade Rock, a 5-ton boulder said to have been one of the private collection items of the Song Dynasty Emperor Huizong. Interestingly enough, this rock's 72 holes are reportedly positioned so as to make the water or smoke sent into one of the holes, come out from all the other holes simultaneously. Sometimes, the guides show another trick with a coin dropped into a hole at the top and exiting from a certain hole down below (each time different) in accordance, they say, with the person's astrological sign.

Tip:
Depending on the time of your visit, the garden may be quite crowded – but that's China! Try coming early, as closer to the opening hours as possible; otherwise, later in the day, the queues are usually long! Don't forget a bottle of water or check out a two-storey teahouse on the island in the middle of the garden. The Queen of England herself once dropped in for a cup of tea there, so these days it’s a bit pricey, but you’re welcome to poke about anyway.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8:45am–4:15pm
6
Yuyuan Bazaar

6) Yuyuan Bazaar (must see)

Regularly packed with locals and tourists, this busy shopping area – located just outside the famous Yuyuan Gardens – is a good chance to get a glimpse of Shanghai's everyday life. Amid the plethora of goods on sale – including fresh produce, second-hand stuff, antiques and handicrafts – the most intriguing, perhaps, are the countless food offerings whose vendors seemingly compete with each other. The vast majority of them specialize in dumplings of every imaginable filling; they even have dumplings filled with soup and served with a straw. The Nanxiang Shanghai steamed buns are pretty good on a chilly day either, and there's a long but well-organized queue for them in the central courtyard.

On the whole, this new-looking Ming-style bazaar is a cacophony of shops, street performers, sedan-chair rides and swarms of people everywhere. It covers an area of over 50 hectares and houses almost 3,000 shops and nearly 10,000 vendors. Among them are souvenir shops with tonnes of fine gift ideas, from painted snuff bottles and delightful Chinese kites to embroidered and clever palm-and-finger paintings.

As with any shopping in Asia, haggling skills are quite handy here, especially if you've done your homework on products and prices previously. Another good thing is to buy as the locals buy, particularly women, who certainly know where the best deals are.

Why You Should Visit:
No matter how commercialized, this is still a pretty sight to behold. Only in China!

Tip:
Other than the bazaar itself, there are a few spots just behind the Yuyan Gardens on Fuyou Street where you can find things at wholesale prices. In particular, if you're after household items, check out the Fuyou Street Merchandise Mart – similar to WalMart in the U.S., but in a fraction of the space it usually occupies there. Bargaining here is recommended, but the prices aren’t too high to begin with – just perfect for those on a budget.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9am–10pm
7
Shanghai Town God's Temple

7) Shanghai Town God's Temple (must see)

Traditionally, any notable city in China with a sense of history has a temple to its patron deity placed in the old quarter. The Ming-era Taoist temple in the Yuyuan Gardens serves this purpose for Shanghai and deserves a visit if you are in the vicinity, especially given the scarcity of old-style buildings in this part of the city.

Until 1950, this was the center of what is sometimes referred to as "popular Taoism", which is quite removed from the philosophical Taoism of the Tao Te Ching teaching by Lao Tzu. However, the new communist government was equally unsympathetic to any form of Taoism, and promptly removed from the temple all the statues allegedly supporting religious superstition.

Apparently, that reformation still wasn't enough and during the Cultural Revolution the temple was fully converted to a secular use with the main hall housing a jewelry shop for many years afterwards. The return of the traditional Chinese culture to political respectability saw the temple back in the hands of Taoist priests and reconsecrated in 2006.

Inside the temple, passing through its medium-size main courtyard, in front of the main gate, opens way to a number of halls, including the Huo Guang Hall, on the north side, with a large statue of Huo Guang, the prime of Shanghai's three City Gods. Going round the back of the hall one can see a short corridor leading to the hall of Qin Yu-Bo, Shanghai's second major deity. Around that are additional small halls featuring, among others, the Gods of Wealth, Literature, and Knowledge. Few more gods can be seen in the other halls around the main courtyard.

The area outside the temple is packed with souvenir shops selling everything, from postcards to key-chains to handicrafts to clothing, plus many other stores to choose from, mixed up with the beautiful modern but traditionally-styled buildings housing food courts and restaurants offering a wealth of regional cuisine.

At night, when they are lit up, or even during daytime, these old-style buildings are great for taking memorable photos contrasting the Bund's high-rises in the background.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8:30am–4pm
8
Shanghai Confucian Temple

8) Shanghai Confucian Temple (must see)

This ancient shrine is the main temple of Shanghai and a definite must-see for those visiting the city. It is dedicated to the famous Chinese philosopher Confucius and was founded under the Yuan Dynasty, when Shanghai, then a small fishing village, was granted the status of a county seat. With time, this shrine became China's most prestigious academic institution and a religious temple combined.

The complex is well-tended and is much larger than it looks on the outside. Within its walls are a number of scenic spots such as the Music Terrace, Study Gate, Etiquette Gate, Hall to Listen to the Rain, Sky and Cloud Reflection Pond, and Confucian Study Hall, to mention but a few.

Facing the front gate is the Dacheng Hall, or the Hall of Great Perfection, to the right of which is found the eponymous huge Dacheng Bell, weighing some 1500 kg. They say, the sound of this bell is loud and clear, and its reverberations last up to three minutes!

The appealing atmosphere of scholarly introspection infuses the complex and is enhanced with the statues of Confucius, particularly the seated golden one beside the Dacheng Hall, flanked by the statues of his two most illustrious disciples, Yan Hui and Zeng Shen. Modern-day students, wishing to excel at exams, come here to tie a red ribbon around the pine tree for good luck.

In addition to the ancient Confucian texts, the temple houses a collection of ceramics and a tea house where tea lovers can enjoy a Chinese tea ceremony and sample local varieties of tea free of charge.

In keeping with the ancient tradition originated in the Ming and Qing periods, each Sunday in the northeastern part of the temple there is a book fair where people come to buy, sell or exchange books. Some truly old and rare editions can be found there, so it's well worth attending.

The area outside the temple is packed with stores and several eateries selling authentic Shanghai food at reasonable prices. Also nearby is the famous Xintiandi district.

Tip:
The Sunday book market has to be visited as it is something different in Shanghai, but beware that it opens at 8am and closes early around 3-4pm.
If you want full access then pay 10RMB; otherwise, you can just go to the book market inside the inner courtyard. 10RMB gets you into the temple as well as the other courtyards.
Go towards the temple and the guards will ask for your tickets. Most people think they cannot go up, but that's what your ticket covers for.

Temple Opening Hours:
Daily: 8:30am–4:30pm

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