Shanghai is China's largest city with about 23 million residents. Although it is considered the engine room of the Chinese economy, this is no dry destination. In the past, the river Huangpu, which divides Shanghai into east (Pudong) and west (Puxi) was centre of the opium trade and its nickname was "whore of the Orient".
Pudong is the ultra-modern financial hub. The Pearl TV Tower stands 468 metres high and double-decker elevators whiz up at seven metres per second. Puxi boasts the Bund riverfront park, more than 50 beautiful buildings in different architectural styles, Yu Yuan Garden and swanky shops including Armani and Dolce & Gabbana.
If your yuan doesn't stretch to haute couture, the Lu Jia Bang Road market has tailors in residence who will run you up a new wardrobe in a couple of days.
Shanghai is the only Chinese city with two international airports - Pudong and Hongqiao. Pudong International is the airport at which most (about 60 per cent) of the increasingly cheap flights to Shanghai arrive, while Hongqiao handles the remainder. International flights to Shanghai arrive from London and other world cities and there are domestic flights to Beijing, Guangzhou and other cities around China.
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Summer in Shanghai can be quite uncomfortable. July and August temperatures can reach the mid-30s (Celsius) with 80 per cent humidity. Winter is damp and chilly with December and January temperatures hovering around the freezing mark, but it rarely snows. Temperatures in May and October are in the teens and 20s. Spring has more rain than autumn, but an occasional typhoon can hit during these months.
When to fly to Shanghai
May through October, Shanghai is busy with tourists and business visitors. In May and October you must make reservations and book Shanghai flights far in advance as the city is also busy with conventions.
The busiest time is the Chinese New Year (Spring Festival), when the Chinese and visitors to China are on the move. The holiday season starts two weeks before the New Year and continues for two weeks afterwards. The New Year is in January or February (the date is based on a lunar calendar).
Labour Day (May 1) and National Day (October 1) are also big holiday weeks for the Chinese.
Late March and late October into early November have fewer crowds and the weather is neither steamy hot nor cold and damp. Few people visit during winter, with the notable exception of the Chinese New Year.
Getting around Shanghai
Most visitors choose to take a taxi in Shanghai. Not only are they easy to find, but they’re cheap too. Just keep an eye out for the primary-coloured Volkswagen cabs and flag one down. You’ll find that the smaller, older cars tend to be cheaper, and they all have meters.
The subway is the best public transport option. It’s inexpensive. Public buses are very crowded and can be confusing for visitors.
The adventurous traveller might want to rent a bike. There are plenty of well-defined bike lanes, but it can be a bit scary with all the traffic. Stick with the other bikes when crossing a street or intersection.
Heading out on foot is a great way to soak up the local colour. Between the pedestrians, motorists, scooters and cyclists, streets can be very crowded; be aware of your surroundings. Jaywalking can be dangerous and is frowned upon anyway.
Tourists are allowed to rent cars for use inside the city limits.
Shanghai insider information
- The Bund, also called the Zhongshan Road, is a famous waterfront area. It is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Shanghai and boasts a square with the following: the Cenotaph which stands on the man-made island; the Electronic Waterfall Bell, and the Great Mural Carving. On the west side of the Bund are 52 buildings of different architectural styles (Gothic, Baroque, Romanesque, Classicism and Renaissance).
- The Oriental Pearl TV Tower at 468 metres high is one of the world’s highest TV and radio towers. This truly amazing structure contains the Shanghai Municipal History Museum, a hotel, shops, restaurants, including a rotating restaurant, and a futuristic space city and sightseeing hall, from which, on a clear day, a visitor can see the Yangtze River.
- The Jade Buddha Temple was built in 1882 (and rebuilt in 1928 after a fire) to house two Burmese jade Buddha statues. The Confucius Temple also offers a quiet space away from the city crowds.
- Yu Yuan garden, the Garden of Leisurely Repose is a classical garden more than 400 years old. It was built by a wealthy official in 1577 to please his parents in their old age. It boasts gardens within gardens with all the features you would expect of a Chinese garden: rockeries, bridges, goldfish ponds and pavilions.
- Zhujiajiao Water Town is a well-preserved town on the Dianpu River, about an hour’s bus ride from Shanghai. Old streets and architecture date from the Ming and Qing periods and there are quiet courtyards and ancient bridges. It is known as the Venice of Shanghai. It costs 50 yuan to enter the town, hiring a bicycle at the town gates costs 20 yuan and renting a boat (six people share) costs about 100 yuan.
- The Jin Mao Tower in the Pudong district (the financial area) with 88 storeys is the tallest building in China and the fifth-tallest in the world (by roof height). It contains offices and the Shanghai Grand Hyatt hotel (the world's highest hotel rooms). The tower has an observatory on the 88th floor, the largest and highest observation deck in China
- Fuxing Park is more than 100 years old and was called Gujiazhai Park before the French bought it to accommodate armies in 1900. It is the only French-style park in the city. Watch out for the statue of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, they share one body, and for the Tai Chi enthusiasts in the early morning.